Survey suggests Kitchener residents content with current governance, but many open to change
'The province is going to do what the province is going to do,' Coun. Scott Davey says
A new survey of Kitchener residents suggests respondents are split on whether amalgamating into a larger government in Waterloo region would mean improved service delivery.
The City of Kitchener surveyed 611 residents between April 17 and 29 to get their take on services currently offered by the city and region, and thoughts on possible amalgamation scenarios.
The phone survey, which included 32 per cent of people reached by cellphone, was completed by Environics Research and has a margin of error of four percentage points.
One question asked if whether partial or full amalgamation would that result in improved or declining service delivery to Kitchener residents.
The survey found 51 per cent of respondents said service would improve. The reasons cited include that a larger government can do more and find efficiencies.
Thirty-nine per cent of respondents said service delivery would decline, and they cited reasons including less government representation and general problems with governance.
When asked if the division of responsibilities covered by the city and region has been confusing, 74 per cent of those who answered said it has never or rarely been a problem, while 19 per cent said it's sometimes a problem and six per cent said it's often an issue.
Well-served by current system
Jodi Shanoff, the vice president of consultation and engagement for Environics, presented the findings to council as part of a special meeting Monday.
She said people who took the survey had a basic understanding that the city provided some services and the region provided others, but she said their goal wasn't to test a person's knowledge of how the current two-tier structure works.
The survey found 83 per cent of respondents said they were well served by the current system. As well, 80 per cent of those surveyed said they were very or moderately comfortable with the way they're represented at city council.
But when asked about how they would like to be represented on city and regional council, the responses were almost evenly split.
Forty-three per cent of respondents said they'd prefer separate councillors elected to the city and regional levels, while 49 per cent said they want one set of councillors for both the city and the region.
Long-term residents not as happy
More than half of those surveyed said they were getting good value for their tax dollars from both the city and the region: 80 per cent for Kitchener and 79 per cent for the region said the value was either very good or fairly good.
But the survey also found 17 per cent of respondents found the value for tax dollars to be fairly poor or very poor for Kitchener, and 19 per cent said the same about the region.
Shanoff noted there were a few instances where people of a similar demographic group — people who have lived in the city 15 years or more — were less likely to say they were happy with the services currently provided.
"They tended to find themselves to what I would refer to as the crankier end of the spectrum. So whether they feel as though they're being poorly served or they don't derive value from the taxes they pay … they shared that opinion to a greater extent than their newer residing counterparts," Shanoff said.
Provincial review currently underway
The provincial government is currently doing a review of 82 upper and lower municipalities. Two special advisers, Michael Fenn and former Region of Waterloo chair Ken Seiling, are hearing the thoughts of residents, politicians and other groups and they're expected to prepare a report for Minister of Municipal Affairs Steve Clark early this summer.
- FULL COVERAGE: Ontario municipal review
Premier Doug Ford has said previously that he believes fewer politicians is better. He cut the size of Toronto council before municipal elections last fall.
Clark has stressed there's no predetermined decision on amalgamation, and he is waiting to review the Seiling-Fenn report to see what they recommend.
Kitchener's economy has caught up with Waterloo's
Coun. Debbie Chapman noted in a 2010 referendum, about 60 per cent of people in Kitchener said they'd be willing to look at change. Now, people seem more satisfied with the status quo.
"Is there something that the city proactively did since the results of that 2010 referendum that can help us understand this potential shift in people's impression or assessment of what we do?" she asked.
Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said the city is in a different place now.
"There was often, in the economic height of Waterloo and Blackberry and everything else that was happening, this sort of feeling that we weren't keeping up and I think, quite frankly, our community has strengthened its mojo on that front," he said.
Coun. Scott Davey says he's glad the province has raised the question of amalgamation to spur community discussion, but he does worry about what it will mean for taxpayers.
"My biggest concern is: Kitchener's in a fantastic financial position right now and I think a much better one compared to our municipal peers," he said, noting other councillors including Coun. John Gazzola raised concerns about what would happen to Kitchener's gas and hydro utilities, which the city owns.
"It may mean nothing. I think the province is going to do what the province is going to do and it's going to be our responsibility to do the best we can in that situation."