Emotions run high at amalgamation talks

·5 min read

Sundridge Mayor Lyle Hall believes amalgamation talks between his municipality and Strong and Joly townships are dead. But Strong Mayor Kelly Elik and Tim Bryson, the mayor of Joly, disagree. Hall believes talks reached an impasse when Strong council rejected a lengthy resolution that would further advance talks. Strong defeated the resolution in a 5-0 vote at a tri-council meeting while both Joly and Sundridge passed the resolution. After the vote, Strong council said it had two amalgamation-related resolutions it wanted to introduce, but Hall objected, saying the resolutions were not part of the agenda. “Why do we have rules?” Hall asked. “You don't slide (something) in at the last minute.” Hall wanted to know why Strong didn't submit the two resolutions a few days before the agenda was prepared so all elected officials could read them beforehand. Although Bryson said the procedural by-laws could be suspended allowing the resolutions to be read, Strong opted to wait until the next tri-council meeting to introduce its motions. The municipalities currently have six shared service agreements and part of the failed resolution dealt with reviewing those agreements. “When Strong said they don't want to address the service agreements or the increased costs of running those agreements, well, that's it then,” Hall told The Nugget after the meeting. “There's not going to be amalgamation with this particular Sundridge council.” Hall added the six shared service agreements will continue even though they are outdated and incomplete and need to be updated because of rising costs. Elik doesn't believe merger talks are over. The municipalities take turns hosting the tri-council sessions and Elik says Strong is the host of the next tri-council meeting. “I would like to send an open invitation to the other two municipalities and introduce the resolutions that we wanted to put forward,” Elik said. “We are too late this term to get anything started, but I would like to have all the facts available so the next term of office can make an educated discussion whether to move forward or not.” Bryson also wants to continue pursuing amalgamation. He put together a discussion paper that shows the pros of amalgamation far outweigh the cons. He plans to further develop that paper and said once he's comfortable with the final result he'll “put it out there in a public platform for all the taxpayers to see.” One element of Bryson's discussion paper calls for turning a task force created years ago on amalgamation into a committee that includes staff from all three municipalities so it can look into provincial funding to study amalgamation. It's also a point Bryson brought up during the tri-council meeting. He noted amalgamation talks between the municipalities have been going on for years.

And Hall wanted timelines created to advance the process. “Even if amalgamation doesn't happen, at least we looked at it instead of talking about it,” Hall said. Hall is a big supporter of amalgamation, saying it's easier to make decisions under one municipality. Bryson had a draft of his discussion paper distributed for council members and Strong Coun. Marianne Stickland said while she was not opposed to the contents of the paper “some of the items I have a difference of opinion.”

She didn't specify where the differences lay. She agreed the service agreements need to be brought up to date. She suggested the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing guide the three communities so a decision on whether to move ahead with amalgamation is based on facts. Stickland emphasized that everyone should have a say on whether the three municipalities become one entity, including all the residents. Stickland also said Strong had several conditions that had to be guaranteed. “In our case. our residents cannot and will not lose through the process. That's the first guarantee,” Stickland said. “And staff will not lose their jobs. There will be no job losses.” Stickland said another guarantee was that any of the municipalities could pull out of amalgamation right up to the day of amalgamation, even if the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing approved the merger. She said Strong was interested in pursuing amalgamation but the guarantees it wanted would be deal breakers. “Amalgamation will not cost or adversely affect our residents,” she said. “That's the key priority. The minute that it does, we don't know that we're in anymore.” Hall said the conditions Strong was after create a scenario where merger talks fail. He believes amalgamation is best for all three municipalities. He says services would increase but couldn't say taxes would not go up, although he believes under amalgamation there would be fewer tax increases. Hall called the current status of amalgamation “messy” and he didn't like it. Despite his personal feelings, Hall said one thing he would never do is request the Ontario government to force the three municipalities to merge. Hall says Sundridge would merge with Joly in a heartbeat without Strong if it could. But it can't because Sundridge is surrounded by Strong and Hall says under provincial rules a municipality can't jump over another municipality to get to a third community.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget

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