Weighing the pros and cons of amalgamation

Are there benefits to smaller municipalities amalgamating into one? This week's editorial looks at those ideas.

Something tells me that the next municipal election, a mere eight and a half months away, is going to see a bit of a revolution from Ponoka voters.

The same could be said for the Town of Rimbey if rumours are to be believed. The one issue that stands out is a lack of transparency on certain contentious issues within both communities.

For Rimbey, what I’m hearing in coffee shops, people are saying that council is way too involved in the daily operations of the administrative side of things. With coffee shop talk one has to take these discussions with a grain of salt, but when you look at the history of the CAOs in Rimbey, there’s been a large turnover.

The same can actually be said for Ponoka with regards to the town’s top job. Thankfully residents have had some stability recently with a new administration that appears to be working with the town’s best interests in mind.

These issues, plus a few others within Ponoka town council, have left residents apprehensive over how decisions are being made.

One thread of conversation in coffee shops has been the idea of amalgamation of the main municipalities within the Ponoka County boundaries. The idea touches on bringing management of the area into a regional municipality such as the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo with Fort McMurray at the centre of the action.

The definition of amalgamation is to combine or to unite, something that is much needed in the world, as well for our cosy little town.

What are the arguments in favour of joining the towns and the county under one roof? In speaking with some, the biggest benefit comes in the pooling of resources. More money in the bucket to pay for operations and capital projects.

Another argument suggests there will be money saved with all municipalities under one roof. For the latter I doubt there will be much in the way of savings except maybe in the reduction of duplication of capital resources.

Operations would still need to take care of the different infrastructure and maintenance needs for their respective towns, and bringing the big three Ponoka County, Rimbey and the Town of Ponoka adds some future dynamics that even the best planners will be unable to foresee, which could create additional costs.

The real challenge in uniting as one governing body is really in residents’ desire to see something like that happen. Ratepayers are the ones who need to make that wish become a reality if they want to. Certainly a major catalyst, such as a town going broke, would be a strong incentive but I don’t see that happening.

I don’t know about Rimbey but it seems that for the Town of Ponoka, there has been a strong desire to see change and growth within the community. Town residents hope to reinvent the community and amalgamation could potentially go against that need to change our identity.

If there is impetus to amalgamate, residents will have to prepare themselves for the long-haul, at least another four years to get all the ducks in a row. The biggest duck in this case would be governance. Ensuring there is a fair and balanced voting structure within the governing board is paramount to creating clear representation. Make no mistake, that is the most important first step to having several municipalities under one roof.

If proper governance isn’t struck right from the get-go then the whole thing will be a colossal waste of time and money. It’s not cheap coming up with a new name, logo, goal, mission statement, joining assets, infrastructure and debts under one roof. Imagine all the new pens that’ll have to be bought.

Amalgamation is an interesting idea that should be considered but it needs to be done with residents’ best interests in mind, as well as with input, discussion, education and votes. If done right it certainly has some benefits but the risks of making a mistake in the early stages cannot be taken lightly.