The Beacon Newsletter - July 2000
In a marriage first suggested by the provincial government, Moore and Sombra Townships will soon give birth to a brand new municipality, St. Clair Township. This alone is not news to most people who reside in these townships. What may surprise you is the vast amount of work being done behind the scenes to bring this new township to life. To be able to understand how the new township is being developed, it's important to understand why and how the process began. For this, you have to go back about four years to the initial provincial decision which concluded there were too many municipalities in Ontario, about 858 total. The government reasoned fewer, larger municipalities could realize cost savings through economies of scale not available to smaller ones. It projected the number could be reduced to about 300.
According to Donald Lougheed, transition co-ordinator and resent chief administrator officer/treasurer of Moore Township, the history of the Moore/Sombra amalgamation began shortly after the province made its wishes known. "A meeting was called by Mayor Jane Marsh over three years ago," he said. "She invited everyone to the Moore Township office to discuss it." Meetings were also held in Petrolia, involving municipal leaders from all over Lambton County. Lougheed says formal discussions between the townships began about two years ago but were eventually broken off. They resumed last fall with a transition committee comprised of all councilors and both mayors of the two townships.
John Demars, clerk/administrator of Sombra Township, says the provincial decision created a sense of urgency throughout the county. "From 1996, it was like a snowball rolling downhill," he said. "The goal in Lambton was not to get caught in the Chatham-Kent situation." Chatham-Kent was one of the first areas to amalgamate, with 22 municipalities plus the city of Chatham combining in one vast entity. "It was pretty dramatic," said Demars. He added it was feared Lambton County could go the same way as Chatham-Kent, with a provincial commissioner recommending how county municipalities would be combined. Demars recalls the feeling in Lambton County was that local solutions must be found to prevent provincial intervention. "It was better than a provincial commissioner coming in," he said. "It was too big a risk."
The process of amalgamation currently underway involves hundreds of decision and a lot of planning. To accomplish this complicated task, a transition board has been established. In accordance with the Ontario government ruling, the board is comprised of both township mayors and all of its councilors. Although it is not complete, a number of vital decisions have been made. Lougheed says township residents will notice little or no change in the services they have come to expect. He admits there could be a few minor glitches associated with the amalgamation, but overall things should remain constant. Services like snow removal and fire/emergency services will still be delivered from their current locations. The fate of current township employees is another one of the decisions the committee has decided. Demars says there should be no problem of job loss. "No one will be involuntarily terminated." he said. "There will be a place at the table for them." He added some employees may be offered jobs that differ slightly from their present position, but all will be considered. The matter of retirement is still under consideration by the committee.
There are also other less obvious decisions to be made concerning the creation of a new township. As transition co-ordinator, Lougheed must work with the transition committee on matters such as how the new council will govern itself, how the various boards will operate, what departments will be required, councilor training and public information. In addition, there are decision to be made about items of identification such as a coat of arms, logo, and colours.