Municipal leaders who start serving on the newly amalgamated councils in Manitoba this week have their work cut out for them — from deciding which planning districts they’ll be part of to connecting with a public dispersed across wider territory.
One of their big jobs ahead will be just staying in touch with ratepayers, predicts Linda Clark, acclaimed reeve of the new Prairie View Municipality formed out of the former municipalities of RM of Miniota, RM of Birtle and Town of Birtle.
It’s not very likely the public will suddenly be coming out to meetings, Clark said. “This is a huge concern of mine.”
What she foresees ahead for Prairie View — and other new entities which now encompass two or more former jurisdictions — is more reliance on municipal websites and other forms of technology to communicate.
Clark wants to see her council out and about across the entire municipality too. “They will need to be visible and visiting with people and hearing the issues,” she said.
Elsewhere, prospective leaders say they hope to see more ratepayers get organized.
“(In Edward) we’ve had a ratepayers’ association that’s been very active,” said Edward Councillor Debbie McMechan, who was running against RM of Albert incumbent Tom Campbell this week for the reeve’s job in Two Borders Municipality (made up of the RMs of Edward, Albert and Arthur).
If elected October 22, McMechan, who was running on a ticket calling for more transparency in local government, said she’d actively encourage more of these entities to form throughout Two Borders.
“I think they’re as important for council as for the ratepayers themselves,” she said. “It’s good for us to see what the issues are with folks.”
The councils of Two Borders and Prairie View are among a total of 137 across Manitoba with plenty to do in the few short weeks before year’s end. The terms of office for existing councils of amalgamation partners extend to Dec. 31, allowing previous councillors, reeves and mayors to stick around and help with the transition process until the new amalgamated council takes office Jan. 1, 2015.
Existing councils will deal with administrative matters only, but not make decisions binding on new councils.
There are many to make.
In Grassland Municipality, they’ve already agreed to keep both Hartney and Minto offices open, says Grassland’s acclaimed reeve, Blair Woods. Grassland was formed by a merger of Whitewater, Hartney and Cameron.
They’ve also agree there will be no layoffs of staff because their larger entity needs them all, he said, adding that they’ve also divided the former chief administrative officer into two jobs, with the other becoming the chief financial officer.
But there is a plethora of other municipal governance matters to tackle, including new committees to set up, and new organizational structures to design.
Grassland for example now has to grapple with the fairness of a per capita library funding formula when some ratepayers, so far from the local libraries it funds seldom or never use them, said Woods.
Such decisions overlay all the other perennial matters such as economic development and day-to-day operational management, he added.
It’s all expected to add a considerable layer of complexity — and time — to the job of councillors in these enlarged entities, and there are already discussions about another politically sensitive matter — the indemnities paid to councillors and heads of councillors.
“I can see that coming,” said Woods, whose indemnity for a year’s service as a reeve in the former RM of Whitewater was $6,719.
Clark said she sees as what’s critical in the days and weeks ahead is assuring ratepayers that amalgamation neither means a change in service delivery, nor is it going to immediately lead to higher taxes.
Fair and equitable delivery of services across a larger entity, what this means for taxes have been the two most pressing concerns, and she hopes to allay them in the days ahead, Clark said.
“Some would probably say these are very difficult times. I’m tending to want to look at this as exciting times,” she said.
Her only disappointment has been so little interest shown in elections. Six out of Prairie View’s eight-member council were acclaimed.
“I just wish there was more interest in municipal politics,” she said. “But there hasn’t been for many years.”
Who’s in office?
Manitoba Votes is a “one- stop shop” or website that lists all council and school board candidates and will be updated October 22 — election day — as municipal offices report their poll results.
Manitoba Votes was developed by All-Net.ca.