County to create economic development position

By Chad Ingram

Haliburton County council will create an economic development officer position for the county, as well as work toward joint procurement of goods and services for the county and its four lower-tier municipalities.

During a special meeting on Jan. 13, councillors decided those would be two priority items for 2021 stemming from the service delivery review the county had completed for itself and its lower-tier governments, and which council received from Toronto-based consulting firm StrategyCorp in December. That review culminated with a 140-page report which lays out a host of recommendations, categorized into 12 priority areas: roads, bridges and drainage; fire services; waste management; co-ordinated building, septic and bylaw services; planning services; economic development; collaborative procurement; integrated digital strategy; co-ordinated legal services; human resources co-ordination; communications; and overall co-ordination.

The report also identifies potential timelines for the completion of this work, staggered between 2021 and 2026, although council will choose what priorities it believes should be dealt with at what time. Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin noted the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic might delay work in some areas.

It was clear the No. 1 priority was the creation of an economic development position at the upper-tier level. While the county once served an economic development role, with tourism and economic development grouped into one department, since 2013, it has focused on tourism marketing, with economic development left to the lower-tier municipalities. Highlands East is the only one of the four lower-tier governments that has consistently had an economic development role in place.

“I think we need to start low and go slow,” Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt said of the numerous recommendations. “My No. 1 choice is economic development in this year’s budget.”

Moffatt said there were some recommendations – the standardization of landfill regulations and operations, throughout the county, for example – that were much more complicated and would require a large amount of in-house work to bring to fruition.

Other members of council agreed that creating an economic development position should be the first of the recommendations to be acted upon, with Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor and County Warden Liz Danielsen noting the economic repercussions of the pandemic exacerbated the need for the role.

“I think it’s a wise move, even in these times,” agreed Highlands East Mayor Dave Burton.

Dysart et al Deputy Pat Kennedy said he agreed with the creation of the position, but wanted to see key performance indicators put in place, and for the job description to be specific about what the role of economic development officer would look like. Council plans to move ahead with the creation of the job in the first quarter of the year.

Councillors also agreed they would begin exploring joint procurement of goods and services, if not necessarily through the hiring of a procurement specialist, which was another recommendation from the report.

“A lot of the hard savings in the document come from procurement,” said chief administrative officer Mike Rutter. The report indicates $900,000 of saving per year that could be achieved through collective procurement.

Another recommendation councillors agreed could probably be easily achieved was joint legal services or the creation of an in-house lawyer position for the county and townships, all of which currently contract out their legal work. Council will be receiving staff input on the matter.