Friday, October 29, 2010

N.B. municipal amalgamation divides opinion
Province re-visiting Finn report

(Posted by CBC NB News: Friday, October 29/10)

There are differing views about the possible amalgamation of communities in New Brunswick, as suggested by the Finn report two years ago. The newly elected Tory government plans to lake another look at the report, which recommended slashing New Brunswick's municipalities and local service districts to just 53 from more than 350.

The report — by Jean-Guy Finn, the former commissioner on the future of local governance — was shelved by the former Liberal government shortly after it was released in December 2008. The suggested mergers are meant to make providing services more manageable.

Fredericton Coun. Mike O'Brien supports the Finn report. Combining local service districts and municipalities would solve Fredericton's problem of residents and businesses locating just outside city limits, he said, and getting services without paying municipal taxes. O'Brien said there's also a plus side for unincorporated areas, since larger municipalities would have elected boards to represent everyone.

"Local service districts don't have anybody elected to represent them. The Finn report says everybody would have an elected representative," he said Friday.

That doesn't convince Linda Cogswell, who lives in the small community of Rusagonis, about 15 kilometres southeast of Fredericton. She wonders just how well she'd be represented by a board, based on population. The population of Rusagonis was 748 in 2001. "Our elected official might be covering Rusagonis plus Wirral. That is a big difference," Cogswell said. "So who's going to advocate for me?" Wirral is about 40 kilometres southeast of Rusagonis.

Cogswell said she's read the entire Finn report, and she is also concerned about taxes. It appears people in rural areas would end up paying more for services under amalgamation, she said. "We pay for our garbage pickup in our local service district from our tax base. We pay for policing services through our tax base. We also pay for fire protection," Cogwell said. "So I can't see what more we would need to pay for."

Cogswell said the Finn report raises more questions than it answers. She hopes public meetings promised by the Alward government will provide more information about how amalgamation would impact rural areas.

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