Editorial: Motion to reduce District Council a good start
There is a motion being considered by the District of Muskoka Council to review and reduce the size of its elected membership from 22 to 18 – plus the District Chair.
While that doesn’t seem like a lot, and it truly isn’t, it does represent a good start. Well, it will be a good start should they implement this recommendation from the Municipal Modernization Committee.
The reduction in elected membership would see each of the six lower-tier municipalities send an equal number of representatives to the District Council table: the mayor plus two others, who are then joined by a District Chair that is elected by the council.
This idea of reducing the council’s size is not new, it’s been tossed around for years. But this time it seems like they’re serious, which is great. This is another way to reduce costs of government, considering the District councillors get paid twice, once for their seat at the Town or Township and again for their seat at District.
Personally, I would love to see the District reduced even further; all the way down to 12 members plus the chair – maybe even less. Does every Mayor really need to be at council?
Can we not just vote a representative in from each community who will correspond with their lower tier counterparts and be the one voice?
And since we’re examining a reduction of District council members, why stop there?
We should be thoroughly examining the redundancies between the District and lower-tier municipal departments as well to find the most efficient and cost-effective way to spend the taxpayer’s dollars.
Far too much of our taxes goes towards the WSIB lines – the District had almost $40 million in personnel expenditures budgeted in 2020, which equates roughly 31 per cent of the annual budget and by far the biggest expense; meanwhile, one can find similar percentages of each Town and Township’s levy going towards salaries, wages, and benefits.
There is plenty of opportunity to streamline and find efficiencies by reducing the size of certain departments at the District level while downloading some items (and maybe offering deserving raises where warranted) to certain lower tier municipal staff.
Let me say, having personally dealt with many municipal staff members over the years in my media roles, I know there are those at the Town and Township offices who could easily handle taking on more responsibility and perform their duties at an extremely high level.
Of course, if they did so, I would be in favour of giving them a bump in pay. Afterall, taking on more tasks and doing them well should be rewarded.
I’m not going to start naming names or causing drama by picking each department at each municipality apart, but we’ve long known that planning and economic development are prime areas to look at.
And much like the reduction of the District Council, this isn’t a new idea: many of us have been debating it and asking for the District of Muskoka to find real efficiencies since the late 2000’s – maybe even farther back.
On the flip side, there are certain services, such as the Community Services department at District, which provides much-needed supports to the under-employed and under-privileged members of our populace – a demographic that finds itself growing during the pandemic.
This a department I have also dealt with over the years in my media roles and I know their value. This is where you would want all services to remain the same, or perhaps find some to upload to the District team.
Whether one agrees with my point of view or not regarding the municipal staffing, at the very least having less elected officials at the District level is something the majority of us can agree upon.
On that note, the District of Muskoka is hosting a special council meeting on Thursday, February 4 at 9 a.m. to receive public input. Learn more about the meeting, the motion and how to submit your opinion at: https://www.engagemuskoka.ca/municipal-modernization
If you feel as strongly as I do about the reduction of the District Council, not just by four elected members but even more, then you must make your opinion heard. Take the time to find out all the details and share your voice (be it in writing or orally).
No matter what community you live in, it’s time to move forward with finding all manners of efficiencies in the public sector, beginning with the size of the District Council and eventually moving towards reducing redundancies within the upper-tier municipal offices.
By Chris Occhiuzzi, for HuntersBayRadio.com