Editorial – Is SDG Counties working?

In Fall 2019, SDG Counties Council formally adopted its strategic plan and guiding principles based on how council and staff wanted the four year term to proceed. That plan was billed as ‘progressive’ and does set some pretty big expectations. Residents of SDG are the top priority; no part of the county is left behind; partnerships are essential; and the environmental legacy of SDG is important.

The County set five priorities: Take a smarter approach to service delivery; support rural schools so students can stay in their local school in their community; leverage partnership with others for improving health care; promote sustainability; and improve communication. Some aspects of this plan were easily checked off in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Council committed funds to the long-term care homes in Winchester and Maxville for redevelopment projects; the Shared Services Agreement was renegotiated, settling long-standing issues with the City of Cornwall; and the Community Improvement Program is off to a great start. SDG is good at handing out money and contracting out services to others. The issues that require more difficult work by the Counties have floundered.

Communication with stakeholders, including that between County and the six municipalities that make it up has not improved substantially. Municipalities ask to be consulted by the County when decisions impact their residents. Smarter service delivery has fallen to the back burner as seen with a unified communications network project. Instead of both levels of government working together, each is doing its own thing. This is apparent regarding education matters. A file that should see the most cooperation between municipal partners has now turned into infighting and animosity between geographic areas of the County. There is nothing progressive in the way the Counties are interacting. If anything, it is the same as it ever was.

The work of SDG and its member municipalities is largely duplicated. Both levels have roads, planning, finance, economic development, and tourism departments. Most services, like police and ambulance, are contracted out. With such duplication, what is the need for two levels of municipal government if everyone is not working together?

It is clear that the structure in place doesn’t appear to be working. The will to change and be progressive is in name only to date and issues that plagued past terms of County Council continue. If working together and following their own plan can’t fix the issues, eliminating the County level of government altogether may be the next best option.

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