The town had been one of the more progressive partners in talks to create a regional Three Rivers municipality, so the vote by town council this week was unexpected. No one is more disappointed than Mayor Lewis Lavandier, a key player in those discussions.
The town saved its school earlier this year, in part because of support from outside the community. That should have provided an example of what can be achieved by engaging other areas for support. Going it alone would have resulted in failure. The lesson somehow was lost or ignored by council.
At one point, Montague had pulled out of amalgamation talks, but because of angry reaction from citizens, council reconsidered and re-entered discussions. Montague is willing to give the process a reasonable chance to succeed. When a final plan is ready, council and residents can make an informed decision. Georgetown should have done the same.
The province is proceeding with implementing the new Municipalities Act. As recommended in Justice Ralph Thompson’s report on land use and local governance, it hopes to see a major reduction in the more than 70 current municipalities to about 20. The province is convinced that amalgamation has worked well in Charlottetown, Summerside, Stratford and Cornwall and will be effective elsewhere.
While government says it won’t force current municipalities to amalgamate, new rules require minimum levels of services, accountability and reporting that many small units cannot perform alone. Their path is clear.
Incorporated rural areas are tired of pulling above their weight while outlying districts benefit. Amalgamated communities have a better chance to retain rural services such as schools, churches, arenas, financial institutions, stores and service stations.
It just takes a few vocal, fear-mongers to shout, “Your taxes are going up,” or, “You will lose your home,” and suddenly, usually reasonable people run for cover. Look what happened this summer with unincorporated fire districts surrounding Georgetown. They heard warnings about their taxes increasing and concern ensued.
And government is often its own worst enemy. As noted by those outlying fire districts, they were lacking information. It’s a concern in the Georgetown area, in the Souris area and very likely in many other rural areas across the province. Government knows that information can solve many problems and allay many fears. It knows that people are worried about their taxes and their services. Yet, local residents say that information is often hard to find; public officials are not always present when groups meet; and questions are not always answered.
Government and the Federation of P.E.I. Municipalities should launch an information campaign. They can do much more to inform Islanders.
Those six remaining Three Rivers communities more than fulfil the requirements – for tax-assessments and population numbers - to satisfy the new Municipalities Act. Georgetown does not.
The question that Georgetown residents should ask their council is: “What does it mean if we're left out?"