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UPDATED - Montague council won’t continue with Three Rivers amalgamation proposal

Montague Coun. Daphne Griffin, left, and Coun. Debbie Johnston both voted during a special meeting Monday night against participating in the Three Rivers amalgamation application. Coun. John MacFarlane, centre, voted to continue with the application. Council ultimately voted 3-2 to not continue with the proposed amalgamation.
Montague Coun. Daphne Griffin, left, and Coun. Debbie Johnston both voted during a special meeting Monday night against participating in the Three Rivers amalgamation application. Coun. John MacFarlane, centre, voted to continue with the application. Council ultimately voted 3-2 to not continue with the proposed amalgamation. - Mitch MacDonald

The largest community in the Three Rivers amalgamation has voted to drop out of the proposal.

Montague council voted 3-2 during a special meeting Monday night to not participate in an application requesting the province amalgamate several communities in the area.

The issue saw two clear sides, with those against saying it wasn’t the right fit for Montague while supporters said it would strengthen the entire area.

Coun. Daphne Griffin, Coun. Debbie Johnston and deputy mayor David Mabon all voted against the proposal, while Coun. Wayne Spin and Coun. John MacFarlane voted for it.

Both Griffin and Johnston said they were not against amalgamation but had a number of concerns.

Griffin felt there was a tax disparity. While Montague residents would have seen property taxes go down in the proposal, they still would have the highest rates in the area.

“We provide 60 per cent of the tax burden, but we only have 20 per cent of the population,” said Griffin.

Johnston was concerned for the future of the town’s staff.

“The (Three Rivers) steering committee has indicated they would like an open competition for staff positions. I think that’s very unfair to our staff. We have the most staff,” said Johnston.

MacFarlane said amalgamation would benefit all communities involved by providing more funding access to enhance infrastructure and start other projects.

“Do we have all the answers? No. But when Montague was first settled I’m sure it took a long while before it grew to the boundaries it has now, and many changes will accommodate this growth,” said MacFarlane, who referenced a plebiscite last fall that saw residents in favour of amalgamation.

“This is a new step to the future for all our sister communities to work together for the common good.”

While Mayor Richard Collins had not previously stated his opinion on the issue publicly, following the vote he said he personally felt the proposed area was too big.

“I’ve always said, personally, it’s not the right fit,” said Collins, who narrowly missed having to cast the deciding vote. One councilor, Jim Bagnall, was not able to attend the meeting because he was out of the country. Bagnall did attend through a video conference and voiced his support for amalgamation, but since he was not physically present, he was unable to vote.

He expressed disappointment following the vote.

“I thought the people had spoken,” Bagnall said referencing last fall’s plebiscite that saw Montague residents vote for amalgamation.

However, Collins noted only 302 of the town’s 952 eligible voters took part.

“I was disappointed with the vote last fall… if we had a 50 per cent (binding threshold), we would have accepted the verdict of residents,” said Collins.

Prior to the vote, members of the public had their last chance for input.

Two residents spoke in favour of amalgamation, while one spoke against it.

Kim Merriam said this proposal was not good for Montague, noting there were too many concerns that hadn’t been addressed and a lack of public input while forming the proposal.

“Montague is bringing so many assets to the table and willing to give up control by not having representation; it just doesn’t make sense to me.”

The remaining Three Rivers communities – Lower Montague, Cardigan, Valleyfield, Brudenell and Lorne Valley – have previously voted to go ahead with the proposal. Meanwhile, 1,174 unincorporated residents in the three fire districts voted in a privately-sponsored plebiscite last month to not be involved in the proposal.

The Three Rivers steering committee is set to meet later this week.

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