Appeared in the March 20, 2013 issue of the Interlake Enterprise, by Teresa Carey…
The annual meeting of Mayors, Reeves and CAOs, put on by the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, was hosted by the RM of Bifrost this year. The day-long session was held at the Arborg and District Heritage Village, Mar. 14.
On the agenda were updates on issues facing all of the Manitoba municipalities, including infrastructure funding, economic development, housing, and others, according to a brief Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) press release.
The key topic for this year though was on Municipal amalgamation.
During the morning, AMM President Doug Dobrowolski outlined the AMM’s position, the details of which have been previously reported in the Enterprise. However, the media was barred from attending the afternoon portion of the meeting when the province’s Minister of Local Government, Ron Lemieux, was present to hear concerns about the amalgamation process and answer questions.
“We want our members to have a very open dialogue with the minister. Media may conduct interviews after the meeting,” was the official reply from AMM.
Interlake riding MLA, Tom Nevakshonoff was one of three MLAs to attend this meeting (the others being Greg Dewar of Selkirk and Blaine Blain Peterson of Carman). He spoke freely about the meeting during a telephone interview afterward.
Nevakshonoff said he is not sure why the meeting was closed.
“I don’t think that these reeves and mayors would have held back, but possibly [it was closed] to make the minister feel more comfortable,” he said.
“I agree the public needs to be fully apprised of this and fully engaged in the process…The public might have a different perspective [than that of the elected officials],” Nevakshonoff said.
Nevakshonoff went on to share some of the highlights of the afternoon’s discussion.
“There were a lot of complaints and concerns raised. That was good. That’s what the minister wanted.”
According to Nevakshonoff, some members aired grievances about being forced to amalgamate, while most others raised concerns about the short time frame allotted for the amalgamation processes.
This concern was especially emphasized by members from the West Interlake who are still working to recover from the 2011 floods.
Comments on the myriad details that will be required as part of any amalgamation process were heard, such as the merging of by-laws and the pooling of various mill rates. In addition, the suggestion that the province provide the money to offset these costs was put forward.
“These were all good points,” Nevakshonoff said. “There obviously is a lot of administrative challenges and costs incurred…The minister didn’t respond with any money promised,” he added.
Nevakshonoff said some very good suggestions were put forward by some municipal leaders, like allowing the amalgamation process to occur over a couple election cycles, as opposed to having it all take place by the next provincial election, in the fall of 2014.
Another member suggested that perhaps the merger of two municipalities was not enough. Rather, it might be more advantageous if three or four municipalities were to merge. Nevakshonoff said he agreed with that position.
“The government is not saying too, too much right now, because people will then plan in that direction,” Nevakshonoff said.
“The minister said amalgamation will happen,” he added. “If some people say, ‘to Hell with this,’ the government may have to step in [but] there’s room for negotiation.”
“I don’t like the sound of it myself (i.e. forced amalgamation). We want things to be voluntary,” he said.