Renfrew – Although there were few attendees at a public meeting looking into the composition of council for the next term, there appears to be some consideration to eliminating the position of reeve. 

A public meeting was held last week prior to the June 25 Renfrew council meeting, and although it attracted only two residents who spoke on the record, they offered a variety of ideas related to whether or not to eliminate the position of Reeve, thereby leaving the mayor to assume the responsibilities as the town’s representative at Renfrew County council.

Currently, Renfrew, Laurentian Valley and Deep River are represented at county council by their elected reeves and the other county council representatives are the mayors of the remaining 14 municipalities or in the case of Arnprior a designated County councillor. A report presented to council last month investigated the responsibilities of the reeve and whether or not it was feasible for Renfrew to eliminate the position of reeve, thereby leaving the mayor to be both head of council and a member of Renfrew County council. 

The current composition of Renfrew council consists of a mayor, reeve and five councillors elected at large. The report suggested some alternatives including the appointment of a councillor to the role of deputy-mayor and the town’s representative at county council or having the mayor assume the duties. 

At the public meeting,Andrea McCormack was the first to address the idea of eliminating the position of reeve and she began with a straight-forward question. 

“You ask yourself what will be accomplished or what will be gained if the composition is changed,” she asked. “Reducing the number of councillors locally won’t result in huge savings will result in savings of $57,000 and not exactly a big-ticket item. It seems to be a bargain as far as I’m concerned when you consider all the work this council has to do.”

She compared Renfrew’s current representation to other municipalities. She outlined the ratio in terms of representation and said with a population of 8,190, one councillor represents 1,170 residents. She said this council has a much lighter workload compared to their counterparts in Ottawa where the ratio is approximately 1 councillor speaking on behalf of 40,000 residents. 

“I admit it’s a little bit like apples and oranges, but it gives you a sense of people versus elected reps,” she said. “But if you look at the 18 municipalities that make up the County of Renfrew, you realize the 18 municipalities collectively elect 106 members to represent a total population of 106,000. That is one councillor to represent approximately 1,000 residents and that is a very generous representation.”

She devoted the remainder of her presentation looking at future shared services among local municipalities as a means to reduce the burden of taxation on Renfrew ratepayers. She suggested instead of reducing the size of council, and perhaps reducing staff, it would be wise to consider using the existing resources and develop a cooperative model with other local governments that do not have the resources that Renfrew enjoys.

“Collaboration is not a new idea…and building capacity in some municipalities that would benefit from the available and additional abundance of resources…is something worth considering,” she said. “A discussion at local municipal council tables about the status of local deficiency groups is a good starting point to develop a new governance model.”

Address Inefficiencies Now

David Ainsworth, who addressed council this past April in regards to the Ma-te-Way financial debacle and demanded the resignation of Mayor Tom Sidney and anyone else who misrepresented taxpayers during the over-budgeted construction phase, returned to the council table as a delegation and warned council the grassroots rebellion that toppled long established governments in Europe is headed this way and now is the time to really listen to what the common citizen is saying.

Mr. Ainsworth suggested council look at making some major changes to avoid a grassroots rebellion and he suggested a zero-based budgeting approach as a major first step.

“That means there is less money to work with every year and how do you wrap your brain around that when everybody is demanding stuff,” he asked council. “I don’t think you are going to lick the financial problems on any level until you get serious and say we can’t do everything for everybody.

“It is time for all levels of government…councils, provincial and federal, to get serious about how much money is being spent and stop saying yes to everything,” he said. “We need to find wherever savings can be had because we’re going to hit the wall.”

In terms of council composition, he said the ratepayers in Renfrew are soon going to be dissatisfied with the local council because once their tax bills arrive with the cost of Ma-te-Way included, they are going to demand change. He said they will be looking for some kind of solution to help pay down that debt and although shrinking the size of council will not have an enormous effect on the budget, it will at least be a start.

“Symbolically and functionally the position of Reeve should be discarded,” he said. “I see having the mayor be the representative at county council or rotating deputy-mayors who wants to do that is great for succession planning down the road. Let’s look at reconfiguring in a way that makes this a better operating system that sends a message to our taxpayers. It says we are training the next person to come along to fill the position of mayor and I think that may be the most important thing of all.”

With no other speakers to address council, Reeve Emon, who chaired the meeting in Mayor Tom Sidney’s absence, closed the public meeting.

By Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 04, 2024 at 13:17

This item reprinted with permission from   The Eganville Leader   Eganville, Ontario
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