Projected taxation figures presented last week by the Three Rivers Steering Committee are generally positive for many residents and businesses. They also come too late for the Town of Georgetown which pulled out of talks earlier this fall.
Whether the tax tables might have made a difference, if presented earlier, is unknown. Councillors who voted to pull out have kept their comments private since the figures were presented. But it’s a reasonable assumption they might have been more supportive if the facts were presented earlier in the process.
Georgetown Mayor Lewis Lavandier, who spent two years as chairman of the steering committee and backed amalgamation, is left shaking his head. The figures suggest that residents would have paid lower rates and the town would have benefitted more than anticipated under a regional municipality. It was a position the mayor had long supported until he was handed a virtual vote of non-confidence.
Of course, tax rates were only part of the reason why Georgetown opted out. There were issues about loss of identity and concerns over the future of the courthouse, arena, school, etc. It’s all water under the bridge now unless council re-considers.
The actual figures suggest a decrease in Georgetown’s tax structure of $.67, down from $.85 on each $100 assessed residentially and $.90 from $1.70 on each $100 commercial assessment. Montague’s tax structure would see a $.02 increase in the commercial rate and a $.12 decrease in residential.
It’s all very unfortunate. For months, the Three Rivers project was used by the province as a shining example on how the amalgamation process is supposed to work – an urban and rural mix all working towards a greater regional good.
Now the government has also lost its appetite for amalgamation. Robert Mitchell, P.E.I.’s Minister of Communities, Land and Environment, is backing away from key elements in the new Municipalities Act. He is willing to accept smaller amalgamated communities in terms of population and taxable land base. His government’s softening position only makes it tougher for supporters of amalgamation – in Three Rivers and elsewhere – to push ahead.
There was never anything sinister about the regional concept which hoped to follow the successful example in Stratford, an amalgamated town incorporating numerous smaller communities that is booming because of planned regional development.
There will be public meetings early this month where Three Rivers community members can learn more about the tax proposals before each municipal unit and elected councils make a decision. Montague Mayor Richard Collins supports subsequent plebiscites, which might be the only sensible solution.
Maybe Georgetown might also get involved in the plebiscite process, if council dares risk seeing its decision overturned by citizens. It will be interesting to see if $50 in taxes – either more or less - is a deal breaker.
The new Municipalities Act still hasn’t received royal assent, signaling that government isn’t ready to make hard decisions on amalgamation. As a provincial election draws closer, don’t expect that to change.