Saint John asks province to review amalgamation of regional municipalities

Saint John's common council will ask the province to investigate whether the amalgamation of surrounding municipalities is a good idea, even though some councillors have voiced a lack of interest.

Conversations on the potential merger between Saint John and nearby communities have been ongoing for decades

Coun. Ray Strowbridge brought the motion to the table, which led to a 15-minute conversation about whether amalgamating the nearby communities into Saint John would be beneficial for everyone involved.

Saint John council will ask the province to investigate whether the amalgamation of surrounding municipalities is a good idea, a motion that has already started dividing city councillors.

On Monday night, Coun. Ray Strowbridge made a motion requesting the province "investigate and consider amalgamation of the greater Saint John area into one single Saint John regional municipality."

Coun. Gary Sullivan stressed the idea still has a long way to go before becoming reality.

"I don't think for a moment that if this motion passes and we send a letter tomorrow that means by next Monday we're amalgamating," Sullivan said.

"[But] this is something that would take years. If you don't formally ask the question and get it on the table, it will never formally get talked about."

Joining with the city's largest neighbours — Quispamsis, Rothesay and Grand Bay-Westfield — would add 35,000 people to Saint John's population and vastly expand its service territory.

Not the first time

Discussions surrounding a potential merger have surfaced periodically for decades, both in high-level conversations and among citizens from all across greater Saint John.

Fairness in my view, doesn't exist today as we struggle and others around us flourish.- Don Darling, mayor of Saint John

"If you want to get a conversation going in and around Saint John, just type 'amalgamation' on Facebook," Saint John Mayor Don Darling said in his closing remarks.

Supporters of the idea often cite the report from Jean-Guy Finn, a 2008 document recommending the number of municipalities and local service districts in New Brunswick be reduced to 53 from about 350.

A similar report published in the 1990s led to the amalgamation in 1998 of several communities into what are now Rothesay and Quispamsis.

That same year, Grand Bay and Westfield also amalgamated and became Grand Bay-Westfield.

But this time, Strowbridge wants the city to send a letter to Premier Brian Gallant, asking for an investigation of amalgamation in the greater Saint John area.

Saint John Mayor Don Darling Darling asked other mayors in the area, if they'd be willing to invest time in exploring the idea of an amalgamation. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

Rothesay Mayor Nancy Grant and Quispamsis Mayor Gary Clark both provided a definite "No" when CBC News asked them last week about a potential merger.    

In Saint John on Monday, Deputy Mayor Shirley McAlary and Coun. Sean Casey voted against the amalgamation motion.

"I don't like asking people when I know people are going to say, 'No,'" McAlary said.

Who will benefit?

For other city politicians, it was a matter of not knowing whether the change would benefit the municipalities — Saint John included.

"I'd want to have my ducks in order," said Coun. Donna Reardon.

"I'd have to see a business case."

Saint John recently invested in a new water system, which had an estimated price tag of $216 million split between the federal, provincial and municipal governments.

Reardon suggested it might not make sense to absorb other towns. 

"Maybe we're better off with the infrastructure we already have," she said.

Then there's a matter of the list of requests the city has made to the province already, including tax and arbitration reform.

Darling points to unfairness

But others pointed out that many who live along the Kennebecasis Valley commute to Saint John to work, using many of the city's services while still enjoying lower tax rates.

In an earlier interview, the Rothesay and Quispamsis mayors said their towns each contribute an annual $750,000 to Saint John.

However, Darling said things could be better and asked if the other mayors would be willing to invest the time in exploring the idea.

"In my opinion, the situation that exists today isn't adequate," he said.

"Fairness in my view, doesn't exist today as we struggle and others around us flourish."

With files from Colin McPhail

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