A number of folks have written about this after seeing the new 2011 numbers. Unlike some, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking and studying the issue of the new, closer rural/urban divide. I was a strong supporter of the Finn report not because of the property tax implications (it wasn’t clear to me what they would have been anyway) but because I fundamentally believe that every citizen (or at least as many as possible) should have a local, accountable government. I also believe that economic development and other regional functions are not best administered from on high – but they do require a level of scale that only a few areas right now in New Brunswick can pull off.
The truth is that the rural population within the Fredericton CA is nearly 33 percent of the total. The rural population in the Moncton CMA grew by more than 15 percent from 2001 to 2011. While Saint John actually saw a slight decline in its rural population over the 10 years, there are almost 29,000 people inside the CMA living in rural areas.
As I pointed on in the column, this is a fact of circumstance. Commuting is still relatively easy and comfortable. Tax and housing costs – for the most part are lower. Lots of folks like wide open spaces and not much noise. In many ways its in our DNA. I live in downtown Moncton but sometimes wish I was living on a hobby farm in Hillsborough.
My only contribution to the debate is two-fold: 1) property tax rates should be set based on the relative cost of property tax-funded services. If a city is paying for services accessed by rural residents – for me that is fair game. The mechanics of that are tricky as we saw with the sporting facilities in Fredericton and environs a few years ago. There will always be some free riding – but it certainly can reach a tipping point.
2) Everyone should have a municipal government – accountable and able to provide quality services. I don’t like the idea of LSDs. Never did. Never will. I know they are convenient for some but I don’t think there is any other jurisdiction in North America that has such a large part of its population outside a formal municipal governance structure. While I don’t have much expertise in this area, in my gut I think the lack of effective municipal governance has been a core part of our lack of economic development over the past 50 (? more) years. Even the smaller and medium sized municipalities have very little authority and resources to get anything done. I realize this is a problem of scale and that all of New Brunswick has a smaller population that dozens of municipalities across North America. But there has to be a way to ensure strong local government that is reasonable resourced and able to address and influence local challenges.
There is too much shoulder shrugging these days.