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P.E.I. Municipal Government Act under scrutiny by small councils

PC MLAs, from left, leader James Aylward, Matthew MacKay and Jamie Fox.
PC MLAs, from left, leader James Aylward, Matthew MacKay and Jamie Fox. - SaltWire file photo
BEDEQUE, P.E.I. —

A recent meeting of the Bedeque and Area municipal council highlighted some pinch points for small municipalities trying to adhere to the Municipal Government Act.

The act was passed in December 2017 and deadlines are looming for Island municipalities to be compliant with the legislation by the end of the 2021 fiscal year.

At the March 6 council meeting, council members discussed whether to accept the province’s offer to pay for a Land Use Plan.

In this case, the P.E.I. government will provide municipalities $60,000 to draft a plan for a community with less than 400 residents.

When Mayor Ron Rayner read the application for the funds more closely, he found a clause that concerned him: “applicant accepts responsibility for the project’s on-going operations and maintenance costs”.

“I’m not comfortable with that line,” said Rayner. “That would sink us. It’s going to cost a pile of money to maintain this.”

With a land-use plan in place, the municipality would have to issue things like building permits, said resident, and former P.E.I. Premier, Catherine Callbeck, who attended the meeting.

As it is now, the provincial government handles the administration of building permits for the municipality.

If Bedeque were to establish a land-use plan, a consultant to handle the building permits would need to be hired and then send permits and applications to Access P.E.I. to be approved.

“It’s just another level of government that’s not needed,” said Rayner.

'GO FOR IT' 

Coun. Anthony Lockhart suggested the council “go for it” since it would be mandatory soon anyway. No one piped up in agreement, however.

Deputy Mayor Don MacFarlane said he would abstain from voting.

Matt Bowness wasn’t sold on the land-use plan either, he said.

“It’s a big responsibility once it’s created. To implement it, enforce it and maintain it, where (are) you going to get $10,000 to $20,000 bucks (per year) to do that?” Bowness asked.

Ultimately, council decided to shelve the decision for a later meeting.

Commitment to a land-use plan is one of the growing pains faced by small communities as the Municipal Government Act takes effect across the Island.

One requirement is for a municipal office staffed with an administrator to open for 20 hours a week.

Resident Catherine Callbeck asked what happens if Bedeque doesn’t have an office ready by the end-of-year deadline.

The mayor wasn’t sure.

“We can’t afford 20 hours a week and an office,” said Rayner. “If that comes at a cost, that’s money that we don’t have.

Jamie Fox, the MLA for District 19 (which the municipality falls under), attended the meeting and spoke to council about developing a new service model.

Recently, Fox met with 50 of the 63 P.E.I. municipal councils and is working to develop a shared service model. He’s hoping smaller communities will be able to co-ordinate with each other and share the cost of staff like a chief administrative officer or recreation director.

“We want to make sure Bedeque is sustainable, and Kinkora, all these small little villages. By doing that, maybe there’s a way they can share a service with another municipality to lessen the burden,” said Fox.

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