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What's the difference between county and township councillors?

'The distinction between the two is largely invisible:' says a long time Puslinch councillor who will be serving at the county level
20210930 council AS 1
The County of Wellington council at a past meeting.

WELLINGTON COUNTY – Confusion around township council and county council is something one candidate has been clearing up at many doors she’s stopped at during the current elction campaign.

Mary Lloyd is running for re-election as a County of Wellington councillor for Ward 5, which covers the Township of Centre Wellington’s Ward 1 and 3. 

“When I walk up to the door they say ‘oh another one running?’” Lloyd said. “I say, ‘well I’m running for county council,’ and they say ‘what’s that?’”

This often leads to an education Lloyd is happy to provide but is indicative that people may be unaware of the distinction between the upper and lower tier governments that exist for those living in Wellington County. 

“To be fair, the average person workaday world, the distinction between the two is largely invisible,” said Matthew Bulmer, a long time Puslinch councillor who will be serving as a county councillor in the upcoming term after being acclaimed.

“People don’t know and shouldn’t need to care who is providing the services, the most important thing is the service has been provided effectively and efficiently.” 

The difference is in who provides what service which can differ from region to region.

The upper tier County of Wellington handles: county road system, social services including housing, economic development, police, official plan level planning, garbage and recycling, and libraries among others.

The seven lower-tier governments handle things like local roads, township planning, water and wastewater, building permits, animal services and fire services. 

There is some overlap, explained acclaimed Mapleton mayor Gregg Davidson, but generally the scale is bigger. 

“The county has a lot of big ticket items that they deal with and actually have a bigger budget,” Davidson said. 

Jeff Duncan, an acclaimed county councillor for Erin who previously served local council there, said it’s a much bigger organization too. 

For example, he estimated there would be about 50 employees at the Town of Erin meanwhile the county has well over 1,000. 

Local councils are made up of various sizes around Wellington County but the County of Wellington consists of 16 councillors. There are the seven mayors of each township and nine county councillors elected to represent about 10,000 people each, which in most cases is a single township. 

Despite having a ward they are representing, Bulmer said a county councillor needs to look at the bigger picture beyond immediate local interests.

“You have to blend that interest with your local residents, your ward residents, plus county residents,” Bulmer said. 

“So my interests now have to consider Mount Forest, Minto, Mapleton, all the member municipalities.”

Davidson agreed a county councillor needs to widen their scope for the greater good of Wellington County.

“Building an industrial complex in Puslinch benefits the entire county, building an industrial complex in Mapleton benefits the entire county, by tax dollars I mean,” Davidson said. 

Taxes may play into the confusion, according to Duncan. 

“When you pay your taxes, you pay it to your local town or township and they collect it on the county’s behalf, you don’t get a county tax bill separate,” Duncan said.

Lloyd speculated that some new residents may be coming from cities with single-tier governments which may play into being unaware of this distinction. 

Duncan said councillors themselves have a role to play in educating the public on the differences. 

He publishes an occasional newsletter to keep Erin residents informed but also clearly outlines what the county is responsible for. 

And if people contact them with an issue handled by the other level of government, the councillors spoken to said its not a problem to point them in the right direction. It’s what they were elected for after all. 

“It’s just part of being in a two-tier system,” Bulmer said. 

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Keegan Kozolanka

About the Author: Keegan Kozolanka

Keegan Kozolanka is a general assignment reporter for EloraFergusToday, covering Wellington County. Keegan has been working with Village Media for more than two years and helped launch EloraFergusToday in 2021.
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