By September of 1996, the amalgamation project seemed to be going nowhere. Although there were regular meetings of the Tri-Council Committee delegated with coming up with facts and ideas about restructuring, and the United Counties also had a special committee doing the same thing on a counties level, there was an overall unease with the lack of clarity coming from the province. The most commonly heard comment at council meetings seems to have been: “If there aren’t any savings, what’s the point?”
South Gower, Oxford-on-Rideau and Kemptville seemed the most likely partners in any future amalgamation, as Merrickville, Richmond and Wolford had all declined invitations to join in the meetings. The three councils were also finding the pressure coming from the United Counties to be unnecessary. At a Counties Council meeting in September, the message from the Kemptville Council was “back off”, and that is a quote. The Tri-Councils wanted to be left alone to sort out their future without the Counties arranging things over their heads. To make matters worse, Kemptville Council considered itself at a disadvantage because their Mayor did not attend County meetings, as the heads of the other two councils did. Instead, it was the Reeve and Deputy Reeve of Kemptville who pocketed the stipend for attending in Brockville.
Tempers and egos were being rubbed raw, particularly in regard to Kemptville’s attitude to the whole project. One Kemptville Councillor wanted a five-year extension in order to examine all aspects and implications of amalgamation. Another believed that, with the expected arrival of the new 416, Kemptville would be so prosperous that they wouldn’t need to be saddled with the two rural municipalities. This attitude was common on the town’s council. Reeve Ken Finnerty saw the other municipalities as poor relations: “They seem to forget that they are talking about sharing our services; we’re not sharing theirs.”
Mayor Ambrose Etmanskie wondered whether the possible annexation of South Gower and Oxford by Kemptville should be considered. Deputy Reeve Robert Higgins commented that rural municipalities were concerned with roads and ditches, while an urban area like Kemptville had to handle services such as policing, water and sewage. Rural areas would find it difficult to deal with a full-service town.
There were so many other details to think about. It was decided that the new municipal offices should be at the Ferguson Forest Centre, which was about to be taken over by Oxford. It was considered to be large enough, as the projected staff for the new Township would amount to just eight people. There would be a Senior staff of Clerk-Administrator, with three sub-managers: a Treasurer, a Planning and Building Manager, and a Manager of Public Works. Furthermore, the new Township Council would consist of five members, a Head of Council, Deputy Head, and three Councillors. There was, as yet, no agreement about whether these would be elected on a ward system, or at large.
These five members would replace the seventeen existing council members, giving a saving of about $120,000. After all, as many councillors noted: If the only cost savings were a few councillor’s salaries, it wasn’t worth it. The two questions to be answered about amalgamation were: how much will we save, and how much will the whole thing cost?
Councillor Richard Boal was concerned about the proposed size of the new council. “The workload for these people would be such that it could not be handled on a part time basis, and that the area would end up with full time council members; an expense which would mitigate against any future savings.” This concern did not seem to find an echo in his colleagues, and so we have today a Municipal Council of the same five members.
Deputy Reeve Higgins of Kemptville worried that the FFC would not be big enough to house the new municipal staff and council. If a new facility had to be built, where would the savings be then? It was not long after amalgamation that his fears were found to be justified and a new Municipal Centre was built at a cost that is still being paid by North Grenville taxpayers, who still do not actually own the building.
By the end of 1996, the general feeling in the three municipalities was that there was not enough information, no hard data, on which to make a decision. The Council in South Gower was getting frustrated with the Kemptville Council. Councillor David Delaney expressed the annoyance felt by many that Kemptville needed to decide what they thought about amalgamation, because they were holding up talks. His colleagues passed a Resolution that, if Kemptville wouldn’t decide, then South Gower and Oxford should go ahead on their own.
There was just a few months left before the deadline for decision.