While some communities are growing and prospering, many face challenges that make it difficult to provide or pay for basic services such as policing, recreational services and emergency measures planning, or to manage day-to-day operations and plan for the future.
For communities with smaller populations, it can be difficult to attract people who are willing to serve on a council, have the expertise to administer services, or who are needed as part of a volunteer service, such as firefighting. Fewer people also means lower property tax revenue to pay for the costs of services.
Virtually all communities, regardless of size or population, have diffculty keeping pace with the costs of maintaining facilities, infrastructure and equipment in good operating condition. This includes facilities such as arenas, infrastructure like water and wastewater systems, and equipment such as fire trucks. It is also a challenge for them to afford new capital projects and purchases when needed. As an example, 58% of New Brunswick’s communities have a property tax base of less than $50 million. This means that to generate an extra $50,000 in revenue, an increase of 10 cents on the local property tax rate would be required. Although $50,000 may seem like a lot of money, a fire truck can cost more than $250,000.
Most communities are not well positioned to manage these and other challenges alone, and are often reliant on funding from the federal and provincial governments to maintain service capacity. Many of these same challenges exist in local service districts, and are further complicated by the fact that these communities do not have direct responsibility for, or management of their local affairs.
Each of these circumstances create challenges to community sustainability.
Government also recognizes that there are barriers which deter neighbouring communities from joining together or sharing resources. These barriers include: the differing ways property taxation is applied; the requirement for unincorporated communities which are considering incorporation to take on the full costs of maintaining roads; and the uneven cost-sharing between communities for policing services provided by the RCMP. There is also hesitation by a number of communities to consider restructuring alternatives for fear that they will lose their local identity.
This Action Plan provides for new or improved tools aimed at building community capacity, so that communities of all sizes, and in all areas of the province, can position themselves for a better future.
Current Challenges at a glance:
- New Brunswick has a large number of local entities with 101 Municipalities, 4 Rural Communities and 266 Local Service Districts for a total of 371. Eighty-three percent of these have a population of less than 2,000.
- In many smaller rural areas, the population is declining as residents are moving to more urban areas. This reduces the amount of property taxes collected, resulting in less revenue coming in to support the delivery of services to the community.
- Many neighbouring communities are trying to deliver many of the same services to small portions of New Brunswick’s population, resulting in duplication of services, administration, equipment and infrastructure.
- More than 250,000 New Brunswickers are without a local government and the current system does not encourage locally-led solutions.
The Path Forward - Actions to Achieve Objective 1
Remove barriers that have discouraged communities from coming together by:
- Putting in place a fair and effective property taxation system.
- Developing a policy toward fairer allocation of local responsibilities for roads, so that communities that choose to join together can afford road services.
- Establishing a new, fairer cost-sharing model for RCMP services in New Brunswick.
Encourage communities to come together by:
- Defining the factors that make communities sustainable and supporting communities in the assessment of their sustainability (the ability to effectively deliver services to citizens).
- Providing assistance to communities interested in considering community restructuring or sharing services.
- Promoting the use of different tax rates in different areas to refect the level of service being received when communities choose to join together.
Improve local governance models by:
- Modifying and expanding the current Rural Community model including making the model available to interested towns, rather than limiting it to villages and local service districts.
- Defining capacity criteria for the establishment and restructuring of Municipalities and Rural Communities, including determining the minimum targets for population and the property tax base.
- Making information available on how property tax dollars are used and the costs of providing services.
- An increased number of communities are aware of their capacity, and are pursuing opportunities to become sustainable local governments.
- The number of local government entities in New Brunswick has been reduced, without losing local identity.
- More autonomous local governments with the capacity to contribute to the sustainability of the communities they serve.
- A larger portion of New Brunswick with locally elected representatives who can represent the communities they serve and are accountable for the decisions they make.
- Fairer distribution of costs; residents pay for the services they receive.
- Increased public awareness of property tax use and service costs.