About 100 Lincoln residents turned out at a public meeting on Thursday night to discuss their opposition to transforming the local service district into a village.
The New Brunswick government has made it clear that it wants to reduce the number of small local service districts and it has established financial measures intended to encourage communities to proactively merge.
Brigitte St. Jean, a Lincoln resident, is opposed to seeing her unincorporated area become a village.
"I like the way it is now like why change it?" she said.
"Taxes are OK. We don’t want to pay any more taxes."
Lincoln is the latest local service district to ask its residents whether they would support abandoning its unincorporated status and take on responsibility for the community’s future by becoming a village with an elected council.
The referendum will be held on May 13 and in the last few weeks some residents have been putting "No" signs on their lawns to show their opposition to the proposal.
Brian Whittaker, an organizer of the public meeting, said residential property taxes will go up and not down as the provincial government claims.
"What they are trying to do is offload the business of government to the municipalities and the message that they are giving is that taxes will go down and services will get better and those two things don’t go together," Whittaker said.
Unsustainable municipal governance
Lincoln is one of 266 local service districts spread around the province.
Local Government Minister Bruce Fitch has said the existing structure of 101 municipalities, four rural communities and 266 local service districts is no longer sustainable.
In 2011, there were 371 different governing bodies in the province, 83 per cent of them had a population of fewer than 2,000 people. There were more than 250,000 people without a local government.
Local service districts have advisory committees and the local government minister is responsible for decisions.
Fitch announced in 2011 that local service districts would now be forced to pay administration fees to the provincial government. That decision led to a "slight" increase in property taxes, Fitch said at the time.
The proposed village of Lincoln would have a mayor and four councillors, which would replace the existing advisory committee.
A feasibility report on the provincial government’s website indicated taxes on residential properties would fall if the referendum passed.
For instance, an owner-occupied house, assessed at $200,000, would see its property tax bill decrease by $551 in 2014 and $274 by 2018.
However, a business assessed at $1 million would see its tax rate increase by $3,660 in 2014 and $4,083 by 2018, according to the report.
The report said Lincoln would see an immediate savings of $450,000 on the cost of roads and $200,000 annually in the future.
The proposal of becoming a village is not universally opposed.
Vernon Patriquin is one of the community’s residents who is backing the idea of changing Lincoln to a village.
Patriquin said he understands there are mixed opinions about the upcoming referendum.
"I guess you are going to believe what you are going to believe. I have to put a little faith in the province and what they have been able to do with the numbers and there are experts in there," Patriquin said.
Lincoln is not the only community that is actively looking at changing its governance structure.
Fitch announced on Thursday that a feasibility study on Rusagonis-Waasis becoming a rural community is underway.
The feasibility study is the first step before moving forward with a referendum.