Avoiding the issue

Wellington County councillors made a perplexing decision at their Feb. 23 meeting when they voted down a proposal to hold a discussion on the possibility of moving the county seat to a location actually within the county.

A motion calling for a special meeting to ponder the possibility of moving county administrative offices from Guelph to Centre Wellington was defeated by an 8-5 count.

Three councillors were absent when the vote was taken, but had all been present and in favour, a tied vote would still have resulted in the motion’s rejection.

Councillor Campbell Cork, who put the motion before council, stressed he was asking only for the gathering of some information and a discussion of the idea.

Some councillors seemed to balk at the potential cost of assembling the required information package to allow an educated decision, yet as Cork pointed out, the county has access to insurance company valuations of their Guelph properties and “any real estate agent can tell you what land is worth.”

As for building a new administration centre, Cork suggested county staff could quickly do the math on standard building costs (although it should be noted that “standard” is a word seldom used in description of any edifice constructed by Wellington County). 

To be clear, the opposite view, that amassing the information could require meticulous study and perhaps the assistance of expensive outside experts, was well argued by some councillors.

At the heart of Corks’ argument for a confab were:

– a looming decision on a proposal to build a parking garage/office complex in Guelph, estimated pre-pandemic at a cost of $28 million;

– the reality the county owns acres of land at its Aboyne campus that could provide a home for a new administration centre, with plenty of room for parking; and

– the anomaly of being a municipality with a county seat outside its borders.

We offer here no cost/benefit analysis – the numbers simply aren’t available. But most county residents we have heard from seem to think the idea is worth consideration, with some suggesting it’s hard to believe the sale of county lands in Guelph wouldn’t fetch more than enough to build anew in Aboyne (with perhaps a bit left over to lower taxes).

For what it’s worth, 66 per cent of respondents to the Advertiser’s admittedly unscientific online poll on the topic favour the county making such a move. 

To be sure there are other considerations, both practical and historical, but it’s impossible to know if there’s merit in the proposal without making an effort to examine it.

Several councillors at the meeting seemed to contradict their words with their votes.

“I think it’s fair that the question be answered,” offered councillor Chris White, before voting against the motion.

“Good leaders also should never shy away from questions that challenge the status quo,” said councillor Matthew Bulmer, before casting a nay.

Councillor Doug Breen said he was “not afraid” to have the conversation. 

“I think it’s high time that we did, instead of sort of talking around it,” said Breen, who nonetheless voted in dissent.

“I’m not afraid to have the conversation,” asserted councillor Diane Ballantyne, who also voted against having the conversation.

Again, to be fair (a relentless burden laid disproportionately on the scribbler class), we’re pulling quotes from longer statements in all the above cases and these councillors and others did suggest the question might be better addressed in a fashion other than the special meeting proposed. 

Several suggested the matter might be considered at upcoming strategic planning sessions and Warden Andy Lennox (who voted in favour of the motion by the way) suggested a White Paper taking perhaps an even deeper dive into the question could be commissioned.

Fair enough. Find a format and have at it. Call it strategic planning, call it a White Paper, call it a Battle Royale (please!) – but get the numbers, have a discussion, make a decision, move on.

As councillor White pointed out, “The question’s been in the room forever.”

Perhaps any question to linger so long warrants an actual answer?