Striding up to the Rainier Community Hall, it was difficult to find a parking spot relatively close to the building.

Normally a place for many family and community celebrations, the building was especially packed Aug. 7. 

The meeting  was called by some citizens who wanting to express their opinions about the Regionalization Working Group (RWG) which was looking into the possibility on how regionalization of services or the possibility of amalgamation of all the local Newell region governments would work.

The RWG made its first announcement and official press release in December of 2018. In it the RWG stated that “Regionalization is the co-operative effort among neighbouring communities to pool resources to create service capabilities that can be shared amongst regional members. These members include the County of Newell, Town of Bassano, City of Brooks and the Villages of Rosemary and Duchess.”

The thought was to save costs amongst the different municipalities as government funding will get tighter and the MSI (Municipal Sustainability Initiative) funding from the province ends in 2022. 

In an April Prairie Post story, Brooks mayor and current Alberta Urban Municipalities president Barry Morishita said “There are agreements to cost-share for services … and the City has only one and that is with the County (of Newell). It occurred to us that it was going to be a transfer of taxes where the receiving municipality would gain and the other would lose. We thought there has to be a better way where money could be saved overall. We have a very unique situation here with five municipalities that are all part of one geographical area- the County of Newell. But, there are also three other entities -the Newell Foundation (seniors’ housing), Newell Regional Solid Waste Management Authority (landfill), and Newell Regional Services Corporation (water treatment) all within the same boundaries. So, we have eight entities serving 25,000 people and have 32 elected officials representing five councils. Surely, there’s some better, more efficient way of doing things.”

That all sounds very forward thinking and responsible. 

One slight problem, those who live outside of Brooks and Bassano (apparently) aren’t buying it. In fact, both Rosemary and Duchess don’t want anything to do with this plan and officially pulled out of discussions back in April. Judging the feelings displayed by those at the Rainier meeting, they are against combining into this type of agreement with Brooks that by the end of the meeting Scandia’s Marlene Hofmann asked for Hammergren’s resignation when Hammergren wouldn’t confirm that he would immediately vote against any RWG plans. 

Shouts of “no!” or “we don’t want it,” could be heard many times during the Aug. 7 meeting.

At the start of the meeting, it was pointed out to Hammergren that there are more names on a petition that is against this RWG initiative than the number of votes he received in the last election. 

There is so much distrust that a group called the Concerned Taxpayers Against Amalgamation Regionalization Working Group has formed. 

There is a complete lack of trust from those against this that any rural concerns or needs will be addressed. Everything will be about Brooks. During the meeting, Hammergren repeatedly said he wish he could explain more detail and debate more about actual numbers, figures and how things would unfold but he said the RWG was still working on it. 

Considering the relatively quick timelines (with an end agreement by April 2020) the City of Brooks and the RWG have, whether the RWG actually have numbers and don’t want to say or they actually don’t know, either way…It is disconcerting to say the least. As a taxpayer the uncertainty taxes would go up substantially while perhaps losing services is scary.

There are a number of questions which more than just linger: for those communities, divisions etc that want no part of this like Duchess or Rosemary, what happens to them if it goes through? Has there been an agriculture impact study done? It was stated by the RWG reps there hadn’t. What about debt … who is incurring what and how do they ensure that the current County of Newell coffers isn’t siphoned by the City of Brooks? What happens to all of the current County of Newell staff? 

The meetings that RWG have seem to be attended, by well, the RWG members. There have been nine press releases from December 2018 to Aug. 14, a website, plus some public information meetings telling people what the RWG have decided. 

The Rainier meeting (and one in Tilley Aug. 12) expressed what the people living wanted. With Brooks and Bassano’s population being bigger and the RWG desire that they want a five new council reps from the rural area, five from Brooks and one from Bassano, one can see how votes will unfold (see Page 7 in Aug. 16 Prairie Post for more). 

RWG’s message at Rainier’s meeting was: nothing has been finalized, the RWG reps are looking into way to streamline operations. Trust us.

Message back: No trust, just anger and uncertainty. 

Ryan Dahlman is the managing editor of both Prairie Post East and Prairie Post West

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