Pushing for more sharing of municipal services
© Photo by Terry Roberts/The Compass
There were plenty of empty chairs at the April 25 meeting of the Conception Bay North Joint Council, held in Cupids.
Editor's note: This article first appeared in the May 14 print edition of The Compass.
A regional municipal body that some say has been largely ineffectual in recent years is making a concerted effort to initiate greater co-operation among the 11 town councils it represents from Brigus to Victoria.
During a sparsely attended meeting in Cupids on April 25, members of the Conception Bay North Joint Council decided that it would seek to begin serious discussions about the possibility of towns working together in the three following areas - regional governance, garbage collection and the management of water and wastewater.
It's a bold mandate for a group that has seen as few as seven municipal leaders show up at a monthly meeting, but those driving the agenda say it's time for the joint council to get its nose dirty, and prove that it can be a force for positive change.
One municipal leader said the joint council will never be taken seriously unless "it really digs its teeth into something important to the region."
Greater regional co-operation and the sharing of services is a concept being heavily promoted by the provincial government, and there are several examples of this in the Trinity Conception region, including the Bay de Grave regional services board, which serves Cupids to North River.
"We need to talk about more than potholes," added Wayne Rose, manager of the Town of Brigus. Rose was the only municipal employee in attendance.
"Once we start taking on regional issues, the support will come," said another elected member of council. "Right now they're saying we're doing nothing."
In all, there were 14 municipal leaders in attendance at the April 25 meeting, held at the Cupids Legacy Centre. There were plenty of empty chairs, which Clarke's Beach town councillor Roland Andrews described as a "major problem." Andrews serves as secretary with the joint council.
Towns represented at the meeting included Brigus, Cupids, South River, Clarke's Beach, Spaniard's Bay and Carbonear. There were no representatives from North River, Bay Roberts, Upper Island Cove, Harbour Grace and Victoria.
"I can't get anyone to go," said South River Mayor Arthur Petten, adding that a concerted effort should be made to inspire more engagement with the joint council.
In 2012, the joint council hosted eight meetings. According to a report provided by Coun. Andrews, Upper Island Cove has the distinction of attending the fewest meetings - three. Three others - Bay Roberts, North River and Spaniard's Bay - sent representatives to four meetings. Only Clarke's Beach had representatives at all eight meetings, while Brigus and Carbonear were present at seven meetings. All others were somewhere in between.
Attendance at meetings ranged from a low of seven council members to 20.
One of the knocks against the joint council is that it has not done enough to facilitate shared services or regionalization, but that appears to be changing, based on discussions as the most recent meeting.
The deputy mayor of Spaniard's Bay, Tony Menchions, said area leaders need to start thinking regionally.
"People are still of the mindset that if it's outside their boundary, it's someone else's problem. We have to change that," he said.
He described the discussions taking place at the meeting "a step in the right direction."
There was plenty of talk about a regional approach to garbage collection, and perhaps sharing equipment such as a water leak detection system.
"We don't all need one of those," said Rose.
There was also discussion about the way fire protection is delivered in the area, with a half-dozen volunteer fire brigades serving a population that is stretched over some 40 kilometres of Conception Bay shoreline.
"It's a rat race," said one official. "It's a race to see who will get (to the emergency) first."
It was suggested there should be two to three fire departments in the region, staffed by a complement of paid and volunteer firefighters.
"How many fire departments to we need? We expect government to cut back. Should we be any different?" asked another elected leader.
Town of CBN?
The common comparison was the Town of Conception Bay South, where a collection of communities merged many years ago, and "these smaller communities still have their identity."
One leader said "the day is coming, and regional government is coming, too."
Mayor Petten (South River) said if there's to be any talk of regionalization that non-incorporated communities such as Roaches Line, Makinsons and Port de Grave "should be yanked into it."
While most are in favour of sharing services and greater co-operation, it wasn't until the word amalgamation was uttered that voices began to rise.
Petten declared, "I am 100 per cent against amalgamation, but I'm 100 per cent for shared services. I'm not going to give away my good little town."
Another councillor emphasized, "we are not talking about amalgamation," though Roland Andrews blurted, "The Town of Conception Bay North wouldn't be too bad."
"Not at all," added Harold Akerman, deputy mayor with the Town of Cupids.
The joint council has scheduled its next meeting for May 30 in Brigus.