An upcoming plebiscite on the future of five Sussex-area local service districts is about giving citizens more power over local issues by forming a rural community, according to one of its supporters.
People in the five local service districts of Studholm, Waterford, Hammond, Sussex and Cardwell in eastern Kings County will vote on Oct. 28 on whether to form a single rural community.
If the vote passes, the rural community would become the 12th largest municipality in the province, with twice the population of nearby Sussex.
Nelson Ball, a Waterford resident, who organized a volunteer roundtable that raised the issue of forming a rural community. He said a municipality would give people in the LSDs control over their property tax rate.
Currently they have no power, he said.
'The real issue here is control over the community. Local service districts have absolutely no control over taxation. None.' —Nelson Ball, Waterford resident
"The minister of Environment and Local Government is our mayor," said Ball.
"Our taxes are set in this area by civil servants sitting in Hampton, in an office in Hampton."
The Oct. 28 plebiscite will ask a yes or no question on forming a rural community that would completely surround Sussex and Sussex Corner. It would be greater than the size of Sussex and Hampton combined.
"The real issue here is control over the community," Ball said.
"Local service districts have absolutely no control over taxation. None."
Lincoln residents rejected village plebiscite
Property tax rates are a hot button issue with residents of local service district in New Brunswick.
Earlier this year, despite assurances it would mean lower taxes and more local control, people in the LSD of Lincoln, near Fredericton, overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to become a village.
The No side won with 893 votes compared to 262 Yes votes, with many of the voters expressing concern that their property taxes would go up as a result.
Lincoln, which has a property tax base of $205 million, will remain an unincorporated area and continue to have the minister of local government responsible for approving local decisions.
The proposed village of Lincoln would have had a mayor and four councillors, which would have replaced the existing advisory committee.
A feasibility report on the provincial government’s website indicated taxes on residential properties would have fallen if the referendum passed.
Unsustainable municipal governance
Local service districts are unincorporated areas and have advisory committees. The local government minister is ultimately responsible for all local decisions.
However, the New Brunswick government is encouraging local service districts to merge with neighbouring communities.
Local Government Minister Bruce Fitch announced earlier this month that voters in the local service district of Cocagne will also be asked in a plebiscite on the idea of forming a rural community.
Fitch has said the existing structure of 101 municipalities, four rural communities and 266 local services 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, according to Fitch's department.