Posted on 02/01/2013, 9:42 am, by mySteinbach

The provincial government is providing new tools for municipalities as they develop their amalgamation plans in consultation with citizens, local government minister Ron Lemieux announced.

“I am pleased that a lot of good discussion is occurring and many municipalities are talking to their neighbours about building on their already successful regional partnerships,” said Lemieux. “We have received early indications from municipalities both over and under 1,000 residents that they are considering amalgamations. We encourage these efforts and are providing new tools to help them through this process.”

Municipalities now have access to a website with up-to-date information and resources along with an amalgamation guidebook that outlines all the existing tools to look after local interests, the minister said, adding ongoing support from amalgamation teams and expert field consultants will provide on-the-ground assistance. Seven regional seminars will take place all around Manitoba in February. These seminars are aimed at assisting councils and chief administrative officers in working through the key requirements of an amalgamation plan, Lemieux said.

In the 2012 speech from the throne, the province announced that over this year it would work with all municipalities to begin a process of municipal amalgamations. Manitoba municipalities were asked to identify potential partnerships by the end of January, commit to those partnerships by the end of March and finalize amalgamation plans by the end of this year.

“I appreciate that meeting these timelines will require significant effort and I have committed to the province being there along the way to assist. We understand that local identity, local representation, service levels and taxation are all important concerns of citizens and their elected officials,” said the minister. “We recognize that local municipalities are best positioned to understand their local circumstances, so we are supporting a community-designed process over the next year, with provincial support, which empowers local communities to choose their partnerships and collectively work through the key decisions that must be made prior to merger.”

“This initiative is unique; it is about rural people, where they live and work, and local services. Enabling local discussions, coupled with a suggested sequence of activities and supported by information and access to provincial experts, will fill in critical gaps of engaging rural citizens,” said Dr. Bill Ashton, director of the Rural Development Institute at Brandon University, who has been involved in local amalgamation initiatives and studies elsewhere in Canada. “While information is central, having discussions about strengthening local government also means creating new stories about identity, and here I suggest getting high school students involved too.”

The government has encouraged regional collaboration and partnerships for over a decade in an effort to ensure that all municipalities can fully participate in Manitoba’s economic growth and provide essential infrastructure and services to citizens in the most efficient and effective manner, the minister said.

Almost half of all Manitoba municipalities no longer meet the Municipal Act threshold population requirement of 1,000 to be incorporated as a municipality and one in four spend more than 20 per cent of their budget on administration, Lemieux said.