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Moving towards regionalization

The province’s plan has provoked reaction from West coast community leaders

Dwayne Vautier is the President of the Local Service District of Fox Roost – Margaree and says that right now they are still trying to get all the facts but expects some harsh growing pains as the province moves into regionalization. – © File photo

By Jaymie L. White

Special to Wreckhouse Press

WEST COAST – On Feb. 2, Krista Lynn Howell, Minister of Municipal and Provincial Affairs, released the Joint Working Group Report and Recommendations on Regionalization. The group, which consisted of representatives from Municipalities NL, the Professional Municipal Administrators, and representatives from the Department of Municipal and Provincial Affairs, was created to make recommendations on a plan for regionalization. The recommendations were formed using best practices across the country, consultations across the province, and research and surveys with councils, municipalities, and residents in Local Service Districts (LSDs) and Unincorporated Areas (UIAs).

Some of the recommendations listed are as follows:

• Establish regional governance structure to provide regional services to communities.

• Municipalities will retain autonomy and provide local governance and services to residents while the residents within municipalities will pay taxes only to their councils.

• Most regions will cover a population range of 5,000 to 50,000 residents. Provisional regional boundaries will be developed.

• Representation will be determined by a provisional regional advisory committee.

• Regional bodies will provide some services, such as land-use planning, economic development, emergency planning and by-law enforcement to all communities in the region.

• Regional bodies will be given taxation authority for properties in former LSDs and UIAs and charge user fees for services provided to municipalities.

The aim is to provide good local government with better and more efficient services, more transparent and accountable local governments, greater co-operation, and equitable taxation, and the implementation is planned as a three-phase process over a three-year period.

The first phase involves identifying local governance capacity and regional boundaries while beginning legislative development, the second, regional governance design, and the third, implementation of regional governance.

Even though the implementation phases are listed, MHA Tony Wakeham (Stephenville – Port au Port) said concerns are still being raised.

“I think the biggest concern that I am hearing around now is the lack of communication, the lack of participation, on the part of the LSDs. I think a lot of LSDs feel like they’ve been left out of the process. But the other thing, it’s like one of these announcements where the government makes an announcement, but yet we’re all waiting to see exactly what it is that is going to be rolled out. How will it impact every district or every community? They talk about not using a ‘cookie-cutter’ approach. They’re going to be looking at how it will work in different areas, but again, I think that’s the problem right now, the details of the implementation process are not out there.”

Wakeham said the last thing that you want to do is layer another level of bureaucracy on top of what already exists.

“Sometimes government puts out something and says, ‘this is where we’re going’, but you’ve got to be able to take the time to sit down and make sure that every single community that has an issue has to be talked to. You have to have those open and frank discussions because it shouldn’t be about doing things to people, it should be about working with people to get things done and seeing if the changes are necessary. I’m sure that lots of good ideas would come from those types of discussions and lots of ways people could share services or do things differently. I don’t think there’s anybody opposed to that. I think though, the challenge is, how do you do that? How do you talk to people and get their suggestions on what could be done, should be done, and how do you approach things differently?”

Dwayne Vautier, President of Local Service District Fox Roost – Margaree said they just had their annual meeting with the public and there has been a consensus to go into a discussion about regionalization.

“The government is telling us we’ll have to fall in line with it, but it’s not passed through the House of Assembly as of yet, but we are discussing it with provincial government and the surrounding community.”

Vautier thinks that with time regionalization would be a positive implementation.

“It’s going to be a pretty harsh growing pain because of the extra fees, aka taxes, that will be associated with it, and I think everybody realizes that the tax part is the most apprehensive part about it. But in time we believe, I think it would be naïve to not believe, that it would be better simply by having the appropriate administrative staff in place, not relying on volunteerism as we have done here since the beginning of the community.”

Vautier said that with volunteerism being a dying breed, it’s hard to get somebody to take the reins.

“It’s not fiscally prudent to continue on as a local service in that way. Service could be better, but we don’t have the cash flow of course. We don’t have a lot of money, so there’s only so much you can invest back into it presently. If we came under regionalization, one would think you would have more numbers to get more clout from government and there should be a benefit from that. That’s a general consensus. We have a long way to go. We’re going to have discussions with government, probably a government meeting in this coming spring.”

Everything is in the beginning stages, and they are just working on getting all the facts right now.

“Progress doesn’t happen overnight. I think that has to be understood by everybody. Everywhere you go – I’ve lived outside the province in different places – and you have taxes. It’s straight out, everybody pays taxes. Do I like paying $700 a year? I’d like to keep the extra money in my pocket, but it’s not realistic.”

Lloyd Harnum, President of Local Service District Bay St. George South, has a different perspective on regionalization. He said there is a lack of consultation and forethought which leaves no consideration for the economic and social impacts it will have. Harnum said there has been no consultation with LSDs and that they should have been represented in the working group making recommendations on regionalization.

“The people in Bay St. George South, we may squabble amongst ourselves. The ten communities don’t always get along, but they’re content with the level of service that they have now, and all the rest of the stuff that they talk about, we already have it. How can another level of governance provide a level of service that you’re already getting at a better level, but it’s going to cost more money? And you’re taxing the people at a time where rural Newfoundland is empty of a population. Most that are there are retired on a fixed income. Now you’re going to steal their property by taxing them. Rural Newfoundland can’t afford property tax.”

On Wednesday, Mar. 9, Harnum chaired an ad hoc committee meeting called 50 Ways to say NO to Regionalization, which was a presentation in response to the government’s regionalization report.

The rebuttal listed almost 20 points of consideration, questioning the information laid out in the report, and suggesting a more inclusive working group to study the service needs of the communities.

The conclusion stated that, while regionalization of services may benefit some areas of the province, it does not have to come in the form of a province-wide regionalization.

“Running through this document is a very colonial attitude that rural Newfoundland must be brought up to a more modern municipal standard of service regardless of whether they requested it or not.”

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