The outcome of a proposed Three Rivers amalgamation could affect Islanders far outside the reach of the Kings County communities, say members of a group opposing the idea.
The Coalition of Rural Islanders is preparing for a possible legal battle to keep unincorporated residents out of the amalgamation, while also trying to attract others across the province to join the coalition.
“It’s no longer a Three Rivers issue. It’s an Island issue,” said coalition member Sylvia Teasdale on Tuesday, following Georgetown council’s decision Monday night to re-enter the amalgamation. “We want (the coalition) to have representation from all over the Island.”
The Three Rivers proposal, which has been now ongoing for several years, was seen by many as a model for the province’s communities under a new Municipal Government Act.
However, the process has seen criticism from some who say the discussions lacked transparency, as well as from unincorporated residents who feel they’ve had no say.
While a public meeting will soon be held by the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission (IRAC), coalition chairman Gary Robbins said he does not expect those residents will have a meaningful opportunity for input.
“It probably won’t do much… they’ll be telling us what they’re going to do, which is waste other Island taxpayers’ dollars on buying us off,” said Robbins, a resident of the unincorporated community of Martinvale located in the Cardigan fire district.
Robbins said he was not surprised to see Montague and Georgetown re-join amalgamation after getting a “wish list” in a memorandum of settlement. The memorandum also included terms that would see unincorporated residents pay no property tax, residential and commercial, for the first five years.
The province would instead pay those taxes, five cents for residential and 23 cents for commercial on every $100 of appraised value, to the Three Rivers community for five years. Starting on year six, the government contribution would decline each year until the 10th year (which would see residents and businesses paying their full property tax).
“It’s very discriminating for them to even offer to pay the taxes for us. There are other municipalities going ahead (with amalgamation)… Why should they have to foot the taxes for all?” said Robbins. “Amalgamation between Montague and Brudenell is probably great for them. All I want and the people in my community want is the right to say yes or no.”
While an informal group of unincorporated P.E.I. was previously formed, the coalition was officially incorporated on July 27.
About 550 unincorporated residents previously signed a petition opposing the amalgamation, while 1,174 voted against amalgamation during a privately-sponsored plebiscite.
Teasdale said there has also been 2,000 objection forms sent to IRAC since it received the amalgamation proposal.
IRAC will make the final recommendation to cabinet on how they should act on the Three Rivers amalgamation proposal.