October 17, 2017

Consider the Pros and Cons

The ONE MUSKOKA Team has proposed a critical, independent review of Muskoka’s municipal governance. It recognizes that along with the benefits of change there will be some pain.

It’s not unlike renovating a house. While the work is being done there is dust, confusion and expense. However, the net result is a house with greater value, increased efficiency and improved day-to-day comfort.

The stark reality is that the Muskoka municipal house we live in requires major renovation. Extensive studies back in 2000 recognized this fact but; sadly, the majority of local politicians didn’t want to undertake the recommended repairs.

In 2000 significant saving were identified if Muskoka’s seven municipal governments joined to form a single municipal system. Estimates ranged from $4.5 to $5.25 million annually.

Change does not necessarily mean immediate savings. However, laying the groundwork for a more efficient and less expensive model could lead to a long-term reduction in operating costs.

On the other hand, if our current municipal politicians want to raise property taxes then they must clearly demonstrate to us they have taken every possible step to increase efficiency.

With this in mind one must ask if having seven separate municipal governments with duplication of staff and function is efficient. Further, how efficient is it to have one appointed and 50 elected politicians representing approximately 60,000 permanent and 70,000 seasonal residents?

In 2000 studies recommended that a new council for the region of Muskoka be composed of a mayor and 16 ward councillors – all elected by the people.

Generally speaking, elected leaders act on behalf of their constituents. Any decision to review the existing municipal system therefore lies with the constituents of Muskoka. If their elected leaders refuse to listen then change will inevitably occur at the next election.

One of the most pervasive arguments heard in opposition to review is that our towns will lose their identity. What must be understood is that the world identifies this tourist region as Muskoka not by the name of a specific town. The identity of Muskoka is Muskoka and it only makes sense that it is marketed as a tourist destination with this reality in mind.

Under and single, regional municipal government residents and cottagers will still be able to support and identify with their home community. For example, the township of Muskoka Lakes is made up of a number of smaller communities such as Bala and Port Carling – communities that have retained their important identity despite the 1970 restructuring. The same holds true for Port Sydney that lies within the geographic boundary of Huntsville.

Renovating Muskoka’s municipal house through careful review does not mean the entire structure needs be torn down. Rather, it a process whereby the structurally sound parts will be retained; the weak sections will be shored up, replaced or, in some cases, eliminated entirely.

Obviously, restructuring may have an impact on municipal employees. A switch from seven municipal governments to one regional government could lead to some turmoil and re-adjustment. As well, elected politicians will have significantly fewer positions to compete for – a fact that could well make them resistant to change.

The ONE MUSKOKA Team is seeking support and encouragement from the full-time and seasonal residents of Muskoka. The team views the move to a full independent review as an opportunity for participation from all corners of Muskoka.

Please visit our website www.onemuskoka.ca for a history of governance review in Muskoka with reports dating back to 1969. The site will also provide an opportunity for you to express your point of view on this most important subject.

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