Alward open to local government reform
PC leader says Jean-Guy Finn's 2008 report is too important 'to sit on a shelf'
Last Updated: Thursday, September 16, 2010 | 11:50 AM ET
New Brunswick's local governance landscape may be given a shake up under a Progressive Conservative government, David Alward said on Thursday.
Alward told reporters after a meeting with the province's eight city mayors that local government reform is too important to wait any longer.
"As a province we can't afford to allow the Finn report to sit on a shelf somewhere," Alward said.
Alward has said any municipal mergers would require voter approval in those communities.
The Tory leader said people need to think beyond their own towns and villages.
"We need to focus less on changing identities and more on the services that we provide to our citizens," Alward said.
Jean-Guy Finn, the former commissioner on the future of local governance hired by Premier Shawn Graham, wrote in a CBC News election analysis on Thursday the next government had to introduce sweeping reforms.
Specifically, Finn said the number of local governing bodies must be cut to between 50 and 55 from the 421 that exist now.
The Finn plan would see between 50 and 55 municipalities that would each have a minimum of 4,000 residents, or approximately $200 million in property tax assessment revenue.
Finn also advises the New Brunswick government to hand over additional property tax room so local governments could collect more money to pay for services.
Those larger municipalities would then collaborate on the delivery of certain services, such as policing, land-use planning and economic development.
Finn writes that no more than 12 regional service districts, each covering two to nine municipalities, should be created.
Support among cities
Bathurst Mayor Stephen Brunet said Alward's message on municipal reform is positive.
"There are some municipalities that are in financial difficulty at the moment, just not having enough money to operate their communities," Brunet said.
"They need help and we need to work together to get that help."
Can't afford plan
Within hours of Finn tabling his report in December 2008, Graham parked the report on the shelf. At the time, he said the provincial government could not afford the $88 million pricetag that the report came with.
Graham told CBC News on Thursday that he still believes Finn brought forward an important report.
But the Liberal leader, however, emphasized that local government reform must take a backseat to reviving the economy.
"Until we are out of the recession, to invest the tax dollars [needed to make the Finn reforms], we do not have the budget flexibility to do that," Graham said on a provincewide call-in program.
"It is going to take tax dollars to implement the changes. Our focus is on creating jobs."