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by Anne Panter
February 11, 2003

All the Studies Support Two-Tier

     In the referendum to be held next November, voters will be given a chance to decide how our local government will be structured. Do we want two-tier (the former Victoria County system) or single tier (the current City of Kawartha Lakes)? It's not a new question. It has been asked of several consultants over the years, and their reports have overwhelmingly supported the two-tier model.

     Let me recap the two models. The two-tier system had an upper-tier County and lower-tier towns, villages and townships. Local councils dealt with local matters. County council, made up of representatives from all the local councils, dealt with matters which affected all County residents. Taxes were levied at both levels, so local tax (mil) rates varied from one municipality to the next. There were also service agreements among the municipalities; for instance two townships might share one bylaw enforcement officer.

     In the current one-tier system, we have only the "County" level. Because there is only one municipality, all taxpayers must pay the same general tax rate. "Area rating" (if Council would choose to use it) allows for taxing for services which vary across the City. And because there are no local Councils, each ward has only one vote of 17, even on local issues.

     Which is preferable in a huge rural / urban area such as Victoria County? Taxpayers have paid for several studies asking that very question. Here are their conclusions.

     The Sims study in 1976 supported a two-tier model. The study done by the County of Victoria Steering Committee on County Government in 1991, recommended the continuation of upper-tier and lower-tier municipal government.

     The 1998 Hemson Review of Options For Local Government in Victoria County offered several options involving the two-tier system. While conceding that single-tier government, such as we now have with the City of Kawartha Lakes, was an option, the study also concluded that "the extent to which there would be any significantly greater economies of scale (with single-tier) is debatable," and "It is because of the basic factor of geography, and its many implications, that in our opinion, the single-tier municipality option falls short. For this reason we have concluded that a two-tier structure with a series of local municipalities is preferable."

     Even Harry Kitchen, the architect of single-tier CoKL, sang a different tune in 1997. In a report prepared for Peterborough County, he said: "The net result of moving to a one-tier level of government rather than a two-tier is an expected increase in overall cost."

     Mr. Kitchen's conclusion was based in part upon a Price Waterhouse study for Ottawa-Carleton in 1992 which predicted that the average tax bill would rise between 5.5% to 16.5% with a move to single-tier government.

     With all of the studies on municipal governance seeming to support the two-tier type of government we had before our amalgamation into the CoKL, it is difficult to understand the blind faith of Kawartha Lakes Supporters (the organization put together to advance the "No" side). Although they have attempted to distance themselves from the City of Kawartha Lakes, they specifically advocate the single-tier model represented by CoKL.

     Perhaps this is because they support the theory, but not the reality, of our amalgamation. But in both theory and in practice, single-tier municipal government is a failure. The evidence bears this out.

Reprinted with permission from The Promoter

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