Clerk’s department seeks improved service, communication

When people call the township office in Centre Well­ington, they reach the clerk’s office.

It is the location of the recep­tionist, the traffic con­trol­ler for contact with the muni­cipal government. It is also the place where people call for all kinds of information, some of which might be sur­prising.

This is the second in a series of articles from The Wellington Advertiser about Centre Well­ington Township’s strate­gic plan­­ning exercise. That work be­gan in each department about 14 months ago, and the reports are now coming to council for some decisions. The depart­ment heads have been asked to consider what they might need  or should be doing ten years from now, with the idea that every five years, coun­cil looks at its plan to determine if it still meets the needs of citizens.

Clerk Marion Morris said that changing legislation is con­tinu­ally keeping her depart­ment busy. One of the biggest and most recent changes came about when the province de­cid­ed that each municipality could designate a township em­ployee with the power to con­duct mar­riage ceremonies.

It sounds simple enough, but well over a year later, Cen­tre Wellington still has not made that designation, nor will it likely do so in the immediate future, because “We have so much to tidy up.”

Morris said when Centre Well­ington amalgamated, it pass­ed many bylaws quickly to get operational. Now, some of those already need changing, thanks to provincial govern­ment regulations changing.

That does not mean, though, that marriages are not a part of what the clerk’s department offers. Morris said that last year, the township sold over 80 marriage licen­ces at $100 each. For a municipality that size, that is quite a few. Those marrying in churches often use of banns for their legal requirements.

Further, Morris said, people drive from outside the township to get a licence in Elora, simply because it is about $25 cheaper than other municipalities. She likes the idea of keeping the price low because that attracts people to the township.

She said even though no one from the town­ship office can yet legally pe­r­form marri­age ceremonies, staff can help find people who can do it. Nancy Robinson has taken the training for perform­ing the ceremony, but council still needs to pass a bylaw. Rob­inson has created a registry of people willing to come to the township to per­form a civil ceremony.

There are other techni­cali­ties to consider, too. For ex­am­ple, during each marriage, the provincial government re­quires certain words to be said, and the township must ensure that they are part of the ceremony.

Morris said, “Some [coup­les] are going the route of find­ing someone to perform a civil ceremony. We can get someone in. It allows people to have a civil ceremony – those who want it.”

She said perhaps the town­ship will one day take ad­van­tage of the beauty of the area and provide a gazebo in Hoffer Park, behind the muni­cipal office, for such cere­monies, although that possibility is a long way down the road.

But, she said, once the township is able to offer wed­dings, too, it will be “a great service.”

One reason her office is so busy in the pending expansion of the Elora BIA. Morris and Deputy-Clerk Kerry O’Kane are planning to attend a meeting with members to make sure that all questions are answered before the issue comes to council for approval.

The clerk’s office offers other services, too. Right now, it is selling burn permits for resi­dents, just as the building de­partment is doing. The demand was so high the build­ing department needed help. Permits are also available at the Fergus Fire Sta­tion.

Everyone who owns a dog needs to purchase a tag for Fido. Morris  said many people come to the township office, but it is closed when many people get off work. Con­se­quently, her office has arranged for veterinarians and pet stores to sell dogs tags.

“It’s a convenience and I think it helps us, and I think it’s a benefit to the community.”

Morris said the department is big on “service delivery” and that includes directing people to the correct departments. She is con­sidering a telephone sys­tem that connects all the township’s departments.

The difficulty is several departments are located in the muni­cipal office in Elora, but the roads department is in the for­m­er Pilkington township of­fice, and the Fire Depart­ment’s head office is in Fergus. When people call, it is frus­trating to have to ask them to hang up and call another number.

Morris and other depart­ment heads are also looking at the layout of the municipal office. Currently, the clerk’s of­fice is on the south side of the build­­ing, the treasury depart­ment is in the centre, the build­ing department is in the basement, and the planning department has staff in the clerk’s office and the basement.

The difficulty Morris and her staff see is elderly people having to climb stairs in the clerk’s office, only to be told they need to go back down the stairs, outside, and enter an­other part of the building to get to the correct department.

She said it is the same problem for young mothers with children who come to the incorrect  area to, say, pay their property taxes.

“It’s really heartbreaking to send somebody outside,” she said. “We’re trying to find a solution. We’re bulging out at the seams.”

Location, location

Morris said there are some natural advantages for Centre ­Wellington, and the township is trying to take full advantage of them. For one thing, the township is located in the middle of Wellington County, and is an attractive place to many people. “We’ve held some seminars here,” is how she puts it.

In the past year, a line fen­cing workshop was held at the Grand River Raceway, organiz­ed by the township. Municipal officials attended from as far away as Leamington, and Mor­ris said attracting people to the com­munity is a big benefit. There has also been a licencing training seminar, also held at the raceway.

Records management

The clerk’s office is re­sponsible for managing a great deal of the paperwork in the town­ship, and her department is doing its best to find grant funds to help it complete that time consuming work.

Providing information is another major function, and she noted that a councillor has ask­ed to look into laptops instead of paper agendas. She noted the township is already doing some of that, but there can be prob­lems emailing agendas that are up to 160 pages long. Some­times, not all of the file comes through, but Morris said her staff, led by Kerry O’Kane, is working hard to solve those problems.

Morris said that a move to electronics from paper is “a change in culture for people,” and admitted she herself is more comfortable with paper than a laptop – but she might have to eventually take up the latter. She knows full well that the electronic system allows in­for­mation to move much more quickly than paper does.

Morris said she is not hap­py with a glitch in this year’s blue pages, the tele­phone listings that provide gov­ernment num­bers to citizens. “We are always looking at ways for better commu­nica­tions,” she said, adding that she would not mind in the least if people phone, or if they email her at the township offices.

The clerk’s department phone number is 519-846-9691. Her email is mmor­