Municipal services

Hundreds of residents oppose reduced access to municipal services

Chatham-Kent residents are expressing concern over a proposed cost-cutting measure that could see the end of service buildings in several rural communities.

A report on the proposed cost-cutting measure that would see the closure of buildings providing in-person access to municipal services in six communities has led to hundreds of deputies on the Chatham-Kent council meeting agenda last week.

Many pointed to the negative impact this would have on their communities, especially older people who rely on them to make payments and get information about municipal services.

“A small town with an aging population shouldn’t have to drive to Chatham,” one resident wrote. “You rely too much on modern technology to do business, but you have to realize that not many people own computers or are comfortable enough to do business online.”

Many delegations also focused on the impact on Wheatley residents. Many residents are still recovering from a gas explosion last August that destroyed much of the city center, forcing many residents from their homes for months.

“Cutting services is like a kick in the teeth,” wrote one resident. “Hasn’t Wheatley had enough?”

Additionally, there were several references to past promises that the municipal amalgamation would not result in a loss of services.

“Stop trying to shut down our town halls so bigger communities can get it all,” one resident wrote. “Cut something out of Chatham.”

Another resident said it is unfair to rural residents to see services cut.

“Perhaps consider cutting middle and senior management salaries,” they wrote.

It took more than two hours for city staff to read the 105 deputations to council regarding the potential closure of municipal service centers and information offices in Wheatley, Tilbury, Dresden, Thamesville, Bothwell and Ridgetown, which includes a plan for sale of buildings.

None of the deputies supported the plan to close in-person access to municipal services

The report presented to council says more people are using online services and closing some buildings and offices would save taxpayers up to $173,000 a year.

However, given the high number of transactions, the plan also calls for the municipal service centers in Chatham, Wallaceburg and Blenheim to remain open. According to the report that was submitted to the council, these offices have the lowest cost per transaction and receive significant rental income.

“Ongoing discussions about potential community hub projects may also be a factor for administration and council to consider in making final decisions about service center cutbacks,” the report said.

Mayor Darrin Canniff said the public response shows how passionate people are about access to services.

“I don’t want to see the historic buildings in these communities disappear,” Canniff said. “The discussion would be how to consolidate services, provide better services in the community, not cut them.”

Canniff added that any council decision would take into account the historic nature of the buildings involved.

“As many deputations have pointed out, all small communities are growing now. We want to see them continue to grow. These buildings are part of the history of the community,” he said.

In the end, the board elected to address the report and recommendations at its July 11 meeting rather than extend the board meeting last night.

Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News