Shelburne mayor talks to Melancthon about dissolving joint boards for fire and recreation

·4 min read

Mayor Wade Mills spoke to Melancthon, aiming to put out a fire that’s been started by Shelburne’s resolution to have staff look into getting rid of joint boards with funding partners, to bring its arena and fire department under town control.

He said some members of Shelburne council are still wearing the scars of the debate over moving from Town police to OPP, another service delivery change made recently.

And he said that much of the angst about Shelburne’s motion is “based on misunderstanding.”

The key phrase in the motion, he said, was that the course of action was supported “in principle.”

“It did not decide that the boards are to be terminated and that’s it,” he said. “From a high level, our council recognized this makes sense in principle.”

At the end of his presentation, Melancthon Mayor Darren White thanked him and said the municipality looked forward “to being a collaborative partner” and to seeing the forthcoming Shelburne staff report.

Mayor Wade Mills said he would see it was forwarded to municipal partners as soon as it was made public.

Southgate Township neighbours Melancthon and has separate agreements with it for fire protection and contributions to Southgate recreation costs. Melancthon also gets fire coverage from the Melancthon-Mulmur Fire Department, and residents use the North Dufferin Community Centre, both of which are in Honeywood and joint ventures with the Township of Mulmur.

The Town of Shelburne passed its motion about the joint boards after considering a consultant’s review of service delivery within Dufferin County.

Shelburne council voted in favour of having the town “directly deliver” services of the Shelburne District Fire Department and the Centre Dufferin Community Centre, and asked for a staff report on next steps.

Right now, there are joint boards for both, involving Shelburne, Amaranth, Mono, Mulmur and Melancthon. Already, Amaranth Township has reacted strongly, deciding it will continue to pay operating costs for the two services, but place its capital contributions into a reserve until the matter is resolved.

Shelburne Mayor Wade Mills was invited by Melancthon to address the issue at last Thursday’s meeting.

He said he understands Shelburne’s motion has led to “heated exchanges at the CDRC and fire board, and also some pre-emptive action by another municipal partner.”

“There is no desire on our part to take unilateral action and force that on our municipal partners,” he said.

If the changes are made, the town would look forward to that happening “amicably, equitably and through negotiation.”

But that won’t happen at the individual joint board tables, he said, because the agreements are between the municipalities themselves.

The Shelburne staff report stated that the town owns the Centre Dufferin community centre and funds just over 60 percent of the budget. Shelburne also owns the fire station and pays its share of costs based on assessment, household and the number of calls. In 2021, that will be about 55 percent.

The recommendation about fire protection operating as a municipal department was based on the increasing technical complexity, regulations and large potential liability. The report suggested a fee-for-service agreement with the other municipalities through a contract.

Newest Melancthon councillor James McLean pointed out that Shelburne did make a choice when it came to recreation.

As far as indoor recreation services, the consultant actually put forward two options. “Staff are directed only to look at one of the two options" in the Shelburne motion, Coun. McLean said

The first option was to change the reporting structure so that the Facility Manager reports to the Municipal CAO or other staff.

The second option was to dissolve the board and that was the one endorsed, Coun. McLean said.

Mayor Mills agreed, observing that “we own the asset but all the programming is controlled by a joint board we don’t control.”

“That was why we leaned into one option,” he said. “It doesn’t mean at the end of the day it’s the option we want to pursue.

Coun. Margaret Mercer said that confusion has come because the motion was passed by the town and then circulated to the other municipal partners without any prior discussion.

“Now I think that trust is gone, to a great degree unnecessarily,” she said. “It’s not neighbourly... and it’s not even politically savvy or smart.”

In his closing remarks, Shelburne Mayor Mills said, “I get the fact that change is difficult and there is always some fear that goes along with it.”

He said the boards have served the community well, but the question is whether there is a better way to provide services.

“Let’s not be afraid to explore it,” he said.

M.T. Fernandes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Dundalk Herald