Municipal reform will see N.B. go from 340 local governments and districts, to 90
Another much-anticipated reform plan has been unveiled in New Brunswick, this time, restructuring the province’s local governance system.
The municipal reform plan will restructure the province into 78 local governments and 12 new ‘rural districts’ all encompassed by 12 regional service commissions.
The number of local service districts will go from 236 to become the 12 rural districts, and local governments from 104, to 78.
The province is promising better local representation and a tax structure that will see residents only pay for services they actually receive. Local Government Minister Daniel Allain has said 30 per cent of the province’s population do not have a voice locally – as they have no local representation.
And he says right now, N.B. has 208 entities with fewer than 1,000 people – compared to Nova Scotia, who has four entities with fewer than 1,000 people.
According to the report – the province considered population thresholds, school catchment areas, linguistic profiles and other factors when drawing boundary lines. The 12 regional service commissions will now be responsible for more than solid waste and land planning – but also economic and community development, tourism, regional transportation, cost-sharing recreation infrastructure and a public safety committee. The commissions will also have a board of directors, which includes a mayor or councillor from each of the local governments.
Some notable consolidations include: Chipman and Minto, Alma/Hillsborough and Riverside-Albert, Grand Falls/Drummond and Saint-André and Campbellton/Tide Head and Atholville.
Allain and Local Government Deputy Minister Ryan Donaghy said they realized through the process that there isn't a "one size fits all" solution. They admitted some communities were not willing to consolidate, but they said those areas may have to rethink that in the future.
"Some were definitely ready to collaborate more than others – that's normal," said Allain. "We're human, it's totally normal. But there is a serious capacity issue in New Brunswick for those municipalities."
Kris Austin says he expected Minto to be absorb some of the smaller LSD's around the village – but merging with Chipman wasn't on his radar.
"What I didn't anticipate is that you would actually be combining two municipalities that are almost 30 kilometres apart into one," he said. "One big issue that everybody knows, including government, is the issue around policing. I don't see anything in this plan that addresses that."
The opposition Liberals say the plan is also lacking details on how taxation changes will go – and if municipalities will have some guidance.
"They spread it out over two phases over such a long period of time … I think I would have liked to see them address that right off the get-go," said local government critic Keith Chiasson.
A new community funding and equalization grant formula will be put in place for Jan. 1, 2023.
The report says the restructuring work will begin in early 2022, with “special elections/by-elections taking place where required in November 2022. The newly restructured local governments and rural districts will officially take effect on Jan. 1, 2023.”
Clerks or chief administrative officers will be hired for new local governments and the province wants them in place by Sept. 1 of next year.
Elections will be required to add councillors for local governments who saw a population increase between 15 and 50 per cent. For the local governments who see a population increase of more than 50 per cent, an election will be held to elect the entire council, which will occur in 2022.
So far, reaction from some of those affected has been positive.
The executive director of the Union of Municipalities in New Brunswick agrees with the province that change was needed.
Dan Murphy says it seems like the province listened to their suggestions, but he says they do have questions about implementation and how it will work.