by Lynne Boldt
March 31 2003
Under cover of cold, dark rainclouds a convoy of vehicles left the confines of Victoria County last Saturday to embark on a southwesterly journey. Just over four hours later the red carpet and handshakes of welcome were extended to over a dozen supporters of VOCO by the ROCK. Standing proudly and united behind the ROCK were approx. 250 local citizens from the town of Ridgetown, Ont. and surrounding communities located in the beautiful countryside of Chatham-Kent.
Once the stormclouds outside had passed, they seemed to move inside. Out of these clouds rained the questions: "Are you happier with the improved services provided by Chatham-Kent?" "Are your roads and ditches better maintained?" Is it easier and cheaper to book recreational facilities (arenas, parks, rec. centers)?" "How many new paid positions have been created since amalgamation?" "Are we paying consultants to investigate changes we don't want anyway?
Thinking I had actually travelled into some kind of "time warp", I continued to listen...I heard "We are NOT a single community, we WERE 23 distinct communities." "We DO NOT NEED a single Municipal Council, we DO NEED government(s) suited to ALL our communities, rural, agricultural, and small town." "We are FED UP and we seek a form or government which serves our individual community needs." It didn't end there....sadly it continued: "Amalgamation promised a DECREASE in spending." "Has ANYONE seen an INCREASE IN SERVICES in your neighbourhood?" "Delegations and representations to C-K Council are denied, cut-short or ignored."
No.....this was no time warp. This was a packed gymnasium full of very angry and hurt people. The thunder we kept hearing throughout the afternoon was "WE DID NOT ASK FOR THIS MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT; IT WAS FORCED UPON US."
The hardest part for me to grasp is this nagging question in the back of MY head. For many months, in fact years...I, as a resident of Victoria County have heard repeatedly, that we must follow the lead of Chatham-Kent. This was the area most like ours, that had complied and cooperated with a most successful, provincially mandated (read: forced) amalgamation. OK...if we here in Victoria County have only been amalgamated for three years, and these citizens of Chatham-Kent have been amalgamated for five --- I understand how they are the leaders with two years more "success" than us to draw from, right? Why then does the following scare me?
142% increase in employee costs, 255% increase in vehicle and equipment costs, 159% increase in contracted work costs, 128% increase in total expenditure costs. Tax revenues are up 121%, user fee revenues are up 137%, fines & penalty revenues are up 228%, with total revenues up 126% since amalgamation!!! These figures are from their Council's 2002 budget - 2003 is still growing, I mean going.
Two years ahead of us in everything eh??? Hmmmm... It seems to me, this ROCK has been painted with fool's gold! These people were telling us, RUN - DON'T WALK to the polls this November with the most resounding YES vote we can deliver!
Oh yes.....the reason VOCO was there? We had been invited to help "lead" these angry residents out of the storm. While we may be two years behind them in the amalgamation process, we are months ahead of them in the opportunity to stop the nonsense. They too, want an opportunity to restore what was taken from them and map out their own future. To allow citizens and their democratically elected local representatives to implement the best possible local success, achievements and future growth.
Voluntarily, without political guns to our heads - VOCO and the ROCK have once again shown that cooperation, and not conscription is the only way to suppress the storm. At the end of this particular day, all stormclouds had been broken by smiles of sunshine as both sides enjoyed watching the rainbow form that will now link Chatham-Kent and Victoria County.
What IS this ROCK I refer to? None other than the growing collection of residents that now form the "Responsible Organization of Chatham-Kent" committee". As the convoy headed out again, this time in a northeasterly direction, the only sound heard was the earnest affirmation of ROCK ONNNnnnn Chatham-Kent .....
For more VOCO announcements, updates and info visit our website at: www.geocities.com/vocomail, call: 887-4797, 738-6039 or attend a VOCO meeting.