Opinions are widely varied from the mayors of Owen Sound, Georgian Bluffs, Chatsworth and Meaford when it comes to the pursuit of additional shared services or any potential amalgamation in northern Grey County.
The Owen Sound and District Chamber of Commerce's 2019 Leader's Forum took place this morning at the Best Western Inn on the Bay in Owen Sound, with the central theme of the discussion being: "On what we can agree -- what is the path forward to overcome roadblocks hampering economic growth and municipal cooperation in North Grey?"
The panel included Owen Sound Mayor Ian Boddy, Georgian Bluffs Mayor Dwight Burley, Chatsworth Mayor Scott Mackey, Meaford Mayor Barb Clumpus and Grey County Warden/Hanover Deputy Mayor Selwyn Hicks.
All municipal leaders expressed at least some interest in collaboration through additional shared services. But, if the interactions between mayors during this morning's Leader's Forum are any indication, challenges clearly exist in finding common ground beneficial for multiple tax bases.
Local leaders even have varied opinions on whether or not the province will look to tinker the municipal governance structures in Grey or Bruce counties.
Currently, a review by the Ford government in eight regions/counties is ongoing, but it does not include Grey or Bruce.
Boddy says he's "convinced" the province is going to move ahead with further restructuring and there is an opportunity now to plan it out before it happens.
He made comments suggesting the local government structure is outdated and should be adjusted to take advantage of advancements in communication technology.
Boddy says townships were put together in 1849 under the Baldwin Act so people could attend meetings by horse and buggy.
"Now we've got electronics that we communicate around the world," Boddy explains. "We don't have to be within horse and buggy range to still provide good service to people living in our community."
Meanwhile, both Burley and Mackey don't anticipate the province will perform any restructuring to the borders in Grey County.
Burley says a retired MP told him "restructuring is done" and he agrees with that. He says municipalities have to stop looking at boundaries and instead sit down and talk about how to help the entire region.
He adds amalgamation will also result in the ratepayer losing a lot of contact with their political (representatives).
Mackey says Chatsworth is involved in a lot of shared services and will continue to look at additional opportunities there, but he doesn't believe its council wants to look at amalgamation whatsoever.
"Shared services and amalgamation are two different things," he says. "Amalgamation you lose control. Shared services you get to jointly have control with someone else."
Mackey acknowledges the Ford government is doing a regional review of local governance, but doesn't share the opinion that means Grey County will be looked at next.
When it comes to the question of amalgamation, Meaford mayor Barb Clumpus says each community is very different in terms of focus but there are always ways of collaboration.
She continually stressed a commitment to collaborative planning with municipal partners, saying Meaford is always looking for ways to economize and share.
Grey County Warden Hicks says he embraces the opportunity to look at how things are being done. He relays amalgamation may not be such a bad thing, but also states it would have varied impacts on different municipalities.
The Chamber also asked for positions of the mayors and warden on the idea of restructuring county lines, including the integration of Grey and Bruce.
Warden Hicks says this is an issue "whispered" about all the time and while he's not convinced county amalgamation will save dollars, maybe it's time to go beyond whispering and study the pros and cons.
"50 years from now, is there going to be a line between Grey and Bruce?" Hicks ponders. "I dare say, no, it's not going to be there."
Burley poured cold water on the idea of county amalgamation and Mackey also called it a "tall order".
Boddy articulated a vision of having one single upper-tier government for Grey and Bruce counties, with four lower tiers serving the entire area.
"I would take an eraser and remove that line in a heart beat," Boddy says of the border between Grey and Bruce.
Several issues more directly related to Owen Sound and Georgian Bluffs were also touched on in questions prepared by the Chamber, relating to the pursuit of shared services including water/wastewater, organics waste management and fire protection.
Burley says Georgian Bluffs and the City of Owen Sound can do many great things together if they sit down and talk. He says sensible agreements can be arranged that work for both municipalities.
But, he feels when municipalities talk to each other about shared services they don't listen to one another.
"It's hard to sit across the table with another municipality to get a conversation started when the first (answer) is 'No'." Burley says.
That said, Burley notes Georgian Bluffs does look forward to engaging with Owen Sound to try to advance a number of areas.
Boddy says Owen Sound is moving ahead in engaging municipal partners for talks to pursue shared services, in areas such as police and organic waste management.
"Let's pick out the things that we know can work and get them done," he says.
Despite the obvious conflict that emerged over some topics broached at the forum, Warden Hicks calls it a positive these conversations about shared services and/or amalgamation are happening.
"Anytime people confront difficult subjects it's a good thing," Hicks says. "Not everyone is going to agree and human beings are resistant to change, so new ways of thinking will always be met with some confrontation."
"But, it's the job of community leaders to embrace those difficult subjects."