The Township of Alfred and Plantagenet is considering reducing the size of its council.
This isn’t the first change in structure for that municipality, which reduced the number of wards in the municipality from four to two in 2016.
The municipality was formed in 1997 when four small municipalities merged to create the Township of Alfred-Plantagenet. That year marked many local mergers, with the Town of Hawkesbury and the Township of East Hawkesbury the only municipal entities to remain intact in Prescott-Russell.
Now, Alfred-Plantagenet council is considering retaining its ward structure, but reducing the number of councillors representing each ward from three – to two per ward.
That would reduce council to four members plus the mayor, or a total of five members.
It’s a tall order for an existing council to consider reducing its numbers. Consider that few major changes have taken place at the municipal representation level since 1997.
Yet sometimes, it is time to re-think things, and as many have pointed out in recent months, the number of councillors governing the 85,000-citizen population in Prescott-Russell is considerable, when one compares it to the 24 councillors plus a mayor seated at the City of Ottawa council table, serving the 1.1 million-plus population. A 24th ward was approved late last year, and it is estimated that the average population per ward is 47,900, according to reports.
Champlain Township has eight councillors and one mayor serving its 8,700 population. The Town of Hawkesbury has one mayor and six councillors for its population of 10,260.
The Township of East Hawkesbury has three councillors, one deputy-mayor and one mayor serving about 3,500 citizens.
Consider also that each of the eight municipalities has its own roster of professionals in place. Municipal responsibilities and expenditures have grown.
As times have changed, complexity has increased and decisions are often beyond what a group of mostly-male elected officials can figure out by having a brief discussion. Reports are required. Professional analysis and recommendations, along with transparent tracking of decision methodology are part of all municipal decisions these days.
But it isn’t exclusively about the numbers and the money. Before anyone advocates for one, counties-wide council whereby each of the *former* municipalities becomes a ward, we should think about what that might look like.
But given the paltry participation at council meetings by the public, one honestly wonders if anyone would notice.
It would be a boon for us in the news business, to be sure. Instead of monitoring eight municipal councils, we would be down to keeping an eye on one bunch of decision-makers. And then, there is the county level of government to consider. How well do you feel represented by your mayor, remembering that the mayors of smaller municipalities may be outvoted, thanks to the weighted voting system which affords more votes to some municipalities.
To outsiders, Prescott-Russell may look similar from one end to the other, but to its citizens, the community identities, history, priorities and needs vary between towns and municipalities. Let’s be honest; many citizens have never even left their own communities to explore other parts of Prescott-Russell. They are more likely to plan a trip elsewhere than visit somewhere within 45 minutes of here.
It is always good to examine our collective consciousness and look at ourselves as well as those around us.
We share similarities and could benefit by learning about our neighbours – and standing with them when they need us.