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Some Sydenham residents want out

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The decision this week by Meaford council to change the way policing is paid has led some residents of the former Township of Sydenham to call for the breakup of the municipality.

"This is the straw that broke the camel's back," Sydenham resident Peggy Richardson said Wednesday. "It has just been going on for 10 years. Probably de-amalgamation would be the answer for us in Sydenham."

At a meeting Monday, council passed a motion that policing costs in 2013 be borne 20% by residents in the former St. Vincent Township, 20% for the former Sydenham Township and 60% for the former town of Meaford. Since amalgamation in 2001, the police area rating adjustment has seen residents of the town of Meaford pay 70% of the town's policing costs, while residents of the former Sydenham and St. Vincent townships have payed about 15% each.

Council also directed staff to develop a five-year plan, from 2013 to 2017, based on a goal of achieving an equalization of policing costs by assessed value for the municipality.

Richardson said some Sydenham residents have met since council's decision and are planning more private meetings in early June with a plan to hold a public meeting later on.

"At the initial meetings we will find out what people agree is an aim," said Richardson. "The ultimate aim is, I mean ideally de-amalgamation would be perfect. Failing that, some kind of reining in of spending tax dollars and hiring policies of Meaford council has to be an aim."

Richardson, who said she would happily join Chatsworth, claims taxes in Meaford are just too high, especially for residents of the former Sydenham Township who, she said, don't receive the same level of services as those in the former town of Meaford.

"It's just one more nail in the coffin for us because we don't see that money ever," said Richardson. "We don't even know what is going on in the town of Meaford. We just pay our taxes."

Richardson said while leaving Meaford is at the top of the list, other options will also have to be explored.

"Obviously an election is coming up a year from this fall, so to get some intelligent, caring people who know how to read financial statements and really understand what is going on would be an ideal thing as candidates," said Richardson. "It would be really nice to have a slate of good candidates, but we have changed candidates and we have changed councillors over the years and it hasn't helped."

Mayor Francis Richardson, no relation to Peggy Richardson, said Wednesday he can understand residents' concerns about taxes, but council hasn't done anything other than act in a fair and responsible way for the entire municipality.

"Taxes are always too high for anyone concerned," said the mayor. "In order to have the services we have now become expected to have or we are used to having, the only thing to pay for them is taxes and the taxes need to be done fairly and we as a council are sure we are doing it fairly."

Mayor Richardson said he is open to talk to any resident who has concerns about their taxes.

"I am happy to answer their questions," said the mayor. "They may not like the answer they get, I may not be able to convince them of what we are trying to do, but I will always talk to them and I will always try to the best of my ability to answer the questions that they ask."

He said the decision to change the police area rating adjustment isn't favouring the former town of Meaford.

"Any time you have a community that is a split between rural and urban there is always a challenge to make people understand the services, the taxes that provide the services are done equally and fairly," he said. "The urban area is not being subsidized by the rural area. That is simply not true."

As for any suggestion that the town is overstaffed, the mayor said an operation review involving recommendations from a citizen's task force and a consultant, completed in 2009, showed that the municipality's staffing levels are comparable to other municipalities of similar size and staff is not overpaid.

"We haven't done another report on it and that was the criticism then and it was not true then," he said. "I am quite sure it is not true now either."

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