Splitting town in 2 endorsed
Study says new municipalities could be created for north and south, with administration shared
Despite misgivings by some councillors that the effort is doomed, the Town of Essex will again ask Essex County council and the provincial government to split the town in half.
Council endorsed a 24-page study by a Toronto economist Monday that suggested a single administrative staff could be kept together to run both municipalities after de-amalgamation.
The study was done for the South Colchester-Harrow Action Committee, which presented a 5,000-name petition last year in favour of a north-south split.
Consultant Peter Tomlinson said one staff for separate towns would cause the least disruption and would be more likely to win provincial approval for de-amalgamation.
Tomlinson said each town council would determine its own service levels and tax rates. “We hope that it could be a win-win,” he said.
Andrew Sancton, a professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario and expert in local government, said amalgamation — the current Town of Essex was created in 1999 by the amalgamation of Harrow, Essex, Colchester North and Colchester South — was grossly oversold in the past as a recipe for lower taxes.
A former Rhodes scholar, Sancton wrote a book in 2000 called Merger Mania: The Assault on Local Government.
Small municipalities, like Pelee Island, can succeed quite well on their own, Sancton said. He also strongly endorsed sharing of services between municipalities — such as Windsor’s sale of water and sewage services to LaSalle and Tecumseh — as options preferable to amalgamation.
Community identities can be preserved and the benefits of economies of scale can still be obtained with sharing agreements, he said. Sancton said de-amalgamation in Essex using a single staff could become a model for the rest of Ontario and the country.
“We’re setting ourselves up for failure,” warned Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche who pointed out the presentation didn’t strongly prove separation wouldn’t lead to big tax hikes. “It does- n’t answer the question that had to be answered.”
Another hitch would be whether each of the separated municipalities would get two representatives on county council, Coun. Ron Rogers said.
A single staff for two municipalities has only been tried once before in Ontario for a two-year period in the Hamilton area. However, many small U.S. towns have shared staff and other services with municipal neighbours, Tomlinson said.
Although he voted to pursue de-amalgamation, Coun. Paul Innes wondered if sharing staff would lead to arguments over hiring, firing and deployment. Coun. Randy Voakes was also skeptical of sharing staff. He said a complete split is preferable.
Tomlinson said the extent of the divide between the north and south halves of Essex is unique in Ontario, with about 90 per cent of ratepayers in the south favouring a split.
Although Tomlinson was cautious in his views about the financial implications of de-amalgamation, his early estimate was that taxes would go down about 2.5 per cent in Harrow and Colchester South, and up by about the same amount in Essex and Colchester North.
Tomlinson recommended a detailed study by town staff to verify the cost of de-amalgamation. Tomlinson said Ministry of Municipal Affairs staff would likely concede privately that some amalgamations were a mistake. The province hasn’t undone any because of fears of stirring things up, he said.