Some of the most experienced administrators in Manitoba believe the government’s plan to amalgamate close to 50 municipalities prior to the 2014 election is ill-conceived and rushed.
“We understand that we’re amalgamating — I get that, other CAOs get that — but to try to have this done by the next election is not realistic,” one administrator said, speaking on a condition of anonymity.
Forty-seven mergers have been approved by the province since amalgamations were sprung on municipal officials during the Nov. 19, 2012, throne speech. The partnerships will reduce the number of municipalities outside Winnipeg from 196 to 107, and become effective Jan. 1, 2015.
Flipping through an “amalgamation checklist” several pages in length that was supplied by the province, the administrator said it would take an employee dedicated to the process months to accomplish all of the required items.
“We do not have the time, between all of our other duties, to be working on the checklist,” she said.
Another administrator said the upcoming Oct. 22 election could become the most important municipal election ever, as councils will lay the groundwork for how the newly formed municipalities function.
“Representation, taxes, or as simple as where the office will be located, will all have to be hashed out,” he said. “It is going to create a lot of animosity and could shape the direction of the municipality in the short and long term.”
While he fundamentally agrees that some municipalities should have amalgamated, the administrator said the process has been bungled from the start.
“The first thing they told us was we had to be 1,000 people strong, then that changed,” he said. “Deadlines were set, then changed. They’ll never admit it, but (the province) really screwed this up, and I think that’s evident when you’re swapping out the minister responsible for the portfolio during one of the largest changes in Manitoba’s history.”
In an October 2013 cabinet shuffle, Premier Greg Selinger replaced embattled Local Government Minister Ron Lemieux with then-Finance Minister Stan Struthers.
At the top of the list of concerns from ratepayers is taxation, as multiple RMs try to create an equitable system within a single government.
“Councils of amalgamated municipalities will make decisions about the 2015 budget and taxation in the new municipality,” Municipal Government press secretary Caedmon Malowany said.
The Municipal Amalgamations Act will allow property taxes to be administered on a transitional basis, lending time for new councils to develop long-term solutions.
Malowany said differential mill rates have been used in previous amalgamations.
Complete integration of municipalities doesn’t need to be finalized prior to the Jan. 1, 2015, deadline either, according to Malowany.
» Twitter: @CharlesTweed