A group of rural residents in the County of Newell opposed to the proposed amalgamation/regionalization of the County with the City of Brooks, have organized a meeting to discuss the issues and concerns
“Our biggest concern has been that rural people would lose their voice,” said Steven Anderson, who farms in the Scandia, Rainier, Bow City district and is one of the organizers of the meeting that is taking place at Rainier Community Hall on Aug. 7. “That’s the nucleus of it. We’re losing our voice in the province and now, we may lose it with our municipality.”
Another concern is how the board is proposed to be structured. At the Regional Working Group’s (RWG’s) July 3 meeting, three governance options were discussed: Bassano offered for there to be four representatives from Brooks, five from the County of Newell, and one from Bassano and a CEO either selected or elected; Brooks suggest five representatives from Brooks and five from the County, and one from Bassano with the CEO elected at large; and the County of Newell also suggested for five reps from each municipality, but for the CEO to be selected from within. The minutes from July 17 note that the County of Newell’s suggestion would be the one presented should they move to a specialized municipality.
“With the proposed structure of the board, the City of Brooks would hold the balance of power,” said Anderson. “If Brooks and Bassano decide to collaborate on things, there’s the six votes and the county only has five. It’s sets up a situation for conflict.”
“Brooks council and county council get along great now, but what will happen in the future?” he added.
Concerns also have arisen about infrastructure projects in the rural areas, such as work on culverts, grading, and drainage.
“Right now, our county functions great,” Anderson said.“I’m not afraid of change and we are trying to be as calm, cool, and collected as possible.”
The communities of Duchess and Rosemary stepped away from the Regionalization Working Group in April, stating in a press release that they felt the discussions were leaning towards amalgamation with Brooks, something that they did not think would be beneficial to the rural communities.
Anderson said it seems the process is being rushed without the public receiving all of the necessary information and with the RWG not paying heed to the feedback gathered at the information meetings held earlier this year.
“The process has been accelerated. That’s a concern, as well,” said Anderson. “We haven’t received enough information. “The feedback from the information meetings that I attended was so negative, but they’re going ahead with it anyway. A councillor said to us that they didn’t need our vote. They were elected by us to do the job and I said, ‘wait a minute, basically you want to change our government without allowing us to vote on it. Once it’s done, there’s no going back.”
According to the Regionalization Working Group’s website, the timeline shows which items would be covered for the next several months. August would be used for discussions on the financial model, service levels, bylaws and resolutions, emergency services, library services, and legislative uniqueness and autonomy. In September, and outstanding issues would be covered, completion of the final information package, and preparation for public consultations slated to take place in November.
However, in the unapproved minutes of their July 17 meeting, which is posted on their website, it was suggested that the public meeting be delayed until after each municipality has released their budgets for the upcoming year.
When first planning the upcoming meeting, organizers intended it to be for residents within the Scandia, Rainier, Bow City District, along with their county councillor and county manager. Interest from people in other districts, some of whom want to attend just to see how the meeting goes should they want to plan a similar meeting for their district.
“The meeting has gotten bigger. When other districts heard we were doing this, they wanted to be included,”
The meeting, to be held at the Rainier Hall on Aug. 7 at 7 pm, will include statements from the district group, county councillor, and from the county manager. Following that, there will be a question and answer session and final comments.