Consultants present report on ward boundaries-changes coming

Filed under: Headline,IN THE NEWS |

by Fred Groves

Changes are coming to the composition of the current ward system in Essex.

Last week, two public consultation sessions, one in Harrow Centre and one in Essex Centre, were held which will have significant impact on the 2018 municipal election.

The next election will not only have the Mayor and Deputy Mayor positions elected at large, but the five elected councillors could come from four or five redefined wards.

“Ultimately Council will make the decision how the Town will be governed,” Dr. Robert Williams said, who is working with consultants Watson and Associates.

Recently, Council opted to take a closer look at  the current method in which the Deputy Mayor is selected, a secret ballot amongst elected Council members decides, to consider if it should be changed.

At last Tuesday night’s open house at the Shaheen Room in Essex Centre, Mayor Ron McDermott still had reservations about changing it to voting-at-large.

“We think it’s a position the whole Town should be involved in,” Dr. Williams said.

Watson Associates is making the recommendation about the Deputy Mayor position based on responses they have received thus far, of which 80 percent want the second top spot position elected by the entire municipal electorate.

It is anticipated that by late August they will present to Council a report on the adjusting of geographical borders of the current four wards. Members of the public have until the end of this month to have their say.

“The province gives no guidelines to municipalities on how to do this,” Dr. Williams said of boundary realignments.

At present, two Councillors are elected from each Essex Centre and Colchester, and one representative is elected from both McGregor and Harrow Centre. Now, with five councillor positions to be elected to make room for the Deputy Mayor, who would not double as a Councillor like it is currently set, six different scenarios are being proposed. Three of those scenarios would keep four wards and three options would have five wards.

A five-ward system would mean that Essex Centre would be split into two.

Dr. Williams said that each ward should have shared perspectives and that is why a five-ward system could be preferred.

The report noted that one-third of the population now lives in Essex Centre and that the 2016 population of the municipality was 22,100. By 2026, that is expected to grow to 23,475.

“We need to anticipate when growth is going to come because we don’t want to change this every election,” Dr. Williams said.

The open houses in Harrow and Essex last week were well attended by Town staff, Council, and the public.