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Area services board legislation on hold

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A district working group will keep hashing out details for an area services board here even though the legislation making them legal won’t be in place until late spring.

The Northern Services Improvement Act made it to first reading last week. But when the Legislature was prorogued last week, it will have to be reintroduced for first reading when MPPs resume sitting in March.

That means northern municipalities won’t be able to formally create area services boards--or bill for services--until 1998 is well underway.

The Rainy River District Area Services Board working group had recommended things be put on hold until then. But last Wednesday, the executive of the Rainy River District Municipal Association gave it the nod to keep plugging away so it’s ready to go once the bill is passed.

The big issue, said Rainy River Mayor Gord Armstrong, who is chairing the working group, was that the RRDMA wanted them to listen to what both the unincorporated areas and province were saying.

That way, they would be ready to make a presentation during public consultation sessions, if need be.

"When the [area services] board is up and running, it will decide on a budget that is appropriate to the services received," Fort Frances Mayor Glenn Witherspoon noted yesterday, with the ASB sending municipalities and unincorporated areas the bills.

Two employees will be hired to work with municipal leaders to help administer the delivery of the services, with the province setting up a $50 million transitional fund to help it get up and running.

"We want to have a transition group to work out the details and bugs once things get in place," agreed Mayor Armstrong.

And then, Mayor Witherspoon added, the ASB will look at which existing boards--such as Rainycrest Home for the Aged and the Northwestern Health Unit--should stay in place and which should be replaced by the ASB.

Mayor Witherspoon also said the ASB would look at which services were duplicated, which could be pared down, and which were mandatory.

"There’s all kinds of little things that have been added on that we don’t feel are necessary," he admitted.

Meanwhile, Rob Savage, with Northern Development and Mines minister Chris Hodgson’s office, admitted it might be more than some of the downloaded services the ASBs will be responsible for.

"Some of the services are things that they’ve already been doing," Savage said Friday.

But he stressed the ASB wasn’t meant to replace local municipal governments. Instead, he said it created a chance for municipalities to work together and co-ordinate the delivery of services--hopefully more efficiently.

Savage added the RRDMA proposal will be looked at in the spring when the bill goes through first reading again.

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