It is no secret that smaller communities are struggling to meet the needs of providing water, sewer, recreation and other services to their communities. Increasing costs are making it more and more difficult to survive.
Eventually, there is a tipping point. At what point can a local government keep going to the people to raise taxes and keep operating?
That question is being asked by the Village of Donnelly. In an Oct. 3 email to Smoky River region governments (Village of Girouxville, Town of Falher, Town of McLennan, and M.D. of Smoky River) CAO Matthew Ferris asks about a potential collaboration Donnelly village council is currently exploring.
“Our council is considering submitting (a grant) to conduct a comprehensive regional governance study,” writes Ferris. “The study aims to delve into the implications of shared services, potential dissolution, other options and their impacts on all partner municipalities within the region.”
Ferris’ letter should not raise alarm bells about dissolution. Rather, council should be applauded for exploring all options moving forward.
The Smoky River region is unique. It can easily be argued they are over-governed with five municipal governments to serve such a small area. As said at the Town of McLennan’s meeting Oct. 10, there is a cost in providing duplicate services, employees and administration. In fact, some CAOs already serve multiple small municipal governments.
Any talk of dissolution will no doubt spark heated debate. Years ago at Kinuso, talks of dissolution were first shunned by its citizens paying the taxes. At first, they voted to pay higher taxes to maintain their village status and individual community pride. Later, they did dissolve and join the former M.D. of Big Lakes, now Big Lakes County.
There is little doubt many residents in Girouxville, Falher, McLennan and Donnelly will pay more to maintain their status. How much is always the big question. Eventually, the time comes to throw in the towel. It is why a comprehensive study is needed.
In Manitoba, the provincial government already made that decision. They abolished the municipal status of many small towns and villages and forced them to join larger municipal governments nearby. In Smoky River, any of the four villages and towns would join the M.D. of Smoky River.
Citizens may wonder how it got to this point. Increased cost is not the only issue. The continued downloading of services to municipalities has left more than one local politician wondering if the Alberta government is purposely trying to break small villages and towns.
What people need to realize is this process (dissolution) will eventually give people a chance to have their say. The Village of Donnelly will just not disappear overnight. Meetings will be held and information dispersed to make an informed decision.
It comes down to dollars and cents. Just how much are people willing to pay? Given the pride many have in Smoky River regarding their communities, it just might be far, far away.