The amalgamation process in Manitoba is underway.
Smaller municipalities have been required by the provincial government to merge and create single, larger municipalities.
The province will shrink from 39 municipalities to 19.
The order to amalgamate came down early last year. An amalgamation guide was sent out to all areas illustrating tasks that must be completed.
Amalgamated municipalities will be created under legislation and will begin to function on Jan. 1, 2015. Councils of the amalgamated municipalities will be elected during the 2014 General Municipal Election which will occur on Oct. 22.
Municipalities that have populations less than 1,000 have been forced to join others to reach that population mark.
The RM of Archie, RM of Ellice, and the Village of St. Lazare will combine to become the RM of Ellice-Archie.
The RM of Wallace, RM of Woodworth and the Village of Elkhorn will combine to become RM of Wallace-Woodworth.
“We met with our municipality to the South which is Archie, and that was probably a year ago.” Says St.Lazare Mayor Martin Dupont.
“Eventually, we came to the conclusion that we were geographically close, and that if we got together, we would meet most of those needs by the government, and it wouldn’t be too complicated for us.”
The two RMs will join and St.Lazare will become a Local Urban Development (LUD), says Dupont.
“We’ll have one councillor with a sub-committee representing the village.”
“We thought it would be better if we went as an LUD because then we could virtually control everything that happened with the boundaries in the village and still participate with the full council.”
Dupont says that being an LUD will give more options for St. Lazare.
“It would be a body of councillors and everybody would sit down and work on the budgets, and their needs, and everyone would have a say to what could happen in our village. We felt that it would be a better fit if we only had one councillor representing us. We could probably still run the village but still follow the government’s guidelines.”
Dupont says that Ellice and St. Lazare have thought of joining together before but saw there was no real reason to do so.
“There was never an appetite from both sides, and in the past year, the RM didn’t want to join because they thought they were alright. Once we got the guidelines from the office and started looking at it, we quickly thought that we may as well deal with this with somebody we know in lieu of having the government force us to go with another municipality that we didn’t want to.”
Dupont says that if they did not choose who to go with, the government would have.
“It could have been anybody that borders us. It could have been the Russell Municipality in the North or it could have been in the East with the Birtle Municipality. We didn’t want to give the government more decision making—not more than what they are already forcing us to do.”
The village of St. Lazare was one of the areas that had no choice due to their small population size. Dupont says that the new RM does not quite make the 1,000 population mark either, but is very close to it.
Roland Gagnon, Mayor of the Village of Elkhorn, says that the RM of Wallace was the obvious choice for Elkhorn.
“We’ve had our meetings prior with the RM of Wallace, and we had a plan set out initially. Then we were told by the provincial government that the RM of Woodworth was coming on board also.”
Gagnon says that three communities are almost ready to amalgamate.
“We’ve had our public hearing in the Village of Elkhorn, Wallace has had theirs for their taxpayers, so has Woodworth. A little while ago we had one with the three bodies, Woodworth, Wallace, and Elkhorn, to present that to the overall public and the taxpayers.”
“The plan has been submitted into the government, now we just wait for the word from the government and we start having meetings and setting things in place because the provincial government is telling us that we have to have one budget to operate with where at the present time there are three budgets, so we have to sort all of those things out. It’s going to generate a lot of meetings.”
Gagnon says that the community has raised some concerns over the amalgamation being a forced action.
“They’ve got some issues. . . for most people I think it’s just that it’s being dictated on to you.”
“None of the bodies wanted amalgamation, but the provincial government is saying that it’s happening and we have no choice. If your numbers are under 1,000 you will amalgamate to your partner, that is basically what we were told, and we were told if we didn’t submit a plan in, they make one for you.”
“The important thing for me is going to be the councillors sitting at the table—whether they are open minded people. It’s not just Wallace you’re looking after, it’s not just Elkhorn, it’s not just Woodworth, it’s the whole area and that council will have to be very open minded.”
Gagnon says that the members of the new RM council, which will consist of six members and a chair, will be based on population. The council has yet to be decided.
Dupont says that the forced amalgamation will not benefit the communities.
“Every scenario we looked at, there’s going to be some sort of increase to run the municipalities, be it in the long term or short term. Just the fact that people will be travelling several more kilometres for meetings. It’s going to be more time consuming for people to be involved. Some municipalities are a lot bigger and will have to do a lot more travelling and their needs are a lot more complicated and some people have indicated that they’re not going to have the time to become involved in a bigger RM.” Dupont says.
Although Dupont has his concerns, he doesn’t believe that maintaining St.Lazare’s identity will be one of them.
“It won’t affect it too much. We won’t lose our identity as long as we are willing to champion the fight, keep ourselves visible as a somewhat bilingual community and if we want to keep that going, I can’t see that being a problem at all.” Dupont says.
Gagnon says that preserving the identity of Elkhorn won’t be a problem either.
“I think our identity will stay the way it is. I don’t think that its going to change. The borders will change but we’ll still be the Village of Elkhorn,” Gagnon says.
As far as benefits to amalgamation, Gagnon agrees that there are not many.
“The provincial government tells us that there will be benefits. They can’t really lay them out in what they are going to be. I think that once you start making your areas larger, it’s going to be pretty tough for people.”
Gagnon says that part of the provincial government’s plan is to try to balance representations of councils for urban and rural areas.
“We have a population around 500 people and we have four councillors and a mayor. But you might have a municipality of 12,000 people and there’s still the same representation.”
“Their number is 1,000 people, and to me, that means that they want larger areas with less councillors looking after them.”