New municipal plan pushes fewer governing bodies

Local Government Minister Bruce Fitch outlined a comprehensive municipal reform plan on Tuesday.

Local Government Minister Bruce Fitch is outlining a new strategy for governance reform that is designed to lead to fewer governing bodies and encourage an end to municipal feuding.

Fitch announced the comprehensive package of changes at a news conference in Boiestown on Tuesday morning.

The local governance minister said the existing structure of 101 municipalities, four rural communities and 266 local services districts is no longer sustainable.

"While some communities are growing and prospering, many face challenges that make it difficult to provide or pay for basic services such as policing, recreational services and emergency measures planning, or to manage day-to-day operations and plan for the future," the government report said.

"For communities with smaller populations, it can be difficult to attract people who are willing to serve on a council, have the expertise to administer services, or who are needed as part of a volunteer service, such as firefighting. Fewer people also means lower property tax revenue to pay for the costs of services."

Of the 371 different governing bodies in the province, 83 per cent of them have a population of fewer than 2,000 people. There are more than 250,000 people without a local government.

The provincial government’s report said the existing system does not encourage "locally-led solutions."

Fitch outlined a series of changes that the provincial government believes will encourage communities to merge.

The Progressive Conservatives have repeatedly said they will not force municipal amalgamations.

The report calls for a "fair and effective property taxation system," a new cost-sharing model for RCMP services and a new policy that will outline local responsibility for roads.

New Brunswick’s declining population is putting a strain on all levels of government. But Fitch pointed out that local governments are facing a particular challenge.

He said that 58 per cent of New Brunswick’s communities have a property tax base of less than $50 million so in order to raise $50,000 they would need to increase local property taxes by 10 cents per $100 of assessed property value. Fitch pointed out that a fire truck can cost more than $250,000.

Latest report

This is the latest report to detail the challenges of the province’s complex system of local governance.

Jean-Guy Finn, a former senior New Brunswick civil servant, issued a report in December 2009 that called for the number of governing bodies slashed to 53.

That report was shelved by former premier Shawn Graham’s Liberal government. The Liberals said the plan would cost too much money to implement.

Premier David Alward committed to municipal governance reform during the provincial election and then reiterated that promise in January.

Fitch, who is the former mayor of Riverview, toured the province earlier in 2011 to get a better understanding of what reforms municipalities and local organizations would like to see included in his new policy.

New regional service districts

The Fitch plan is outlining the move to improve the collaboration of communities in planning and delivering local services.

There will be 12 multi-purpose regional service commissions created by January 2013.

The commissions will have oversight for:

  • Regional planning
  • Local planning in local service districts
  • Solid waste management
  • Regional policing collaboration
  • Regional emergency measures planning
  • Regional sport, recreational and cultural planning

The board that will oversee the commissions will be made up of members from municipalities, rural communities and local service districts.

The government document says these commissions will not be another tier of government and instead they are simply service delivery agents.

The intention is to reduce duplication of services and improve collaboration between communities.