By Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative
Chatham-Kent is conducting a review for its service centres as it has found more residents are switching to cashless payments, online transactions and phone service delivery models.
The motion was approved at Monday night’s council meeting after South Kent Coun. Clare Latimer brought it forward with the intent to have the report come back before the 2022 budget deliberations.
The review will identify changing habits of the municipality’s clients and include recommendations on which services could be closed or combined.
“Our service delivery can move forward differently and still afford continued safety and well-being, and actual growth in our community,” Latimer said.
The report will also look at library and police service buildings to see if the municipality can divest from those properties. Administration will seek out input from the public during the review process.
East Kent Coun. Steve Pinsonneault said the survey was necessary at some point in the future, however, the current timing was too premature because new service trends caused by the COVID-19 pandemic may skew the numbers and result in unnecessary closures.
“In a lot of cases those service centres in small communities are the only link to the municipality. Honestly, you can save money if you close them all, there’s no question about that. But to me that is their lifeline from Highgate to Bothwell to the municipality.”
The survey will also look at staffing but will not necessarily make cuts. Chatham Coun. Michael Bondy raised concerns of municipal staff finding potential cuts among their colleagues, citing a similar service review in 2013 where he said council rejected most of the recommendations made.
“I just found… when we ask staff to find cuts it’s really not all that terribly successful because you’re asking employees to find reductions within their own departments and frankly if I was that person I would feel less apt to find reductions in my own department,” he said.
Cathay Hoffman with corporate services, said past review committees were made up of a “variety of representatives of those across the organization” from finance to delivery employees to add neutrality and that the current model will be similar.
She added that municipal staff expect the current virtual service trends to continue beyond COVID-19. One example brought up was the new 311 call number, which Hoffman said has taken off.
“We’ve just been continuing to pivot… to figure out how best to provide services in a timely manner, so that customers still get the services that they need.”