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The Amalgamation of The City Of The Kawartha Lakes Continues To Cause A Divide 20 Years Later

KAWARTHA LAKES – As the twentieth anniversary of the amalgamation of the City of Kawartha Lakes is upon us, the drastic change continues to wedge a divide between many of the residents as some say the rewards have been vast while others still recall it as being one of the biggest mistakes ever made.

In 2001, Victoria County which was comprised of 16 townships, was forced into amalgamation, clustering many towns, villages and rural communities into one name, one identity, one municipality, The City Of Kawartha Lakes.

As amalgamations were becoming more and more common in other parts of Ontario, many Victoria County residents voted against the change but their votes were not heard.

And while this was done in hopes of enabling constituents to reap the rewards of financial savings and other improved services, according to Faye McGee, former Reeve of the Fenelon Township before the amalgamation, no benefits have come from “the mistake”.

“I wasn’t opposed until I did research with other people, I was concerned so I wanted to know more about it,” she said. “In my opinion all services including the maintenance and services of the roads in rural areas have declined since this mistake has taken over and our taxes have continued to climb.”

According to McGee, who also sat on council after the amalgamation, Victoria County determined they didn’t see benefits to the change but after Emily township requested a commissioner, Harry Kitchen, who was appointed by the province, their vote against the alteration was put on hold.

“It was done, after that it was done and we fought back,” she said.

Eventually, those opposed to the change got a referendum, a vote was taken and it was in favour of reversing the amalgamation, added McGee.

“Then the province didn’t honour it and stated they wouldn’t at this time,” she said. “The province agreed to honour the vote of the people and chose not to, it shows lack of democratic right.”

According to McGee, the city now has possibly three or four times more employees in this municipality as it stands today then there was in Victoria County and all the municipalities put together.

“We didn’t have any people paid over 100,000 dollars  a year and now we have several,” she said. “I do not believe there has been (positive changes), there is less representation of the people at council and  I don’t believe peoples concerns are being addressed quickly and efficiently.”

After the amalgamation, McGee has seen communities fighting to keep their own identities while also losing many volunteers. And while she believes our emergency services are good, she knows they were good before the change occurred.

“Our firefighters were volunteers, we had local people in local areas maintaining the roads and it proved to me that there wasn’t going to be financial savings,” she said.

She also noted how drastically different the needs are in rural and urban areas. And even though 20 years has passed us by, McGee remains firm in her stance and believes reversing what has been done would be cheaper than continuing as one.

“Some people like myself believe that getting out of this would be cheaper then continuing the way we are, when they say you cant go back, I don’t believe that’s the case, I believe you honour the vote of the people.”

For Councillor Kathleen Seymour-Fegan, dwelling on the past is not part of her busy schedule.

“To be honest we don’t have a choice, it doesn’t matter, I think that’s important, we need to look to the future,” she said. “The municipality didn’t ask for it, the provinces idea was to reduce the amount of towns they had to deal with and then they downloaded expenses onto the municipality.”

And as Seymour-Fegan ventures into her second term as a city councillor for the Kawartha Lakes, she has seen significant improvements as the elected officials move forward in providing necessary services for residents.

“We need to recognize what we were, we are a collection of villages, hamlets farmland and urban areas that are very diverse, a collection of unique communities and each is very different and that’s why I think each councillor has different issues in each community,” she explained. “Now that there is eight of us, it works so much better than 16, everyone is working towards the greater good instead of being very proprietary on their own area.”

Seymour-Fegan also noted that after the amalgamation, residents continued to be protective over their own area instead of working together. As 20 years has passed, a lot has changed including government legislation, she added.

“Times have changed, we have no choice except to move forward and everyone work together towards the greater good. The amount of resources that we have here, its huge, the public works department, the libraries, the community centres, would they be able to afford them now, probably not,” said Seymour-Fegan. “When things change, people don’t necessarily want that, the unfortunate thing is sometimes they have to and in the end it can be more beneficial for everyone.”

Moving forward, Seymour-Fegan believes council will do their best for the residents with the resources at hand and with what they receive from the province, noting that the City of Kawartha Lakes has a very small tax base with expenses on the rise.

She also noted that since the amalgamation, the city now has more equipment and more resources. And while many would challenge that pre-amalgamation boasted better days, Seymour-Fegan reiterated how significant change in provincial and federal legislation has been among us for years.

“Maybe it was better back then but things are completely different now, 20 years ago was 20 years ago, things have changed, things are changing and rapidly, sadly,” she said. “People are always concerned about their own area which is understandable, which is why you have a ward councillor to work with your area, but there is the bigger issue of the entire municipality.”

Mardelle Braine also thinks the the amalgamation was a mistake. Prior to the change, Braine served as the CEO clerk for Bobcaygeon and Verulam.  The two townships amalgamated on their own, one year before the City of The Kawartha Lakes was born.

“I was not in favour, the village of Bobcaygeon and Verulam, we had very healthy reserves at the time, experiencing quite a bit of growth, we did not feel that it was necessary to have the commissioner come in,” she said. “We thought we were fine the way we were.”

After the amalgamation occurred, Braine believes rural townships and villages got lost in the shuffle along with parts of their heritage. She also saw a decline in road services.

“Bobcaygeon and Verulam were both thriving communities on our own, we came up with our own resolution and it was just swept aside,” she said.

And even though she was opposed to the change, she did note that prior to the amalgamation, many rural fire departments were lacking proper equipment, which she explained has greatly improved since the townships have united.

For Barb Truax, her memories of her husband, Art Truax’s, approval of the amalgamation, his beliefs in fairness and his experience as the first Mayor of the City of the Kawartha Lakes are still vivid, 20 years later.

Art passed away in 2011. He was the last Mayor of Lindsay before the amalgamation and the first Mayor of the city, for a three year term.

“My husband was for the amalgamation, he thought there would be advantages and more equity across the county and Lindsay if everyone could share in the same benefits and same expenses,” Barb said. “A lot of people were protecting their own domain, we ended up with 16 councillors but it was very fractured, each person was protecting their own turf, it was a matter of blending that all together.”

Barb noted that many residents continue to battle negative feelings regarding the amalgamation as many rural communities feel unfairly treated.

“There have always been the feelings around rural areas that Lindsay got everything and rural areas didn’t get anything, that wasn’t true, rural people came in to Lindsay to do their shopping and use the facilities in town, it was more equitable to put the expenses and advantages over the whole area,” she said.

According to Barb, keeping the city united and ensuring everyone felt included and treated fairly was one of Art’s biggest hurdles as the Mayor. Prior to the amalgamation, many townships reluctantly spent money on their various needs but once the city developed as one, requests for changes and updates in these areas were proposed regularly as many residents expected their townships to be  modernized like Lindsay, she added.

And even though time continues to pass and some don’t see eye to eye with a global view,  Barb believes improvements have surely been made.

“He was a man who wanted to be fair, he wanted to be fair with everybody, it was his premise in the beginning to make it fair for everybody and he was a wonderful people person,” she said. “He taught me so many things, watching him enabled me to develop skills that I probably wouldn’t have had.”

Currently the City of the Kawartha Lakes is comprised of eight wards, represented by eight councillors which is headed by Mayor Andy Letham.

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Jennifer Walker
Jennifer decided to study journalism after having a life long passion for writing. She began her career as a reporter for the Uxbridge Times Journal and moved on to freelance work for various publications after her and her husband welcomed their daughters. She has been published in various Durham Region newspapers, the Durham Parent Magazine as well as Equine Wellness. Jennifer continues to follow her dreams as a wife, mother and journalist and is so excited to join the team at Kawartha411.

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