A tiny Lake Winnipeg beach community is making a major land grab from its much larger neighbour, the RM of St. Andrews, in a scene reminiscent of the novel, The Mouse that Roared.
The Village of Dunnottar, in the role of the cheeky "mouse," has applied to the Manitoba Municipal Board to annex 55 square kilometres from St. Andrews.
The targeted land carries an assessed value of $51 million. The annexation would increase the beach community's area by about 10 times.
Dunnottar officials want to add at least 300 people to the population of 700, thereby avoiding a forced amalgamation under the NDP government's Bill 33, the Municipal Modernization Act. It requires any municipality with fewer than 1,000 residents to find a partner and amalgamate, in an effort to cut local administration costs. There are 87 municipalities in Manitoba with fewer than 1,000 residents. Plans for amalgamation must be submitted by Dec. 1.
'We've had a phenomenal relationship with that municipality. They've just destroyed it'
"I know it's a big area (that Dunnottar is trying to annex) but in comparison to the entire municipality (of St. Andrews), it's relatively small," said Dunnottar Mayor Richard Gamble.
The RM of St. Andrews is not amused.
"We've had a phenomenal relationship with that municipality. They've just destroyed it," said St. Andrews Reeve Don Forfar.
Forfar said the annexation would affect "about 700 people that we don't want to lose." He is offended Dunnottar's council didn't notify him before going ahead with its application.
"We did try to contact him and he was busy," Gamble replied.
Dunnottar is in a bind because it's surrounded by St. Andrews on three sides, with Lake Winnipeg on the other side. So Dunnottar would have to amalgamate with rapidly growing St. Andrews, which has about 12,000 residents and is behind East St. Paul as one of the wealthiest municipalities in Manitoba. But Dunnottar separated from St. Andrews in 1947 due to poor service delivery.
Neither Dunnottar nor St. Andrews is interested in amalgamating. St. Andrews would have to take on Dunnottar's cottagers. "They don't want to be amalgamated and we're not looking for extra people and extra work," said Forfar.
So St. Andrews offered Dunnottar a strip of land almost 17 metres wide and about three kilometres long to physically connect Dunnottar to Winnipeg Beach. But that would only compound Dunnottar's ability to access grants, and provincial sales tax and lottery monies, because those are paid out based on permanent residents only, Gamble said.
Dunnottar is about 60 kilometres north of Winnipeg. St. Andrews abuts Winnipeg on the north side.
Gamble said the logical solution would be for the province to recognize Dunnottar's cottagers. The community swells to 3,000 people in summer and the cottagers pay property taxes. "The province has talked about a lot of smaller communities where administrative costs are in the 40 per cent range. Ours are at 17 per cent," said Gamble.
Dunnottar's council wrote to the province Jan. 7, asking to be omitted from Bill 33 but has not received a reply. "We offer different services (for seasonal residents) that aren't offered in rural municipalities," said Gamble.
Dunnottar's annexation would include all land east to Highway 8, and north up to, but excluding, Winnipeg Beach, and to about two kilometres south of Dunnottar's current border.
Government Affairs Minister Ron Lemieux warned Dunnottar the annexation process could take up to two years, whereas amalgamation would be much quicker.
As well, municipal board officials say Dunnottar's submission is incomplete. The village must show it has talked to affected residents and the RM before its application will be accepted.
From there, the two sides would have to meet to try to hammer out an agreement.
Lemieux ruled out counting cottagers under Bill 33. "Having residents who are non-permanent is not a sustainable way to be running a municipality," Lemieux said
About half of Manitoba's 87 municipalities have begun the process of amalgamation, he said.
The province wants the amalgamations completed before municipal elections in 2014.