Regionalization is happening in most parts of Newfoundland and Labrador, the provincial government says, calling it a move that will reduce costs and improve the viability of rural communities.
The provincial government is considering recommendations from a report released Wednesday by a joint task force on regionalization and will develop a plan “as soon as possible,” according to Municipal and Provincial Affairs Minister Krista Lynn Howell.
“We are now at a point in our province where we have to make decisions, and we needed a plan moving forward to support communities,” Howell said Wednesday.
The report recommends a regional government structure that will allow for more efficient service delivery specific to each region of the province.
“There won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach that we can apply to the whole island and the Labrador portion of Newfoundland and Labrador,” she said.
The report includes a timeline, with boundaries for about 25 regions to be established this year and final implementation at the end of 2024.
Communities will retain names, identity: President of MNL
The report recommends that the regions be governed by an elected regional council of 15 members. Municipalities would retain their own councils and be allowed to continue service delivery, but would also be required to contribute to regional services. But municipal councils can also be dissolved if two-thirds of the members vote in favor, if for example they no longer need or can no longer provide services to the inhabitants.
Newfoundland and Labrador Municipalities President Amy Coady said Wednesday that many municipalities have already entered into service-sharing agreements and that regionalization will build on that.
“This will give residents and municipalities the opportunity to become more sustainable by working together.”
Coady argued that regionalization would strengthen the identity of individual communities, and the report recommends that individual communities retain their names.
“They will be able to keep their identities,” Coady said.
Some residents will pay more taxes
According to the report, 90% of Newfoundland and Labrador’s 520,000 people live in 275 municipalities across the province. Seventy-eight percent of these municipalities have a population of less than 1,000.
Coady said the report was created in consultation with local service districts and unincorporated areas.
About 9.5% of residents live in local service districts or unincorporated areas and pay no municipal taxes, and Newfoundland and Labrador is the only province that generates no provincial revenue from taxes land.
Under the new model, some residents would have to pay property taxes or could pay for new services. Residents of municipalities would only pay taxes to their municipal council.
While the new fees have yet to be determined, Howell said they will be region-specific.
“We want to assure residents that they will pay for the services they receive. It will be based on the needs of your area,” she said.
Howell said the goal of regionalization is not to generate revenue but to improve services and make delivery more efficient.
Progressive Conservative MP Joedy Wall said Wednesday he largely agreed with the report’s recommendations, but wanted to see more details about the cost of regionalization to government and taxpayers.
“We have no information on how the department will roll this out. We have no cost analysis and how it will affect residents.”
He said he agreed that residents of unincorporated areas and local service districts should pay taxes, but wanted to see how the government planned to implement this taxation.
Late Changes: MUN Researcher
The report recommends creating regions of 5,000 to 50,000 inhabitants. Although most of the province will be under the new model, the report includes exceptions for most Labrador communities, Indigenous communities and municipalities with populations over 11,000, such as St. John’s or Corner Brook.
Rob Greenwood, director of the Harris Center at Memorial University, has studied regionalization around the world for decades. He said it was the right decision for Newfoundland and Labrador, even if it is a bit late.
“It’s really difficult to grow the economy and address issues like climate change or even population retention and attraction without some level of local government with substantial capacity,” he said. he explains.
He said regionalization would not only help by saving money and making service delivery more efficient, but also by allowing regions to plan more effectively as the province’s population ages.
Greenwood acknowledged that the change will be difficult for long-term residents, but said regionalization will allow local governments to put in place infrastructure to attract and retain younger residents.
Greenwood said it is high time for Newfoundland and Labrador to establish regional governance as other provinces have done.
“Newfoundland and Labrador has the weakest local government in Canada. It’s directly related to our development, and I think it’s a fundamental step in the right direction.
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