REGIONALIZATION / AMALGAMATION
As recommended by the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIPP) Help Desk, questions received from the public regarding regionalization/amalgamation have been summarized to ensure that the Regionalization Working Group (RWG) does not inadvertently share information that may result in the invasion of personal privacy. If you have concerns that your specific question was not answered, please submit it again through the Contact Us tab on the website https://regionalwg.ca by emailing email@example.com or faxing 1-888-361-7921.
Please keep in mind that the RWG does not have answers to all questions at this time and the answers listed below may evolve and/or be supplemented as the RWG goes through the process.
Note: Any questions or comments that are considered a personal attack against staff or council will not receive a reply.
Links to question categories are listed below:
Assessment and Taxation
Assets Owned - Financial & Non-Financial
Budget / Revenue / Expense
Elections / Council Representation / Governance
Liability / Loans / Equity
Public Participation / Information
Regionalization / Amalgamation Decision
Third Party Organizations
How will regionalization affect the role of Benchmark Assessments within the new regional municipality?
It will have no effect as Benchmark Assessments Ltd. currently prepares all of the assessments for the partners.
Would a regional assessment base potentially lower taxes for the ratepayers or do you see this as a shift in taxes from urban ratepayers onto rural ratepayers? (i.e. lower urban mill rates but higher rural mill rates?)
Each municipality sets mill rates based on their current operational and capital budget needs and that will continue going forward. The Working Group does not want any tax shifts from the “Urbans” to County Ratepayers. The Working Group acknowledges that rural ratepayers don’t have the same service level as that of urban ones. The goal of the Working Group is to have taxes applied fairly based on services received. Once the Working Group gets to the point of making recommendations on a “Regional Government”, the savings will be a part of that recommendation.
How will taxes be determined?
The policy will be set by the elected council of the day. Feedback on how that policy is to be structured needs to be a continuing discussion as the process moves forward. The goal of the Working Group is to have taxes applied fairly based on services received.
If there are different service “tiers” & “tax rates”, who determines this, a Council dominated by Brooks?
There are several options for the development of the tax structure with the formation order if amalgamation were to be pursued. These options will be explored further and presented at future open houses/information sessions by the RWG.
Where will the tax money collected by the municipalities go before and after amalgamation?
Money in reserves stay with the municipality who collected it. After amalgamation, the future collected money would stay with the new municipality.
Explain how taxes would be allocated.
There are several options for the development of the tax structure with the formation order if amalgamation were to be pursued. These options will be explored further and presented at future open houses/information sessions by the RWG. The public is encouraged to provide their suggestions on potential taxation policies that they believe would be acceptable for a successful Amalgamation to take place.
What would the taxation look like? Will there be a differentiation between the many different properties that would be present under an amalgamated municipality?
The policy will be set by the elected council of the day. Feedback on how that policy is to be structured needs to be a continuing discussion as the process moves forward. The goal of the Working Group is to have taxes applied fairly based on services received.
Will there be special bylaws put in place to recapture the cost of providing urban services to rural hamlets for things like garbage collection, wastewater treatment if those communities desire this level of service?
These items could be part of the formation order for that municipality within the specialized municipality. Each municipality handles those individual services differently. For the County of Newell, only those residents that receive garbage collection or water and waste water services pay for those services.
What are the intentions concerning the taxation of agricultural land?
The Working Group has not discussed the taxation policy for agricultural lands or any other category to date and that will need to be done, if the concept moves past the investigation phase.
What happens to the town/village offices?
Offices will need to be dealt with one by one and there is a very good chance that departments will decentralize where it is efficient to do so to make good use of any vacant buildings, but that will be the call of the Council of the time.
What is the state of the below-ground infrastructure in Bassano? Will this help the infrastructure?
Bassano has an infrastructure study and there will be work required in the next 10 years. Bassano residents could free up some property tax room under this concept to help them deal with any additional costs they may be facing going forward. Bassano’s assets are 51% depreciated based on the financial statements.
What resource would Bassano offer to other municipalities?
Bassano would always remain Bassano and it would remain the western hub in the area. The Working Group has not gotten into service delivery and who will be doing what as that will be down the road, if the process gets that far.
What happens to the assets owned by the County? (The assets that generate income.)
County assets cost money and do not generate income for the most part, but the few gas wells, land rentals, and road leases that the County has will continue to be paid to the municipality.
Is there an existing office large enough to hold the new region staff or will a new building need to be built?
There will be lots of building space for a regional government and the Working Group is not anywhere near that point of considering where to locate. Most likely, the buildings will all be utilized until such time as there is another use for them.
What is the difference between the City and County budgets?
City has an accumulated surplus of $148 million with just over $30 million in expenditures in 2017. The County has an accumulated surplus of $270 million with $57 million in expenses in 2017.
Does the County bring in more revenue?
City Revenue was $30 million in 2017 and the County was $38 million.
What are the costs associated with amalgamation? How is this being funded?
- Would it be beneficial to publish a budget for the RWG?
- Should provide the high-level specifics of the grant funds provided for this
These are all good questions that will be addressed later in the process if the partners choose to move forward with the concept. The grant to work through our process is just under $190k and the City of Brooks is the Grant Administrator for the project.
What is the cost of amalgamation?
No additional costs are anticipated with amalgamation in comparison to municipal costs today, as all existing agreements, bylaws, policies, contracts, staffing will move directly over to the new municipality. After the transition period, it is anticipated there will be overall cost savings to the region.
What makes up the proposed $8 – 12 million savings suggested from 2017 financials?
The estimate was done at a very high level with the County paying over $20 million to the municipalities over the past 10 years and that amount was $3 million in 2017 which will not be required under a “one” municipal structure. Duplication in Council and administration budgets are expected to save another $4 million. Duplications on the region’s staffing budget of $23 million are estimated at approximately $3 million. Over $40 million has been estimated to have been spent on engineering over the past 10 years which will see some potential for substantial reductions going forward. Those reductions can be produced by project coordination and staffing professional engineers to assume some of the workload. Further savings on duplicated equipment and buildings have not been accounted for, or estimated, out of the $550 million capital assets on the books.
The RWG will be working to provide more details on the cost savings they estimate will come with both further regionalization efforts and amalgamation. These details will be provided to the public as they become available.
What are the cost savings of having 1 CAO vs. 1 per municipality? How would the excess workload be absorbed by one CAO?
Savings will be approximately $600 thousand dollars and workload should be very similar to the existing CAO position with the City of Brooks or County of Newell.
How / why is duplication happening and how will amalgamation reduce this duplication?
Moving from five municipalities to one provides the removal of the duplications. Otherwise, each municipality must do everything on an individual basis and those savings compound by the number of stand-alone municipalities that move into the “one municipal government concept”.
How much is linear tax potentially going to be reduced?
That will not be known until it happens, but the County of Newell is preparing for a 30% reduction over the next 5 years.
What will happen to the $8-12 million dollars that will be freed up?
That has not been discussed by the Regionalization Working Group to date. The first step is to see if there is enough interest in the regional concept to move forward. If the concept is to move forward, then the next step would be to consult on what the ratepayers would like to do with the potential savings after the transition period.
How will police services be distributed/paid for?
As per the Police Act Section 4(1) As part of providing provincial policing services generally, (a) every municipal district and Metis settlement and, subject to subsection (6), a specialized municipality, and (b) every town, village and summer village that has a population that is not greater than 5000 shall, subject to subsection (3), receive general policing services provided by the provincial police service at no direct cost to the town, village, summer village, municipal district or Metis settlement. Costs for those municipalities who pay a share for policing are shown in the following table.
Click the following link for the funding table https://auma.ca/advocacy-services/programs-initiatives/policing-hub/funding
How will municipal councils be elected?
A person is eligible to vote in an election held pursuant to the Local Authorities Election Act if the person is at least 18 years old, a Canadian citizen and the person’s place of residence is located in the local jurisdiction on election day. See the Local Authorities Election Act for specifics. http://www.qp.alberta.ca/documents/Acts/L21.pdf
What will the governing council look like if regionalization goes through?
That discussion still needs to take place at all levels. If you have an opinion, please share it with the Working Group Committee by submitting your thoughts through the Contact Us tab on the website https://regionalwg.ca/contact/.
Could council members be reduced within each municipality regardless of whether or not amalgamation happens?
Yes, municipalities can reduce their council representation if they desire, but the bylaw to do so must follow the Municipal Government Act. Section 143 sets the number of councillors for municipalities.
Will there be equal representation?
The Working Group will make a recommendation on representation if the process gets to that point.
Will amalgamation just create more bureaucracy like it did when AHS centralized?
No, AHS (the biggest employer in our province) has 109,000 employees and this amalgamation is only dealing with 300. A place like Medicine Hat would have 3-4 times as many employees as our region would have.
How are we as a rural community going to keep our voice?
Each resident will have an elected voice at the council table and the exact size of a new Regional Council or how it will be structured has not been discussed to any great degree. If you have an opinion, please share it through the website https://regionalwg.ca/contact/.
Could council pay increase as a result of the reduction of total members because they will presumably be taking on more responsibility? In other words, could it be that there may not be an overall savings here?
Each Municipal Council in Alberta determines their own remuneration and the remuneration for a new council has not been discussed. If this process reaches that point, a recommendation will be made by the Working Group.
Under full amalgamation, workloads are not anticipated to increase but rather be reduced. Intermunicipal Committees, Boards and Council Meetings make up a large portion of councillor workloads. All those areas will see time reductions due to current overlap.
Explain representation balance (now and in the future).
The City of Brooks currently has 6 councillors and 1 mayor elected at large that represent a population of 14,451 citizens.
The County of Newell has 10 councillors with the Reeve being selected from within representing a population of 7,524 citizens. The population in each of the 10 divisions vary in size with the smallest being Division 7 having an estimated population of 362 and the largest Division 5 with an estimated population of 1,323.
The Town of Bassano currently has 7 councillors with the Mayor being selected from within representing a population of 1,206 citizens.
The Regionalization Working Group has only just begun discussions on the representation structure. If you have an opinion, please share it with the Working Group Committee by submitting your thoughts through the Contact Us tab on the website https://regionalwg.ca/contact/.
Which council would take over County or Town of Brooks?
Neither council would take over the new municipality if one is formed. Elected representation would need to be recommended to the Minister of Municipal Affairs for approval and that has not been discussed by the group to date. The Minister of Municipal Affairs may appoint an interim council and an official administrator as per the Municipal Government Act. Typically, this would happen if amalgamation takes place prior to a regular municipal election cycle. If the municipalities determine to proceed after the working group process is complete, the public will be consulted on any proposed structures which would include proposed electoral divisions.
What will this mean to funding for libraries in the smaller communities, since the largest portion of funds come from municipalities?
Amalgamation should not affect the overall funding for the libraries as the municipal contribution is a per capita contribution. This funding would come from one municipality rather than five.
Will combining into one municipality of 25,000 people really be enough pressure or say to make a difference when asking for funding?
It will certainly make the region much more competitive on the provincial level. In terms of obtaining more grant funding at the time of amalgamation, it will provide more opportunities for funding, but probably not on an ongoing basis after amalgamation, unless programs change going forward.
What will it take to let the government know we are concerned and serious about our County of Newell wants and needs?
Lobbying and communication will continue as usual.
How will, or will it, affect community fundraising groups? (i.e. Friends of Bassano Library, Friends of Bassano School, Bassano Health Foundation, etc.) Will they remain independent of regionalization?
Yes, fundraising groups would remain independent of amalgamation.
How will things work with recreation? For example, if residents of a municipality have contributed a significant amount of donations in the past, how will these facilities be funded going forward? What role would fundraising play if the facility is now owned and operated by a specialized municipality?
All policies for a municipality must be set by council and this would apply to the recreation function as well. Monies that are on hand or owed by a municipality will remain to be allocated/spent in that municipality or in the case of debt to be repaid by that municipality after amalgamation takes place. The Working Group envisions everything to remain as is and communities will be able to determine what they need and want whether it be recreation or any other service.
Please have a look at each municipality Balance Sheet to see what they currently have in reserves for future projects and that will remain with the community.
Is it easier to receive grant funding as an amalgamated group?
Grant funding already encourages partnerships so it may not be different.
Libraries in smaller communities receive a base rate that exceeds the per capita funding of larger community libraries. Amalgamation would eliminate Duchess and Rosemary’s access to that additional base rate funding. Additionally, legislation dictates that library board structure would be altered by amalgamation. Have you, the working board, set time aside to investigate amalgamation repercussions on independent organizations?
Any impacts can be addressed through the budget process of the new municipality, if this process reaches that point. For Libraries, existing agreements will be honoured as funding is specified in each library agreement.
What bylaws would require significant changes and at what cost?
(i.e. Land Use Bylaws).
Doing major updates to Land Use Bylaws vary between municipalities, but a good practice is to do so every 5 years. Completing 1 land use bylaw will see substantial savings as compared to completing 5 separate ones. Things like Intermunicipal Collaboration Agreements and Intermunicipal Development Plans will not be required, which will be a significant savings. Effective planning is key to enabling organized growth in any region of the province. So, while there will be lots of bylaw and policy work it is all anticipated to be able to be dealt with in the transition phase of amalgamation, should the project reach that stage.
Urban and rural areas have completely different bylaws so how would complete integration work?
Each area of the new municipality would be consulted on the need for specific policies and bylaws that may be required. Under dissolution or amalgamation, bylaws and policies in place will remain in place until changed.
Are any of the municipalities currently in debt? Or have a large amount of money in the bank? How does this get dealt with?
The municipalities are in very good shape with $135,304,448 in financial assets and $49,882,475 in liabilities as at the end of 2017.
What is the debt for the County and other municipalities?
$20 million for the County and $35 million in total as at December 31st, 2017.
Links to the 2017 financial statement for each of the five municipalities are listed below:
County of Newell
Town of Bassano
City of Brooks
Village of Rosemary
Village of Duchess
Who are the members of the Regionalization Working Group (RWG)?
- M. Douglass, County of Newell
- C. Amulung, County of Newell
- K. Stephenson, County of Newell
- B. Morishita, City of Brooks
- J. Petrie, City of Brooks
- A. Martens, City of Brooks
- R. Wickson, Town of Bassano
- J. Seely, Town of Bassano
- A. Davis, Town of Bassano
Will the next round of open houses be at a more accessible time?
The RWG will consider the public feedback on accessibility and times when planning for future open houses/information sessions.
How will residents be consulted/informed going forward?
The RWG meets the first Wednesday of each month and prepares a press release after each meeting to provide information on the discussions and any decisions made.
The RWG has developed a website dedicated to the Regionalization Initiative which the public can access. This website is https://regionalwg.ca and contains information about the regionalization initiative, responses to the questions submitted through the feedback forms at the open houses, links to additional information, an online feedback form to submit additional questions/comments, contact information for the RWG members, and much more. The RWG will continue to add information as it is available.
Will presentations be made to students at the schools? (This will directly affect them for many more years than most other residents.)
To date, this has not been discussed by the Regionalization Working Group (RWG).
Where did this idea come from? Why fix something that isn’t broken?
Municipalities in the region began reviewing services to identify how they are funded and delivered in order to meet the requirement for the adoption of Intermunicipal Collaboration Framework documents with all bordering municipalities as mandated by Alberta’s Municipal Government Act. These ICF agreements must be completed by April 2020 and the partners are working hard to meet that deadline.
Since the ICF documents were already a requirement, the municipalities decided to investigate what duplications could be eliminated and what additional savings could be realized through further regionalization or by amalgamating all services within the region.
Why are we considering it at all? We already have joint agreements in Recreation Boards and Fire Districts and Garbage Disposal etc.?
The local municipalities are looking to the future and trying to find ways to make the region more competitive & efficient moving forward. Municipal governments are all service level providers and the more efficient those services can be the stronger the region will be over the long term. Ensuring Provincial competitiveness by removing legislated redundancies will be key to a successful model. Redundancies are unavoidable when municipalities remain standalone, as each municipality must complete the same requirements as set out in legislation.
Are our senior governments pushing their socialist programs on us promising all we can do for you at what cost?
There are no additional programs or services being considered only making the existing ones more efficient.
Will each municipality have a final vote on amalgamation?
Yes, the Council members of each municipality will ultimately decide how the municipality will participate in regionalization, including amalgamation if that is an option from which to choose.
Will there be a plebiscite on this issue?
The decision on plebiscites will need to be made by each individual municipality. The working group will make a recommendation on the matter, once the process gets that far. More information and feedback is required before it gets to that point.
If we don’t have a vote, will the board just put it through like the Regional Water Project?
The decision to move forward with anything has not been made by the partners. The Working Group is in the early stages of the investigation phase. Each municipality will be required to make their own decisions regarding items such as plebiscites.
Who decides if Rosemary should go with it?
The Village of Rosemary would make the decision.
What is being looked at in terms of timelines?
The decision does not have to be made anytime soon but if it runs past the next municipal election, chances are the process may need to start over if there is a change in the elected representation and local interest.
Can you reverse a decision, if made to amalgamate?
Yes, but you would have to create a municipality out of the amalgamated one.
How does regionalization affect rural residences?
Amalgamation itself will not affect rural residences or businesses. Policies will continue to be set by the Council of the day that will apply throughout the region as they do currently for each municipality.
What would amalgamation mean to a residence in a County subdivision that has rural water but no sidewalks, paved roads, sewer or working fire hydrants? Will taxes be raised to get a paved road/sewer?
The Working Group is not anticipating any service level changes by amalgamating. All subdivisions in the County will be treated consistently as it relates to water, sewer, sidewalks, fire hydrants and paved roads.
Can municipalities share costs for their population base?
Any possibility exists for sharing costs. Currently, Newell Regional Solid Waste is shared on a per capita basis and Newell Foundation is shared on the equalized assessment base and assessment base. Newell Regional Water is funded equally on a per cubic meter water basis. Costs have been shared on a %, a per hour basis & on a good neighbour basis.
Why is the information presenting only “Amalgamation” what about “Regionalization” (Shared Services where applicable) that is already in place? Pros & Cons?
The RWG is considering ALL regionalization options including but not limited to: increasing the scope of fee for service agreements between individual municipalities; joint or shared use agreements; intermunicipal agreements; expanding the service scope for regional services commissions; and amalgamation. With the feedback received through the open houses held to date, the RWG will be conducting further research and information gathering and will share additional information with the public on their findings for all these options.
Could the RWG look at a two-tier system where there are decisions made and services provided at the municipal level for some issues and services, and then some decisions made, and services provided at a regional level for others?
For sure - that happens now with NRSC (Water), Newell Foundation (Housing), Newell Regional Solid Waste (Landfill), Newell Recycling, FCSS, Fire, Emergency Services, Bylaw Enforcement Services, Economic Development, Airport, Recreation etc.
What percentage of efficiency can be realized given further shared services without amalgamation?
The Committee will discuss areas that can be looked into. The first analysis they have approved is looking at moving more responsibility to Newell Regional Services Corporation.
What are the cost savings with service agreements without amalgamation as compared to the 8-12 million predicted with amalgamation?
The Committee will discuss areas that can be looked into.
What is the percentage of estimated savings without full amalgamation?
The Committee will discuss areas that can be looked into further.
Are there other ways to spend money to be more efficient?
The Committee will be discussing all options to make things more efficient as that is a part of the Intermunicipal Collaboration Framework (ICF) process.
Provide proof of how well this has worked for the rural people who have amalgamated with urban areas within Alberta.
- When did Crowsnest Pass amalgamate and were there any problems encountered?
- Can the RWG provide some case studies from other amalgamated municipalities?
- Provide concepts that have been proven with examples
- Review actual results compared to the proposed results for amalgamated municipalities
The services currently shared in the area, work exceptionally well. Each municipality will have to make their own mind up on how much information is required to help them with their decision. At this point, so early in the process, working on a potential Organizational Structure would be too premature until such time as each council has made up its mind on the idea/concept. The specialized municipality concept is unique to Southern Alberta. Crowsnest Pass amalgamated in 2008, but it has only 5,500 residents so not comparable at all. The total revenue is around $16 million with $7 million collected in municipal taxes and $6.5 million dollars in payroll. Wood Buffalo amalgamated in 1995, but again a totally different scale with 72,000 people with revenue of over $1 billion dollars.
Why can the same efficiencies not be accomplished through joint-use or shared services agreements as with amalgamation? Could we start with this approach?
The five municipalities are sharing lots already and have several joint service agreements or similar arrangements, but none of them are really big money savers. Sharing a Computer Technician, Community Peace Officer, Economic Development or Development Officer etc. are all possible, but it only works when a municipality does not require the full-time compliment for their service level standards.
- One municipality working with the 426,000 staff hours can do way more than five municipalities splitting that allocation. 15% of those hours are required under the current structure but is estimated to be fully removed under full amalgamation.
- One computer system with technicians, software, hardware, licensing & replacements is another area where large savings are projected.
Could additional service agreements be prepared once services between municipalities are reviewed and aligned to eliminate duplication?
The duplications being looked at are only duplications because five municipalities have to do the same five things all the time. (i.e. statutory plans, financial audits, etc.) The other duplication is one service provider (such as Newell Regional Services Commission) doing one thing for the five municipalities, which would not be required for only one municipality. Everything can stay status quo, move to small efficiencies or plan for the big saver whichever works best for the region.
Does regionalization/amalgamation on a “micro” level make more sense than a “macro” level?
More information will be required to try to answer this question in detail, but one regional government is the most efficient model from a cost/taxation perspective due to eliminating duplications, redundancies and providing better economies to scale. For the most efficient & effective model to be put in place, it will take a balanced approach right from the bottom to the top.
What positions are considered redundant staff positions? (Give examples)
How do you propose a reduction in municipal employees for such a large area?
How many jobs will be lost?
Would Rosemary still have a town man for maintenance?
What is the unemployment rate in the region? Will reducing municipal staff across the region not increase that unemployment rate? How is this better? How will this unemployment problem be handled?
Loss of jobs for the area is a concern. How will this work with union jobs? How will non-unionized employees compete against other employees to keep their job if that job/position remains?
There are many ways to handle a transition to a final organizational employee chart. Vacant positions can be reassigned and then removed if there is excess service capacity. Many employees will be retiring in the next 5 years and it will take several years to transition. Any positions that need to be filled will always be done in a competitive format (union or not). If this gets to that point, the union will be consulted with, as the City and County have different levels of unionization.
You state job savings for CAO's/positions that are not needed but do not produce what they are getting paid or current qualifications/education they have. Is each muni job level pay equal across the municipality?
No, pay is not equal across the Province and each jurisdiction competes for talent. Small CAO’s can oversee very small budgets and very few staff while larger places can be well into the billions for budgets and into the thousands of staff that they supervise. Municipalities that struggle to find or keep strong employees typically need to do some internal adjusting as the market is very competitive if they don’t.
Are the current CAO's/executive's qualified and competent in making decisions on regionalization/amalgamation? We as the public have a right to see what these people are getting paid and if they are qualified to make the decisions they are imposing on us.
Yes, the area has a very strong executive base with very competent people to make the recommendations for the Working Group/ each Council. All financial statements are posted online which are required to report the Council and CAO remuneration. Those rates can be compared by looking at other similar sized municipalities throughout the Province.
With the idea of amalgamation between all the municipalities in the region, will there be any transparency into each organization other than what you currently have on the website?
The communities have agreed that transparency will be paramount. Any information that is readily available from the municipalities will be shared on the website, provided requests for information are in keeping with and subject to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Over the next two to three meetings a package of information will be developed and released to the public for review. The RWG will then begin preparations for additional open house events which will be held in the Fall of 2019.