Municipal leaders offer largely positive response to local governance reforms
Mayors say many details left to sort out, hoped to see faster action on taxation changes
Several municipal leaders across New Brunswick offered positive reactions to the provincial government's plans to overhaul local governance.
"I think it's a fantastic first step," Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold said. "Again, the devil will be in the details."
Daniel Allain, the minister of local governance reform, released a white paper Thursday that lays out a series of proposed changes to municipal boundaries and powers to be enacted over the coming years.
The changes would represent the first major overhaul of the local governance system since the 1960s. The proposed reforms would largely do away with local service districts where the minister serves as mayor, replacing them with new "rural districts" or folding whole or parts of districts into neighbouring municipalities.
The total number of local government entities, things like local service districts and municipalities, would be cut from 340 to 90. There will be 78 municipalities and 12 rural districts.
Jules Bossé, president of the Association of Local Service Districts of New Brunswick, was critical of the plan, saying rural districts would still largely serve an advisory role to the minister.
Ian Comeau, Campbellton's mayor, called the release of the white paper a historic moment. It calls for Campbellton to be merged with the villages of Atholville, Tide Head and several local service districts to form a community of about 12,300.
"I think now the work begins," Comeau said of the many steps, including the name of the new community, to enact the reforms.
Adam Lordon, mayor of Miramichi and president of the Cities of New Brunswick Association, echoed Arnold's comments about it being a positive step, but he said cities hoped to see more immediate changes to taxation powers.
The white paper says work on finances and taxation will come in a second phase of reforms after the new community boundaries are established.
"We were hoping to see that addressed on the front end," Lordon said.
Dieppe Mayor Yvon Lapierre hoped to see a greater reduction in the number of local governance entities in line with recommendations from l'Association francophone des municipalités du Nouveau Brunswick.
"There's nothing that I can criticize except maybe a little lack of courage when it comes to some of the rural areas," Lapierre said. "But at least they're being they're being put all together … I think it will in time, perhaps, require some additional changes in the future."
Dieppe's boundaries will largely stay the same, only adding small portions of the neighbouring local service districts of Moncton and Scoudouc.
Several community boundaries won't be affected. Those include Belledune, Tracadie, Neguac, the Rural Community of Upper Miramichi, Riverview, Memramcook, Petitcodiac, Quispamsis, Rothesay, Saint John, Grand Manan, Campobello Island, McAdam, Fredericton Junction, Tracy, and New Maryland.
All others will be changed to some degree, either merging with other nearby municipalities or absorbing all or part of local service districts.
Alex Scholten, president of the Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick and a New Maryland councillor, said he would be talking to the group's board Thursday evening.
He expected some to be concerned, but said the changes largely follow discussions that have been taking place locally.
"There's communities that recognize that they're probably not going to be able to survive given their financial realities and their population base in their communities," he said. "Those communities would be looking to consolidate to be able to provide the services that their residents may be looking for or would be looking for."
Jordan Manzer, who is part of the Keswick Ridge local service district advisory committee and a regional director for the LSD association, said it's positive the minister largely followed the group's goal to combine areas with similar areas of interest.
The province said decisions on what areas to combine were based on geography, language, school catchment zones, historic communities boundaries, and other factors.
Manzer also said it's positive that residents of rural areas will now be able to elect local representatives. However, he said there are concerns with new powers for regional service commissions.
One planned change gives those bodies, already responsible for waste collection and regional land use planning, responsibility for recreational infrastructure cost-sharing. Commissions in the Moncton, Fredericton and Saint John areas will also be able to co-ordinate funding related to homelessness, mental health and poverty.
"We would certainly like to have conversations around cost-sharing for projects that make sense for our areas, but we don't feel a forced mechanism is the way to proceed," Manzer said.
Several leaders contacted for comment said they will study the report and speak to the recommendations at a later point, including in the cities of Bathurst and Saint John.