Sackville’s acting mayor puzzles over municipal reform plans

Lt. Gov. Brenda Murphy reads Throne Speech promising municipal reform

Sackville’s acting mayor says it’s hard to tell from yesterday’s Speech from the Throne what the Higgs government has in mind when it comes to municipal reform.

“We just want to see what they come up with,” Ron Aiken said during a telephone interview.

He added that it’s one thing if the province wants to give political representation to New Brunswick’s 236 local service districts (LSDs) which have no elected mayors or councillors, but quite another if it intends to create big regional governments by amalgamating smaller municipalities.

“And if it’s shared services they’re talking about, tell us what services you mean and how you’re going to share them,” Aiken said.

“For example, they say let’s amalgamate all the fire services so we have one big fire department for the area,” he added. “Sackville citizens have invested millions of dollars in fire equipment and we’re not just going to give that to somebody else,” he said.

“They can talk about these sorts of things, but when the rubber hits the road, I think there’s a lot of stuff that has to be worked out.”

Finn report

Yesterday’s Speech from the Throne declared that the province intends to a have a conversation with citizens about ways to improve a fragmented local government system that has roots in the 1960s.

“There have been dozens of studies highlighting the need for reforms, and it’s time to move to action and implementation,” the speech added.

Finn Report’s map of proposed regional service districts

One of the most recent and comprehensive of those studies — the Jean-Guy Finn report of 2008 — recommended combining more than 100 local governments and hundreds of LSDs into 53 municipalities grouped into 12 districts that would deliver regional services such as planning, solid waste management, policing, emergency measures and economic development.

Sackville would have merged with the villages of Port Elgin and Dorchester as well as the nine LSDs in the Tantramar area to form a single municipality.

But Finn’s recommendations went nowhere when the Liberal government of the day said the $88 million cost of implementing them was too high.

In 2013, a Conservative government established 12 regional service commissions (RSCs) including the Southeast RSC that oversees land-use planning and garbage collection in Sackville and other municipalities in Westmorland and Albert Counties.

‘What is the problem?’

Acting Mayor Aiken says he’s not sure why the Higgs government is so concerned about the number of municipalities in New Brunswick.

“What is the problem they’re trying to solve?” he asks.

“Frankly, I don’t see a big problem with a bunch of small municipalities; there’s this regionalization kick and I have yet to see anywhere where that’s saved anybody any money. All you end up doing is slapping another layer of government in there.”

Acting Mayor Ron Aiken

Aiken says that for Sackville, the real issue is that residents in the nearby LSDs get subsidized fire services from the town and enjoy facilities such as the Civic Centre arena while paying much lower property taxes.

“That to me is where the problem lies,” he says, adding that the province hasn’t done anything to solve it.

“If you wanted to incorporate Westcock and British Settlement and maybe Midgic into Sackville itself, well that kind of makes sense in a way given the kind of economic bubble we’re in around here, but to put Dorchester, Sackville and Port Elgin in one community to me is just nuts; it’s a huge area and I would ask what’s being gained from that.”

Meantime, Premier Higgs told reporters in Fredericton yesterday that it may take more than one, four-year term to implement municipal reform.

As Ron Aiken puts it, “there’s a lot of stuff that has to be worked out.”

This is the first in a three-part series on the prospects for municipal reform in New Brunswick.

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3 Responses to Sackville’s acting mayor puzzles over municipal reform plans

  1. Kata List Productions says:

    Councillor Bruce Phinney was the only individual speaking up about the problem with the Southeast Regional Service Commission [which is housed locally at the Lafford #2 building on the downtown corner of Main/York] – he had suggested defunding the commission but NOT ONE SINGLE councillor or mayor backed him up.. why would we listen to Ron Aiken now? He was silent when it mattered and he will continue to promote ‘Sustainable Sackville’, “Climate Action Plan” instead of growing the town with a view to increasing the number of jobs here that are not GOVERNMENT jobs. You have to question the technocracy at every turn or it grows larger each year and you cannot get rid of it. Thanks Bruce for doing that…and shame on the rest of the ‘team’ who sit quietly and say nothing.

  2. Peter Mesheau says:

    I really take exception to the acting Mayor’s comments about Sackville’s outer areas not paying their way, thus adding to Sackville’s financial challenges. I would strongly encourage the mayor and his council to be a tad more fiscally responsible with Sackville’s tax dollars (and provincial grants), and deal accordingly. From what I’ve seen, I reckon you could exercise considerably more prudence in your spending. And just maybe, you’ve got to work a little harder at getting that tax base up.
    I work in Sackville, at a business that pays a healthy municipal tax bill. We are pleased to be here.
    In the last four days, I have shopped for groceries, eaten at three restaurants, purchased prescription drugs, bought groceries, filled my gas tank, and shopped for Christmas cards at Tidewater Books (thank you Ellen!). Like many out of town households, we support Sackville’s retailers..and hospital!
    I do not use your parks (I walk the wonderful Westcock Marsh), I visited an event at the Civic Centre a year ago last June (and paid admission). I do drive on a few of your “streets” to get to work, and to shop.
    One of the upsides of being amalgamated with Sackville (hopefully not for awhile), is that we “country folk” will be able to run for mayor and council. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a mayor and half of council from across the tracks. Now that would be a case of the tail wagging the dog.
    Please Ron, look in a mirror the next time you’re pointing the finger at who’s causing Sackville’s fiscal woes. Don’t bite the hand that helps feed your community.
    Peter Mesheau,
    Sackville supporter & proud Westcocker

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