The modernization of New Brunswick’s local governance system reached a significant milestone with the release of the government’s white paper: Working together for vibrant and sustainable communities.
Our path forward
Local governance is all about community: where we live, work, recreate, and where our kids go to school. It is at its simplest the closest level of decision making to our homes and businesses. We embarked upon local governance reform more than a year ago and thanks to many insightful ideas and input from the public, we’re making it a reality. Although our plan is contained in the pages that follow, there is much work ahead to implement the numerous actions. Our goal: we want vibrant and sustainable communities that work together to enhance the quality of life for all New Brunswickers.
Our approach is ambitious, but we are confident that it will collectively lead to a better province in terms of maintaining and improving services, acting on local and regional priorities, and taking advantage of economic development opportunities. This reform is about the future of our province. Few people dispute the need for reform – although some may disagree with some of the decisions we’ve made. That’s to be expected. Embarking upon change doesn’t come without trepidation and concern. That’s inevitable when you’re looking at modernizing something that has existed for decades.
Transition & Implementation
Restructuring at the local and regional levels will be led and supported by the provincial government. The implementation of local and regional structural reform will be divided into “restructuring projects” that will be assigned to various appointed Transition Facilitators.
There are two categories of restructuring projects that can be assigned to Transition Facilitators:
- Local Governments
- Regional Service Commissions (RSC)
The transition for remaining local service districts to new rural districts will be the responsibility of the Department of Environment and Local Government.
The Transition Facilitator’s primary purpose is to work alongside new local governments and RSCs in their transition phase. To achieve this, they will need to inspire and motivate change, as well as lead tactical initiatives such as:
- Familiarizing their teams and others with new enabling legislation and regulations
- Developing options and best practices for new councils and setting boundaries, including wards
- Presenting options and best practices to support the establishment of different tax rates in local governments
- Helping local governments prepare for municipal elections
- Lead the staffing of local government and RSCs executive positions
- Preparing preliminary budgets
Generally, Transition Facilitators will specialise in either local government or RSC initiatives, to leverage expertise and create synergy between projects in different regions of the province.
At the regional level, transition facilitators will support RSCs as they coordinate linkages between the regional service commissions, provincial government departments, and regional stakeholders in areas pertaining to the expanded mandate of the commissions.
In all restructuring projects, it will be vital to build upon successful existing programs and assets in each local government and region.
Pillar 1 – Local Governance structure
The local governance structure will be improved, and strengthened through changes and actions that include:
- strategic restructuring of local governance entities
- strengthening of local representation
- defining the responsibility for roads
- enhancing asset management planning
- establishing a municipal commission
- requiring local governments to report on their viability
Criteria used for restructuring:
Local circumstances vary across regions; therefore, the scope and type of restructuring presented in the white paper are not reflective of a “one-size-fits-all” approach, a concern which was consistently noted throughout the public engagement sessions. The boundary changes outlined in the white paper are based on a combination of the following types of restructuring:
- Incorporation of several local service districts into newly formed rural communities.
- Merging of local governments together along with local service districts, or portions of them, to form larger local governments.
- Annexation of local service districts, or portions of them, with an existing and adjacent local government.
- Formation of 12 rural districts for those local service districts or portions of local service districts not included in the above-mentioned restructurings.
Pillar 2 – Regional collaboration
Collaboration within regions is key to the reform outlined within the white paper, especially given the changes to structure. A forum where all entities can share experiences, establish priorities and take advantage of mutual opportunities contributes to increased capacity and growth for the whole region.
Regional collaboration will be improved, and regional service commissions will be strengthened through a combination of interdependent changes and actions that include:
- Expanding the role and mandate of the regional service commissions.
- Regional service commission mandates will be expanded to include economic development, community development, regional tourism promotion, regional transportation and cost sharing on regional recreational infrastructure and community development. The RSCs of Fundy, South-East and the Capital region will also provide a regional approach to social issues including homelessness, poverty reduction and mental health.
- Strengthening the governance structure to allow for improved coordination including adjusted representation and voting processes.
- Realigning of commission boundaries.
- Enhancing leadership capacity by expanding the executive team.
- Requiring the development of a comprehensive regional strategy aimed at identifying the strengths and gaps in the region and establishing priorities and actions.
- Establishing standards and performance measures.
Restructuring of the regional service commissions will be led and supported by provincial government through appointed transition facilitators.
Pillar 3 – Land use planning
Progress has been made in recent years to promote well planned and sustainable development, but many challenges remain. Some communities do not have a land use plan in place which can lead to conflicts. Siting of natural resource development activities such as quarries continues to cause concern, existing and potential agricultural lands continue to be transformed into residential and commercial developments, sprawl continues on the boundaries of service centres, and the delivery of planning and development services varies widely across the province and within regions.
The provincial government will undertake several changes to improve land use planning and promote more responsible and managed development, including:
- Introduce statements of public interest.
- Enact a regulation outlining the required content and process to adopt a voluntary regional land use plan.
- Introduce new local land use planning requirements.
- Introduce a new land use planning tool to help with affordable housing needs.
- Establish a process regarding the location of new provincial infrastructure.
Pillar 4 – Financing local governance
Any reform to local governance must include a review of and adjustments to how the system will be financed. New Brunswickers want to pay for a system that provides a level of service that is fair, and they want to have input in to what they pay for. The following changes have been brought forward in the context of the existing local governance system, recognizing that not all challenges with the current property tax structure have been addressed. Additional taxation reform would be best re-examined once the restructuring and regional collaboration efforts are underway.
The government also understands the importance of improving the use of technology and information sharing to make the system simpler and clearer. Further work will take place to determine the information and data needs of the various partners involved.
Changes to local governance financing will address the following:
- phase one - property taxation adjustments
- Different tax rates
- Phasing-in of impacts
- Local rate flexibility on non-residential (business) property
- community funding and equalization grants
- fine revenue
- business improvement areas
- municipal election financing
- phase two – finances
- Look at ways to finance the new local governance structure.