Annexation strategy must address municipal units in Montague area
Town of Montague
Montague Coun. Jim Bagnall was clearly unimpressed with options for new town boundaries presented during a council meeting Monday.
Two strategies were submitted by the Department of Municipal Affairs for annexation as the town seeks to grow and expand beyond its present restrictive boundaries.
Mr. Bagnall is correct, the strategies don’t make any sense since they don’t deal with the three largest municipal units closest to the town. The incorporated communities of Brudenell, Valleyfield and Lower Montague would seem the most logical areas for annexation and expansion. Why do they get a free pass?
Instead, planners suggested leapfrogging over these three units to gobble up far-flung areas.
One unwieldy strategy would see the town acquire about 2,800 acres in the unincorporated area of Victoria Cross while a second strategy would see the town annex 40,000 acres of unincorporated area from Heatherdale to Poole’s Corner and to Sturgeon and Panmure Island.
That region is basically the current boundaries of the Montague Fire District, and would double the population and double the town’s tax assessment rolls.
Anyone driving into Montague from Poole’s Corner is quickly aware of the heavy ribbon development along Highway 4, including dealerships, restaurants and others businesses — much of it in Brudenell.
There is no discernible boundary where Montague starts and Brudenell ends but there is a quite a difference in tax rates.
And that is really the crux of the problem. Brudenell, Lower Montague and Valleyfield all use services supplied by the town, such as the recreation complex, stores, library, fire coverage and various other services. But they pay less tax than residents inside Montague, which results in an unfair, two-tiered system.
Stagnant growth inside Montague makes it difficult to support what are, in effect, regional services. Businesses can’t find the necessary room inside the town to build or expand and are forced to locate outside the boundaries.
The town says the status quo is not working so changes must be made. For example, the library boasts 4,500 members while the town’s population is 1,900 residents, so more than half the users are from outside Montague.
Council was told the town must join forces with smaller, rural areas and perhaps create a ward system in order to survive. That makes sense but not without considering the three municipal units bordering on the town.
Montague of course is not alone dealing with this widespread problem. Many Island communities are in the same situation. Expensive new homes are built just outside municipal boundaries to avoid higher taxes. But those owners expect to benefit from everything the town or village has to offer, and basically enjoy a subsidy being paid by the residents inside that village or town.
As Montague Mayor Richard Collins correctly pointed out, it seems that government is flying a trial balloon here by trying to pass off annexation or amalgamation onto municipal units instead of making the tough but necessary decision itself.
The province has approved $15,000 for a Development of an Annexation Strategy, expected to be approved next month.
Mr. Bagnall favours no terms of reference but says to wait and see what the study would bring back. He is confident it will deal with the real problem and not push it to one side as the department has done.
Regional co-operation is the best way for towns like Montague to prosper. All areas covered by the Montague fire department — including Brudenell, Lower Montague and Valleyfield — should be in the new municipal unit. You can call it Montague or Three Rivers or just common sense.