Amalgamation process brings stress even for the communities that wanted it
Answers from province hard to come by as municipalities struggle to understand, meet timelines
The big changes that come with New Brunswick's municipal reform plan are proving challenging, especially for smaller communities that are merging.
Perth-Andover Mayor Marianne Bell says there's confusion about exactly which parts of the surrounding community will be part of the new entity that includes her village, the Village of Aroostook, the local service district of Andover and a portion of the local service district of Perth.
She said this is making it difficult to have further conversations about council composition, for example.
"We didn't even know exactly who's included and how many people would be included," she told Shift New Brunswick. "We asked questions like this, and we just are not getting a good answer."
The municipal reform plan reduces the 340 local entities to 90. It moves portions or whole local service districts from one local entity to another, and creates a new community from multiple LSDs in Kings County, north of Sussex.
Bell said she's concerned about whether the new entities will be getting off to a good start if there is no time to get input from elected officials and the public
According to the plan's timeline, the transition would begin in the first half of this year, between January and July.
In that time, the work would include finalizing new and revised local government boundaries, creating rate flexibility for business properties, preparing for upcoming local government and rural district special elections and revising the structure and responsibilities of regional service commissions.
Sackville Mayor Shawn Mesheau said staff are working on regular day-to-day operations on top of the work that comes with merging his town with Dorchester.
"There is a pile of work," he said.
He said staff have to wrap their heads around the operational side of the changes, including how much time is required and how the election would work — all after the province said there will be no extra funding to support the extra work.
He said the town has been leaning on interns hired from Mount Allison University.
"We hope that we can get through this and that staff have the ability to get through it."
The special election for the new communities is scheduled for November of this year.
'Be careful what you wish for'
Alex Scholten, the president of the Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick, said other municipalities are seeing the same challenges as these two communities.
Most municipalities are excited about what they consider meaningful reform, but "it's almost be careful what you wish for."
"There's a lot of stress, a lot of frustration," he said.
He said that ideally, especially for the smaller communities, the province would provide more assistance, including a detailed timeline and list of steps that are going to be taken to get the communities into their new amalgamated municipalities.
A detailed path forward would allow them to prepare a bit more, he said.
The province does have a section of its website that includes timelines and boundary maps.
Scholten said the communities first thought they had until June to finalize council composition. But he said the communities got a letter asking them to have the composition finalized within the next three weeks. He said a detailed timeline with solid deadlines would relieve a lot of stress.
"Municipalities have been asking for municipal reform for some time, and we finally have meaningful reform," he said. "So we don't want that frustration and level of stress to actually work against this whole process."
With files from Shift New Brunswick