The year 2020 has brought many new challenges to municipal governments in Manitoba. Therefore, it behooves the Rural Municipality of Lac du Bonnet to consider the opportunities we have to improve the ways we deliver services to our citizens. One potential way we can ensure a viable future for our government and improve service delivery is by reshaping our municipality through amalgamation.
Many Manitoba municipalities have amalgamated in recent years have seen a myriad of benefits as a result. These benefits have included the ability to more efficiently and effectively deliver services, improve their economies of scale, more easily attract and retain competent, qualified staff, and overall, a greater capacity to contribute to Manitoba’s economic development.
In light of our numerous shared services, resources, and interests, on June 18, the RM of Lac du Bonnet presented a letter to the Town of Lac du Bonnet requesting their participation in a joint strategic planning meeting to explore the possibility of amalgamating the RM and Town.
We understand amalgamation is complicated and that you will have many questions as to exactly what it entails, how it will impact you as a citizen, and how your interests will continue to be fairly represented by your elected officials.
The purpose of the following FAQ is twofold:
- To give a broad-stroke overview of what amalgamation means, what it does not mean, and how it may affect you as a resident.
- To provide you with accurate information so you don't have to rely on the incomplete or incorrect information that often spreads via word of mouth.
Q: What exactly is amalgamation?
A: Amalgamation, in the case of municipalities, is when two or more communities combine into a single entity.
Q: Is amalgamation between the RM and Town a done deal?
A: No, not at all. In mid-June, the RM submitted a letter to the Town requesting the Town participate in a joint meeting to discuss the possibility of amalgamating. The Town responded positively and authorized their respective CAOs to collaborate in creating an agenda for said meeting.
The RM and Town also had productive discussions regarding continuing at a meeting at the Manitoba Legislative Building with the Minister of Municipal Relations and her staff in July. “The Minister’s office encouraged the RM and Town to continue these discussions and has ensured they will do everything in their power to support both parties".
Q: How would a Council look post-amalgamation?
A: Residents of both the existing RM and the Town would be represented by a new Council. The RM and Town would collaborate to determine the makeup of the new Council and how many Councillors are needed to govern effectively and fairly represent the interests of all citizens.
Council size must be between four and 10 members, according to Manitoba’s Municipal Act, Part 3, Division 1, section 78. A Council could be structured in two different ways:
- At large: where all Councillors are elected by voters of the whole municipality.
- By ward: where Councillors are elected by voters of a defined geographic area aka a ward. The possibility also exists to create a local urban district.
Regardless of whether they are elected at large or by ward — and regardless of if they served on RM or Town Council in the past — all Councillors represent all citizens of the municipality.
Q: How would it be determined whether an at large or ward structure is best?
A: The RM and Town would consider factors such as diversity of interests, geographic size, population size, and the current structure of both RM and Town Councils to determine which format is most optimal.
Q: What about the head of Council?
A: Even in a ‘by ward’ system, the head of Council must be elected at large, according to The Municipal Act. The head of Council is elected to represent the whole community.
Q: The RM has three times the population of the Town. Wouldn’t that get the Reeve elected as head of Council by default and give the old RM residents control over the new Council?
A: No. Anyone, regardless of whether they lived in the RM or Town prior to amalgamation, can vote for any candidate they wish. Regardless, the head of Council will still only have one vote and cannot exercise their will over the rest of Council’s or veto anything.
Mayors and Reeves in Manitoba take their duties and responsibilities to their municipalities seriously. There is no reason to expect that they would change.
Q: Where would the Municipal Office be located?
A: Which site becomes the headquarters of the amalgamated municipality — the RM’s HQ on Provincial Road 317 or the Town’s HQ on Second Street — is something the partners would have to decide on. Considerations would include location, ease of access, accessibility for people living with disabilities, condition, and capacity of each to accommodate larger meetings, delegations, and record storage.
Q: Will taxes go up because of amalgamation? The RM’s residential mill rate (24.11 mills) is lower than the Town’s (33.97mills.)
A: Taxes don’t have to go up because of amalgamation. In fact, amalgamation may provide an opportunity to reduce costs and therefore taxation, through the reduction in the number of Council members and other efficiencies realized by combining resources.
Many tools exist to enable municipalities to manage tax levels. These include special service and local improvement levies. Many municipalities already use these tools.
Eventually, a single rate — called the general municipal mill rate — would be determined and applied to the taxable assessment of the properties in the municipality.
However, there is potential to adopt transitional measures for up to two Council terms (eight years) to manage taxation. These include establishing differential mill rates to reflect the different levels services received by residents or the phasing in of tax increases/decreases.
Q: I don’t get the same services a Town resident gets and I don’t want to be forced to get them. Will I have to pay for them anyway?
A: No. Municipalities have tools — such as special service and local improvement levies — that allow them to deliver services to specific areas of municipalities and tax only those who benefit from the services. Municipalities have employed these tools for years and that won’t change. No one will be taxed for services they don’t receive.
It’s true urban municipalities often have different priorities and more services than rural areas. As an example, Town residents get curbside garbage pickup. As another, homes on Brookfield Road get water from a water treatment plant.
However, the aforementioned levies will ensure rural property owners will not be picking up the tab for services they cannot access or do not benefit from.
Q: What about assets and liabilities? Does everything get lumped together?
A: No, not necessarily. In an amalgamation, the assets and liabilities of the amalgamation partners do transfer to the new amalgamated municipality.
However, amalgamation partners can agree that assets are used only in the municipality that originally paid for them. For example, partners may agree that general reserves will be spent only in the municipality that raised the reserve funds or that a piece of heavy equipment (such as a grader) will be used primarily in the municipality that purchased it.
Long term debt such as borrowing always stays with the properties specified in the borrowing or local improvement By-Law. As a result, taxes to repay the debt will continue to be levied only on the properties specified in the general borrowing or local improvement By-Law. The debt is not assumed by other properties in the amalgamated municipality.
For example, if the Town had a local improvement By-Law in place that authorized a levy to pay for a new road, the levy would continue against only the properties that paid it before the amalgamation.
Q: Will our zoning By-Laws change?
A: Existing zoning By-Laws would remain in effect following amalgamation and the newly-amalgamated municipality would enforce existing planning By-Laws until a new development plan and zoning By-Laws are adopted (if needed.)
Q: I have other questions that weren’t addressed here. Where can I do more reading?
A: This FAQ was simply meant as a broad overview. For more information, please see the following resources:
- The Province’s Guide to Municipal Amalgamation
- The Manitoba Government’s Municipal Act
- The list of 107 Manitoba municipalities that amalgamated into 47 in 2015 after The Municipal Amalgamations Act was enacted in 2013, which mandated municipalities with populations less than 1,000 to amalgamate to meet a minimum population threshold