An area services board proposal, including representation by population, will be going to the province within the next few days from the Rainy River District Municipal Association.
About two-thirds of the 30 district reps at a special meeting of the RRDMA last night at the Civic Centre voted in favour of amending the proposal and sending it on to Queen's Park for approval.
But some on hand last night felt it might be too late.
Seven members of the unincorporated area east of Atikokan already have sent a letter to Northern Development and Mines minister Chris Hodgson stating their concerns about the proposal, including a lack of consultation.
The fear is that could prompt the province to appoint a commissioner to come in and dictate how the district is to deal with the “downloading” of services onto municipalities.
“There is concern about that," admitted Rainy River Mayor Gord Armstrong, who chairs the working group putting together the proposal. ”If the government decides to appoint a commissioner, he's going to be in control of our future.
“I'm afraid maybe we've stuck our foot in the quicksand already,” he warned.
The working group now is aiming to get together with those unincorporated residents and try to bring them on board.
“I think it's very important that letter that's gone to [Hodgson] be withdrawn,” stressed Fort Frances Coun. Deane Cunningham.
Meanwhile, many at the last night's meeting seemed frustrated with the way municipal leaders were getting bogged down by the details of the proposal—including the representation by population clause.
And Atikokan council brought forward a lengthy list of amendments it wanted to see included before the proposal went to Queen's Park, including changes to the “rep by pop” formula.
La Vallee Reeve Ken McKinnon, who's council unanimously voted against amending the proposal to include representation by population, felt it should have gone to the province “a long time ago.”
He charged the group was wasting time hashing out the finer details.
“In fact, I think it's too late. This is the third time [we voted on it],” he said, noting there were two previous votes in Rainy River and Fort Frances.
“We all knew the need for speed and it hasn't happened yet,” echoed La Vallee Coun. Emily Watson.
Meanwhile, unincorporated resident Bob MacDonald questioned why taxing would be based on property while representation would be based on a head count (population is determined by full-time residents, not seasonal ones).
And some questioned why the concern over representation was just coming up now—and not when the working group first started putting together the proposal.
“All of a sudden there's suspicion creeping in that somebody might be on a power struggle,” noted Atikokan Reeve Robert Davidson, who's also president of the RRDMA , adding he didn't like that.
“This was not Fort Frances' effort to power grab," assured Coun. Sharon Tibbs. "This was Fort Frances' effort to do something fair and equitable for everyone.”
Emo Reeve Brian Reid stressed that was where the focus of the proposal had to be—rather than getting bogged down in the details.
“If they're all sitting there for the good of our district, to provide services to our district, [representation] shouldn't really matter,” he argued, with several district councils agreeing they just wanted to make sure they had representation on the board.
He stressed their focus had to be to “try and survive” financially—while still keeping a reasonable level of service for the district—before it was swept up by Kenora or Thunder Bay boards.
“Somewhere, we seem to have lost it all. Pretty soon, we're not going to have any vote,” Reeve Reid warned.
“The longer we wait, the more likely we are to have the province deliver these services, or somebody deliver these services, and send us the bill,” echoed McCrosson-Tovell Reeve Valerie Pizey.