Province tries to sell rural communities on paying for Saint John facilities

Environment and Local Government Minister Jeff Carr met with representatives of Hampton, St. Martins and 10 local service districts in private on Tuesday night to discuss the province's contentious plan for them to help cover the costs of five recreational facilities in Saint John.

Carr says the current funding model isn't working and more people need to pitch in — to the tune of about $28 a year in taxes on a house assessed at $100,000.

"It's not something that is accepted by everybody, obviously," he said Wednesday.

"Many would say, in those areas … 'Hey, I don't use this facility and my kids have never used it,' or 'We haven't used it for years,' or maybe, 'Because my neighbours use it doesn't mean we need to help.'

"But I think in order to move forward in a sustainable way in the Saint John region, we've got to look at things differently and and try something new. And by spreading this cost out over a number of people, a lot more people, it'll keep it as low as possible."

Currently Saint John, Rothesay, Quispamsis and Grand Bay-Westfield share the $3.4 million annual costs of the Imperial Theatre, TD Station, the Canada Games Aquatic Centre, Saint John Arts Centre and the Trade and Convention Centre.

Last week, the province introduced legislative amendments that would see the 12 other communities chip in up to $470,000 toward operating costs, starting next year, with capital costs being added on in 2021.

It's part of the province's Sustaining Saint John, A Three-Part Action Plan.

Al Walker, who lives in Hampton and has served on various LSD committees, contends this is a case of Saint John offloading fiscal problems on its neighbours.

He also thinks the province is taking the wrong approach and contrasts it with the way Hampton secured funding from its neighbours for a proposed multi-purpose recreation centre.

"We went to every community," he said. " We had a number of public information sessions. We listened very carefully, which is not what's happening here. And then we took it back and went back with revisions. And in the end, we had just about everybody supporting the proposal.

"That's how you actually build consensus in a region and you build a project. You don't build consensus by imposing and not consulting."

Walker said he thinks if there is more open, honest discussion, and rural residents get better representation on the commission that will oversee the facilities, they might be more supportive.