I HAVE been involved in municipal government for the last 24 years, and until now, the provincial government has always communicated openly with local government and allowed the local voice to be heard.
Unfortunately, this was not the case last Nov. 26 when Local Government Minister Ron Lemieux announced all municipalities, towns and villages with a population of less than 1,000 would have to amalgamate with a bordering municipality.
No consultations were held, and no reasons were given.
After numerous attempts to meet with Lemieux, with no results, I did get to speak with his assistant who said, "It will broaden the municipality’s borrowing power."
I could not believe what I heard. Is that what we want to impose on our ratepayers?
Municipal councils are elected to make decisions in the best interests of their ratepayers, but the municipal voice is not being heard now. It is just another way the NDP government is exercising their power to "bully" local government.
The government is planning to pass legislation forcing amalgamation upon all municipalities with less than 1,000 population and is disregarding any municipal participation or consultation with elected municipal officials.
The RMs of Shellmouth and Boulton made the decision to amalgamate in 1999. Both municipalities shared a common goal — to continue to grow and offer improved services and infrastructure at a lower cost to our ratepayers.
At that time, there was no town in Boulton. The town in Shellmouth, Inglis, was roughly in the centre of the amalgamated area. In addition, we already shared a municipal office, fire department, public-works equipment, waste-disposal site and lagoon.
Amalgamation allowed us to continue to share but with the added advantages that we now needed only one set of books, one audit, one insurance policy etc. In other words, we saved money for ratepayers.
If forced to amalgamate with any of the four municipalities that border Shellmouth-Boulton, it will cost our ratepayers money. All surrounding municipalities have higher mill rates and lower rates of service that we do. In addition, they have separate facilities and equipment, not shared, so there is no saving to be gained. Our ratepayers will be forced to absorb their costs.
The RM of Shellmouth-Boulton is unique. When first we amalgamated, our population was 1,100. It had shrunk to 930 in the last census. But the census didn’t capture the facts that increasing cottage development at Lake of the Prairies and at the Asessippi Ski Area causes our seasonal population to exceed 1,000. In addition, we know many of today’s seasonal residents intend to become permanent residents when they retire.
Both permanent and seasonal ratepayers have voiced their opposition to forced amalgamation, and our elected officials are not entertaining any discussions with adjacent municipalities based on their input.
After all, I was elected to represent the ratepayers of Shellmouth-Boulton and that is what I plan to do.
Unlike the Selinger government’s budgets, our budgets are balanced, our capital spending is based on a five-year plan, and infrastructure is maintained and upgraded in the best interest of our ratepayers.
To anyone who has ever lived in a rural area or has ties to a rural community, you are aware of the tremendous sense of pride residents have in their community.
Volunteers not only run our fire department, but also our community clubs and recreational facilities. Numerous families have relocated to this municipality to raise their families and retire in a safe and welcoming environment. They fear our local community will most definitely be lost to a larger town if forced to amalgamate with another municipality that does not share common goals.
I believe the "local voice" will be lost if amalgamation is forced for no reason other than a population number.
I also believe elected officials are the best suited to make the decision to amalgamate based on the voice of their ratepayers, not the provincial government.
Is bigger better? What has it done to our school divisions and our health authorities?
Alvin Zimmer is reeve of the Rural Municipality of Shellmouth-Boulton.