Woodstock letter asks minister for one-year delay on RSC change

·4 min read

Woodstock’s mayor and council are adding their voices to two provincial municipality associations calling on Local Government Minister Daniel Allain to delay New Brunswick’s Regional Service Commission reform by at least one year.

At its Tuesday, April 26, regular session, the council gave unanimous approval to immediately send the letter to Minister Allain, signed by Mayor Arthur Slipp.

The letter supports the view of the Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick (UMNB) and Association francophone des aînés du Nouveau-Brunswick (AFANB) that RSC reform must slow down.

The extensive changes to the operation and mandates of New Brunswick’s 12 RSCs are part of the province’s expansive Municipal Reform, which will see communities, including Woodstock and five surrounding local service districts, amalgamate into single entities.

Representatives from Greater Woodstock communities that will form Entity 73 and other Upper St. John River Valley entities currently serve on the Western Valley Regional Service Commission (RSC-12) board.

Slipp stated in several Municipal Reform updates to council and elsewhere that the new entity councils elected in late November to take office on Jan 1 of next year would lack vital facts to make informed decisions regarding the division of responsibilities with RSCs. The letter expresses that concern.

“This winter, newly elected councils will need time and significant staff support to grasp and address the needs of their newly re-configured municipalities,” Slipp explained in the letter. “Newly elected mayors will need to acquire a thorough understanding of the capacity of their own municipalities to make informed decisions concerning how to advise on the additional mandates to be assumed by the RSCs.”

Slipp and other municipal and local service district representatives broached the same concerns during the Western Valley Regional Service Commission annual general meeting held over Zoom Wednesday, April 27.

While questioning RSC-12 Municipal Reform committee facilitator Maurice Robichaud during his update on the RSC progress, Slipp asked if the province informed him of the scope or minimum standards surrounding RSC mandates.

Robichaud responded that he had just received a draft of the economic development and tourism mandate, which he could share with RSC board members in about two weeks. That represents only one of six RSC mandates described in the White Paper the province released last fall.

During Monday’s council meeting and again at the RSC meeting, Slipp raised alarm bells about beginning RSC budget discussions in May without any indication of costs of the mandates and funding requirements. He reminded everyone that member communities fund the RSC.

Deputy Mayor Amy Anderson questioned how budgeting could begin with all available facts.

“Without financial clarity,” she asked rhetorically, “how can you plan?”

Slipp told Woodstock council members another RSC mandate would include “social focus,” but the reform plan doesn’t define the scope of that requirement.

“My fear is we’re going to see social development costs roll down to entities,” he said.

During Tuesday’s Municipal Reform update, which Slipp delivers at almost all regular council sessions and council-in-committee meetings, he explained other RSC mandates would include community development, regional development, and recreational cost-sharing.

The letter’s closing paragraph focused on the lack of information new entity councils would have to address a myriad of complicated and challenging issues.

“A delay of one year will allow elected officials and municipal staff the time to sort out the local implications of municipal reform (our transition facilitator keeps saying “the new council will need to sort that out” about many complex issues). Let’s not rush reform. Instead, please allow the time to do it right,” Slipp said to end his letter to the minister.

During his update to council members, Slipp said RSC staffing requirements for its new mandates also remain unclear, other than each commission would hire a CAO at salaries the mayor described as “shockingly high.”

Slipp told council he and other members of the Municipal Reform committee, who he said are making good headway at that level, would meet on April 27. He said they would discuss the results of the recent open house held at the AYR Motor Centre.

He said committee members would also discuss what type of structure, such as village, town, city, rural community, municipal region, etc. Entity 73 should become. He believes the most appropriate answer is “town.”

Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun

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