New Brunswick

Amalgamation urged for Saint John

The man who authored a 1997 report on amalgamation says a regional model is still a good idea for the greater Saint John area.
Saint John Fire Chief Kevin Clifford says his department needs all of its firefighters. ((Shaun McLeod))
The man who authored a report on amalgamation in the 1990s says a regional model is still a good idea for the greater Saint John area.

Skip Cormier, whose report led to the amalgamation of several communities in the Kennebecasis Valley into the two towns of Rothesay and Quispamsis, maintains having the region between Grand Bay-Westfield and Quispamsis share services and government makes economic sense.

"I believe there's an opportunity for regionalization of fire, police, garbage collection, perhaps even snow clearing and things like that," he said.

Regionalization could make services, such as fire protection, more efficient, said Cormier, pointing to Saint John in particular, which has a fire department that's larger than normal for a city its size.

Saint John Fire Chief Kevin Clifford, however, contends outside agencies have reviewed the size of the department and determined it needs all of its firefighters to deal with such threats as old housing stock and industry.

"An LNG (liquefied natural gas) facility would require a response of 16 to 30 people," he said.

Cormier, a management consultant who spent nine months reviewing city services before preparing his 1997 report, argues suburban firefighters should be counted when it comes to determining numbers.

"Does that still mean we'd need 164 firefighters to serve Saint John? I don't think so."

In addition, Cormier contends a fire truck driving from Rothesay's main fire station at the edge of Highway 1 could quickly reach the oil refinery if needed to back up a smaller city fire department.

In March, Saint John council said it was considering regionalizing its fire department with surrounding municipalities in an attempt to pare down its budget. The fire department is the sixth largest expense in the city's operating budget.

Coun. Bill Farren said with the city about to hire a new fire chief, it's a good time to see if there's an opportunity to save money by regionalizing. He suggested having one fire chief for two communities would be a foundation on which the communities could build a fully regional department.

But Quispamsis Mayor Murray Driscoll raised concerns a regional service would increase costs in his community.

Local governance review

Local Government Minister Bruce Fitch has launched a public consultation process on local governance. ((CBC))
The provincial government has committed to revisiting the idea of local governance reform.

Local Government Minister Bruce Fitch launched a public consultation process in February to examine the regional delivery of services, the province's property taxation and assessment regime, and municipal funding deals.

Although forced amalgamations have been ruled out, Premier David Alward said in his annual State of the Province speech the current system of having more than 300 municipalities and local service districts is "unsustainable."

Alward has said his government is looking for ways to reduce duplication – and may revisit a 2008 report on the future of local governance written by Jean-Guy Finn for the former Liberal government.

The Finn report recommended slashing the number of New Brunswick municipalities and local service districts to 53 to help make providing services more manageable.

Finn said the proliferation of small municipalities and unincorporated areas was not sustainable due to the population and economic shifts since the last municipal overhaul in the 1960s.

The current system is adding duplication and leading to fragmentation of services, he said.

The report was shelved by the former Liberal government shortly after it was released in December 2008.

Then-premier Shawn Graham came under fire by the then-Opposition Conservatives for his refusal to act on the report that he commissioned.

Graham said his government was keeping its focus on improving the economy and couldn't afford to follow through on the Finn report's sweeping changes, which carried an $88-million price tag.

Finn, however, argued the recommendations would have to be adopted eventually.

He said he hoped it didn't end up getting ignored, like 25 previous reports on the same topic since 1971.