By Marianne Curtis
If all goes according to plan, the province could see the number of municipalities decreased by ninety-two by the end of next year, Minister of Local Government Ron Lemieux told Association of Manitoba Municipality (AMM) delegates during their recent annual convention.
On November 27, Lemieux discussed amalgamation when he addressed over one thousand mayors, reeves and councillors from throughout the province during the AMM annual convention that took place November 26 to 29 in Winnipeg.
According to the Selinger government, ninety-two out of 197 municipalities from throughout the province do not meet the legal threshold of 1,000 residents. As a result, the province is encouraging them to amalgamate with their neighbours.
“I think it’s fair to say the smaller municipalities have limited borrowing capacity and often struggle to meet legislative and regulatory requirements that are often imposed upon them,” says Lemieux. He notes some municipalities have not submitted audited financial statements for 2011; a process that’s been overdue since June. And some municipalities have yet to submit 2010 and even 2009 financial statements. He added this was important because it left $14 million in unclaimed Federal Gas tax funding that could otherwise have been paid out.
“Those dollars belong to you and that is delaying investments in much needed infrastructure in your community,” Lemieux stressed. “In the coming weeks letters will be sent out to every municipality to initiate the first steps towards municipal amalgamation.”
The province has three goals in mind with the proposal. It is expected to give municipalities’ better ability to fund projects and access funding through provincial and federal programs. It is also expected to improve the deliver of services and governance in administration. It is also expected to all for the launch of coordinated efforts to promote economic growth, reduce fragmentation and improve regional thinking and action.
Doug Dobrowolski president of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities says the process has to be done right and not done to meet an artificial deadline.
“There is debt, there are assets, there are service sharing agreements with various municipalities; all these things have to be worked out and that doesn’t just happen over night ; there is a lot of things that have to be negotiated so that it fair for everyone and the timeline the province has set out is very aggressive.”
Bob Stefaniuk, Mayor of Ritchot as Eastern Rural Director for AMM says that some municipalities are threatened with talk of amalgamation.
“It has to be done in a gentle way,” says Stefaniuk. “There are a lot of historic aspects to some municipalities and they guard that jealously. The province needs to let the municipalities make up their minds with who they want to amalgamate with.”
While the province is calling for all municipalities to amalgamate voluntarily, all municipalities that fall below the 1,000 population threshold are expected to complete the amalgamation process by the 2014 municipal elections.