The new, closer urban/rural divide

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.

7 thoughts on “The new, closer urban/rural divide

  1. I think too much emphasis is put on the urban/rural divide, in particular the property tax issue. Speaking as a property owner within the city of Fredericton, I really don’t see how the rates that people pay outside the city are unfair. Within the city, there is a lot more infrastructure including water, sewer, and fire services. The “rural” (suburban, really) dwellers are not a bunch of freeloaders. They get proportionally fewer services. And they spend a lot of money within the city. No one would ever accuse tourists of being freeloaders, and residents of Douglas/Lincoln/Hanwell/etc certainly outspend tourists in Fredericton. The whole “they use our roads” argument is somewhat flawed as well, considering that every major road that leads out of the city is a provincially designated route.

  2. In my mind the type of municipal configuration we should develop goes beyond the issue of services and apportioning cost. Those issues should get worked out, even within municipalities.
    I think the bigger question relates to how we develop our communities to secure a positive economic and social future. Development issues need to be worked out, not in microcosms, but in light of the reality of economic geography. I live in the City of Fredericotn but see ‘my’ community as including Stanley, Harvey, Oromocto, Minto, etc. We should seize the opportunity for wholesale municipal restructuring and move beyond the regional model for a few limited services as currently being advocated by the provincial government. We should skip the intermediate steps and align our municipal governance with the larger functioning economic communities. Doing so would mean that all residents would be served by a proper and competent municipal government. It would also transform how we think of ourselves and how we present our communities to potential investors and immigrants from other parts of Canda and abroad.

  3. Don, that is exactly my point. I think the tax thing has become a red herring that keeps us from understanding how these urban/rural economies interact and what is the best approach to service development and delivery.

  4. “I think the tax thing has become a red herring ”

    Is it a red herring? Taxes seem to be the main issue raised when LSD residents speak on the issue. Now it is possible that those residents represent the ‘taxed to death’ faction, and that that faction is really only a minority in LSDs, but tax rates are certainly a factor in GNBs slow progress on municipal reform.

    Insofar as LSD (‘rural’) residents are concerned, why not try some transparency? GNB must have a good handle by now on the actual service costs for LSDs, as well as whether or not the local tax revenue meets those costs. Why not release the data? I don’t understand the reluctance to do so.

    As a resident of an LSD, I’d be happy to be able to vote on local matters. I also agree with Mr Dennison that we should jump straight into a larger municipal unit and skip the several munis / regional services idea. That sounds like a nightmare of limited accountability and reduced efficiency. The problem, as I see it, is the political reluctance to make that leap. Perhaps some transparency would help there as well.

  5. I think that the core of the tax issue is the discontinuous rates being applied based on a simple boundary. People have an incentive to move just outside the town boundaries. How about a sliding scale where property tax decreases gradually as you get farther from a town boundary?

    For example living with the city = 100% tax rate while outside the boundary you have a sliding discount based on the distance from the city’s boundary. The farther away you reside, the closer you get to the base rate.
    In this manner the people more likely to benefit from urban infrastructure would be more likely to contribute to it.

  6. Speaking as a real link, I have to say people are rather disconnected with rural NB, like rural NBers are apathetic to the changes about to affect them. What is it that dissolves the neural pathways needed to connect the productivity of rural landscapes with urban centres in a continuum? Why such monstrosities in urban design? Why such a hollowed out rural economy? Um, regions in a convoluted organizational landscape have a hard time showing themselves even if they were allowed to. There is a consumer model of approach to these reforms. i.e. we are all end users. Equal opportunity did great things normal for the time but severed the backbone for some; and here we are about to “innovate” another made in NB local governance structure. What gives us an reason to engage? Can we not find some precedence, some expertise, some flow in how to address this problem of local accountability and service provision based on similar experiences? You make a tool out of the user when you focus on the tool and not the user.

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