The rush to unite

The Road to Amalgamation, Part 4


Amalgamation was the major preoccupation of the municipal councils in Kemptville, Oxford-on-Rideau and South Gower during 1997. The Province of Ontario had set a series of deadlines that had to be met if amalgamation was to be finalised in time for the municipal elections on November 10. In January, the promise of amalgamation was that it would save money for everyone, municipalities and the Province too. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Municipal Affairs told the Tri-Council at a meeting in Oxford Mills that, had the three municipalities amalgamated in 1995, they would have saved over $200,000. The following week, in the same venue, an Open House for Oxford-on-Rideau residents was told by Reeve Don Cameron that the province would save money by downloading services to the new amalgamated municipality.

Not everyone was as optimistic about what the process would bring. The Kemptville Council continued to be wary of the deal, and voted in favour of bringing in a mediator, as they felt the town was not “getting fair treatment in the negotiations” between the three communities. One of the issues concerning them was the fact that the new amalgamated Council would have only five members, elected at large. Kemptville worried that, without a ward system, were councillors were elected to represent a specific part of the municipality, Kemptville could be left without representation on either the new Council or the Police Services Board.

In early February, the United Counties voted to approve their own plan for restructuring, reducing the number of municipalities in the Counties from twenty-two to fifteen. The United Counties Council itself would be reduced in number from an unwieldy forty-two to just eleven. The proposed restructuring would create a new entity called North Grenville, consisting of the three municipalities, with a Council of five members elected at large. This plan had to be approved by the majority of existing municipalities and then would go to the provincial Ministry for their approval.

The Kemptville Council approved the United Counties plan, as did the other two municipalities, but it was not a unanimous decision. There was still concern about the size of the new council and the lack of a ward system. Kemptville feared they could lose their identity if they had no representatives on the new Council. No arbitrator had been assigned, and some Councillors believed the entire project had been rushed through. But the project was on, and a transition team was set up to manage the amalgamation. One sub-committee was mandated to find a name for the new municipality, and they decided to let the residents decide. A ballot was mailed out containing six options. But the response was not enthusiastic: only 670 votes cast out of a population of almost 12,000.

The name that got most votes was Kemptville-on-Rideau, second was North Grenville. But it was discovered that many ballots had not been delivered, especially in South Gower, so the Transition team decided on the name themselves in the end. Thus was born the Township of North Grenville. It would not become the Municipality of North Grenville officially until 2003.

There are still many today who refer to the Township, or even just Kemptville, when they mean North Grenville.

The size of the new Council continued to be a source of dispute. Ralph Raina, ex-Mayor of Kemptville, suggested that a council of seven would be preferable, at least for the first few elections, with a ward system, to make the transition more harmonious. Richard Bole, Councillor in Kemptville, worried that the increased workload which was bound to fall on the new Council, would result in requiring a full-time council in order to handle the work. But the final arrangement remained a council of five elected at large: the same as we have today.

On May 16, 1997, the Minister of Municipal Affairs approved the amalgamation plan put forward by the United Counties: amalgamation was coming for sure. In July, it was stated that the new scheme would probably not cost staff jobs, though there was some concern noted that the proposed salary of the new Chief Administrative Officer for North Grenville could be as high as $75,000. As the year drew to a close, it was confidently believed that downloading of services from the Province to North Grenville would be revenue neutral. The future looked promising.


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