After public meeting: Welwyn moves one step closer to amalgamation

February 12, 2018, 7:40 am
Kara Kinna

Colleen Christopherson, a municipal advisor with the Ministry of Government Relations, speaking at the public meeting in Welwyn Wednesday.

The village of Welwyn appears to be one step closer to joining the RM of Moosomin after a public meeting that was held last Wednesday at the Welwyn Rink.

About 50 people attended the meeting, including residents of Welwyn and members of the RM of Moosomin council.

The meeting was chaired by Colleen Christopherson, a municipal advisor with the Ministry of Government Relations.

Christopherson went over the steps of the restructuring process and informed village residents of some of the options available for restructuring since 2006, such as the ability for the village to be deemed a special service area within the RM and have all of its expenses and income tracked separately.

The village and the RM of Moosomin have already drafted a restructuring agreement, and residents have until Feb. 28 to provide written submissions, which would accompany the agreement to the minister’s office, if the village and RM decide to sign the agreement and submit it to the Ministry of Government Relations for approval.

If the amalgamation were to go ahead, Welwyn would be its own division within the RM and would be deemed a special service area according to the agreement.

Christopherson also took questions at the meeting. There was a wide range of questions asked, from questions about how taxation would work and whether or not the costs to village residents would go up or down, to questions about grants, property assessments, village services, council representation, elections, bylaws, and whether or not there would be any change in where the village’s children go to school.

Christopherson pointed out that, since 2006, the provincial government has made it easier for small municipalities to join large municipalities by providing things like a non-matching communities in transition grant that can be $50,000 or more within two years of restructuring.

A question came up about the revenue sharing grant and Christopherson said Welwyn would continue to receive its own revenue sharing grant for 10 years after restructuring.

“Whatever revenue sharing grant you’re receiving at the date of dissolution will be carried forward for the next 10 years in addition to you becoming part of the rural revenue sharing grant,” she said. “The grant you’re getting today will continue whether or not your population goes down or up. If you were your own municipality it would go down and up depending on your population.

“Once you’re with the RM that grant after 10 years would disappear because it’s in addition to the rural revenue sharing grant that is now is being calculated together with the RM, and they will credit the special service area for the amount that would be assigned to the special service area. So it’s actually in addition for 10 years to allow some transition time—it’s extra money.”

Christopherson pointed out that one of the big misconceptions around restructuring is that people feel there is a loss of community.

“One of the first things that people think is ‘we’re no longer a community.’ If you grew you could still apply to become an organized hamlet or a village again and if you got smaller, I’ve never seen a highway sign for a village come down yet,” she says.

“You’re still the community of Welwyn and you will always be the community of Welwyn. The events that you plan here, the things that you are, and the community gatherings you have don’t need to go away, those things don’t change. What happens when you become part of the rural municipality is that the governance changes. Two governments come together and decide that they are going to become one.”

One person asked what the negatives were to restructuring and Christopherson said she really hadn’t heard any bad stories.

“Many small municipalities have found they’ve done better under larger governance,” she said.

A number of questions came up about costs, and about the ability of the RM administrator to handle the additional work created by adding Welwyn into the RM. RM of Moosomin administrator Kendra Lawrence said that the work was manageable, and Christopherson pointed out that there would still just be administration for one municipality, it would simply have additional ratepayers with the addition of Welwyn.

It was also pointed out that there are often efficiencies when communities amalgamate, especially with having a trained administrator, which is often a struggle for small communities and has been a struggle for the village of Welwyn for some time.

“We were living in Benson when they restructured and became part of the RM of Estevan years ago,” said Sharlotte Elliott, a village of Welwyn resident at the meeting.

“When they restructured our taxes went down and we paid less for our water. So we saved money in the end. Even the bussing—all of our costs went down.

“We had the house plus the business, and we were paying over $1,800 in taxes before the restructuring. After the restructuring our taxes went down to about $1,000. So we saved $800 a year because we had a bigger tax levy.”

Someone asked what it would take to find an administrator for the village, and Welwyn Mayor Andre Mailloux spoke about that challenge.

“A year and a half ago that’s exactly how I felt—why don’t we just get another administrator?” he says. “We’ve done that twice. We’ve advertised for a third one. And the results haven’t been really all that great.

“Over the last year and a half what I’ve found out is the administrator’s position is not a position where you can wing it. You can’t step in there and learn on the go. You have to be able to jump in there and know it all right away because one or two mistakes on the computer can jump your auditor’s costs tremendously because they have to explain those mistakes.

“And there is so much to know for one person in a part-time job. I’ve come to really value the administrators and to have a high regard for them, the fact that they can do this job. It is not an easy job and it’s not for everyone, and to try to fill that position in a small town is almost impossible.”

“Your administrator is your true backbone,” added David Moffatt, the reeve of the RM of Moosomin. “I’ve been around a few years now and I’ve seen a lot of wrecks where they have brought someone in they are going to train and the grants that have been missed out in those RMs is terrible. And they’re struggling today yet over it. When you lose that administrator, it’s tough.”

Christopherson said their office gets calls all the time from small municipalities looking for administrators with no luck.

A question came up about the community spirit in the RM, and RM administrator Kendra Lawrence said there is no lack of community spirit.

“You really saw it when the floods occurred both in 2011 and 2014,” she said. “You saw it when the whole community pulled together and helped each other out. You saw it when the fire occurred just west of Moosomin recently. You had the farmers coming from all over with water tanks and equipment to try to help. We sent our graders and put the guys in the path of it to help prevent further damage. Everyone pulls together when something is happening.”

Sinc Harrison, the former reeve of the RM of Moosomin, received a round of applause at the meeting after a few comments he made.

“I’m a ratepayer in the RM of Moosomin. I had the luxury of being reeve for 30 years. I’m not bragging, but I was on the SARM board for 16 and I was president for eight,” he said. “In this province we still have the luxury of voluntary amalgamation. If you look across the border in Manitoba they just went through forced amalgamation. You had to have 1,000 population in order to have a municipality. So that brought lots of burdens and lots of rules.

“We are a creature of the province. The government of the day could say tomorrow, you have to have 1,000 people and you’re going to be 12 municipalities, and they can say that and it becomes law . . . It happened in Ontario. It happened in the Maritimes and we are probably the last frontier of smaller municipalities.

“You have the luxury of, I think, of coming into a wealthy municipality. The RM of Moosomin has the luxury of having the TransCanada Pipeline, they have the luxury of potash sharing. I think you’ll find that they are good to work with and I think they will share some of their revenue with you if you work together.

“Council is just like a family. You have to work together and if you don’t it falls apart . . . You have to work as a team and you have to have good administration. It can be very simple if everybody works together.

“I would encourage you to very strongly consider coming into the RM of Moosomin.”

Someone asked what the benefits to the RM were.

“I think we’re a community,” said Harrison. “And when someone is struggling in your community—and I don’t want to say you’re struggling—but I think we’re here to help. I think if we work together we’ll be stronger.

“This is not kingdom building, this is a community working together. And for what it’s worth I would encourage you to do so.”

Welwyn mayor Andre Mailloux said he was encouraged by how positive the meeting was afterwards.

“I think it went quite well. It was quite informative. There were lots of questions asked and a lot of questions answered, and on the whole I think it was a positive meeting. There were a lot of good issues brought up, a lot of concerns people have.”

Mailloux said the overall feeling within the village is that restructuring is the way to go.

“At this time I’d be really surprised if we don’t go ahead with restructuring at this point,” he says. “I think it’s the future.

“It’s been really hard on council not to have a qualified administrator and staff. It’s cost us money. We’ve probably lost money on the grants we weren’t aware of. Our cost of our auditors doubled and our cost of our auditor for 2017 is going to double. At what point do you realize that this is the way to go?”

RM of Moosomin Reeve David Moffatt said it was simply proactive on the part of the RM to agree to have Welwyn become part of the RM.

“We know that it’s a fact that eventually it will happen with these smaller villages and you need to be prepared,” he said. “Hopefully they can grow yet, but in the meantime it just kind of streamlines the process costwise.

“Eventually we might not have a say, and if you can be ahead of the times it helps. Eventually you are going to be told where you’re going to go.”