Goverment Resource Manual
Section 1: Local Government in New Brunswick
1.1 Equal Opportunity and the impact on the Local Government System -
A Brief Review
While New Brunswicks local government history dates back over two hundred years, the most significant changes to the local government system in more recent times occurred in mid 1960s. It is from this point that the following overview of the New Brunswick local government system is presented.
The changes to local government in New Brunswick introduced in 1966 and 1967 were part of what we now familiarly refer to as the Equal Opportunity Program. In fact, the changes introduced at this time by Premier Louis Robichauds government continue to provide the foundation upon which the division of responsibilities between the provincial government and local governments in New Brunswick is based. Though there have been some adjustments over the past 40 years, the current structure of local government is also based primarily on these reforms.
Prior to the equal opportunity reforms, some county governments and municipalities were experiencing major financial and management difficulties. In fact, some local governments were nearly bankrupt. In addition, significant discrepancies (and inequities) had developed across the province in terms of access to, and quality of, such services as social assistance, education and healthcare. Property assessment practices and levels of assessment, as well as property tax rates, varied substantially from region to region, with no strong correlation to local service levels and quality. Moreover, special property tax concessions were provided by local governments to industries, again furthering the imbalances across the province and among businesses themselves.
To deal with this increasingly inequitable situation, a decision was made by the Robichaud government to undertake a major overhaul of the system that would focus on the realignment of service responsibilities between the province and local governments, the elimination of county governments, the creation of villages and of provincially administered local service districts, making property assessment and property tax billing (as well as collection) a provincial responsibility and establishing an unconditional grant for municipalities. In addition, the province would also now share the property tax field with municipalities in order to help finance provincially provided services. The changes that were ultimately introduced were based almost exclusively on the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Finance and Taxation in New Brunswick, more commonly referred to as the Byrne Commission.
In terms of service alignment, the changes introduced resulted in local governments no longer having responsibility for what has often been referred to as services to people. These included such services as social assistance, education, healthcare and justice. The provincial government took over exclusive responsibility for these services in order to ensure uniformity across the province in terms of both standards and access. For their part, municipalities would be responsible (as they had always been) for the more local services to property such as fire protection, policing, local road maintenance, garbage collection, water and wastewater systems, and recreation. Generally speaking, this division of responsibilities remains in effect to the present day and has served New Brunswick well. Jurisdictions in other parts of Canada are still working at disentangling this division of responsibilities and it continues to be a source of debate between some provincial and local governments.
In terms of reforms affecting local government structures, New Brunswick would now be covered by municipalities (which would include cities, towns and villages) and local service districts. In 1966, a new piece of legislation, the Municipalities Act, was enacted to bring effect to this new structure. Existing cities and towns remained in place while a large number of villages were created. In addition, local service districts were created as service areas to be administered by the province through the department responsible for local government. Unlike the communities served by municipalities, the areas covered by local service districts would be unincorporated.
Over the years, annexations and amalgamations have taken place affecting both municipalities and local service districts but the system remains largely the same. In 1995, a Rural Community concept was piloted in one area of the province, whereby a committee would be formally elected and have the power to deal specifically with land use planning. Most recently, the Rural Community concept was further developed and is now available to local service districts and villages. This new model, while requiring land use planning as a basic service, also provides communities with the power to take on responsibility for and provide all other local services. In addition, the revised model provides for the election of a council (with mayor and councillors), rather than a committee. This particular model is the most significant new structure in terms of local government that has been introduced since 1966. It represents an opportunity for communities, particularly in the unincorporated areas, to take some measure of control over local issues and services. The model will be described in detail in Section 13 of the resource manual.
Along with a new Act for local government, new legislation dealing with property assessment came into effect in 1966 and gave the provincial government exclusive responsibility for the assessment function. This approach would ensure that assessments would be conducted in a more consistent manner across the province, rather than having municipalities use their own methodologies to determine assessment levels.
Property tax billing and collection also became a full provincial responsibility. This meant that municipal revenues from property taxation would now be guaranteed by the province. In other words, the province would remit the amount of money levied by municipalities via the local tax rate, regardless of the amount actually collected. In addition, the ability of local governments to give special property tax concessions to certain businesses was eliminated.
As part of the reforms, a new funding source for municipalities was introduced the unconditional grant. This grant had two purposes. The first was to provide block funding to municipalities to help maintain property taxation at acceptable levels. The second was to equalize the ability to pay for basic local services among similar municipalities.
Since the initial Equal Opportunity reforms of the 1960s, there have been various adjustments made to the local government system. Such changes have included: restructuring of municipalities (through annexations and amalgamations), some adjustments to service responsibilities (e.g., roads, ambulance), adjustments to unconditional grant funding levels and the distribution formula, establishment of new local service districts and the incorporation of some new villages. The status of some municipalities has also changed (village to town, town to city). As noted previously, the new rural community model is now available to New Brunswick communities. There have also been many amendments made to the Municipalities Act, the centerpiece of local government legislation in New Brunswick, to accommodate the evolving situation facing municipalities, local service districts and the provincial government.
The local government system in New Brunswick will continue to evolve as new challenges arise that both local governments and the provincial government must contend with and address. These challenges may be of an economic / financial, social, environmental or legal nature.
1.2 Establishment, Responsibilities and Powers of Local Government
In this province, local governments are established by way of amending a provincial regulation (Regulation 85-6 under the Municipalities Act). For example, the Village of New Maryland was incorporated in 1991 and this incorporation took effect by amending Regulation 85-6. This amendment included the name of the municipality and a boundary description of the new entity. New municipalities may also be created, under special circumstances, by legislation. For example, the new City of Edmundston, which was the result of an amalgamation of the former city with surrounding villages and part of a local service district, was incorporated through a special Act of the legislature. Any new rural communities that are created will be established through adoption of a regulation.
The Municipalities Act is the main piece of legislation governing the powers, responsibilities and general operation of local governments. There are various other provincial statutes, such as the Community Planning Act and the Motor Vehicle Act, that confer additional responsibilities and powers to local governments. Much more will be said about the powers and service responsibilities of local government in various sections of this manual.
1.3 Local Government in New Brunswick - The Current Picture
There are currently 101 municipalities in NB, including 8 cities, 27 towns and 66 villages, with a population ranging from 155 to 68,043, and a combined population of 457,045 or 63% of NBs total population of 729,997. Sixty-nine of the municipalities, in which 9% of NBs population resides, have fewer than 2,000 inhabitants, and 17 municipalities have fewer than 5,000 inhabitants (in which 9% of NBs population resides), as the following table shows. The 8 cities have a combined population of 256,141 which represents 35 % of NBs total population.
(a) Number of municipalities by population (2006 Census)
b. Unincorporated Areas
Just over 260,000 or 37% of New Brunswickers live in areas outside the territorial limits of municipalities and have no form of local government. Those areas are divided into 268 local service districts (LSDs), where the provision of local services such as street lighting, fire protection, garbage collection and recreational facilities is the responsibility of the province, and funded through local property taxation.
The population in local service districts range from 5 to 8,373. Most local service districts have a small population 182 or 68% of the LSDs have a population of less than 1,000, while another 55 or 21% have a population between 1,000 and 2,000. While the perception of unincorporated areas is that they are mostly rural, the reality is that they are concentrated in relatively close proximity to the eight cities. In 2006, almost 70 % of the inhabitants of local service districts lived within a 50-kilometre radius from the eight cities, while 26 % lived within a 20-kilometre radius.
c. Rural Communities
In July 2006 the rural community of Beaubassin-Est was incorporated, combining six local service districts or parts thereof located between the Town of Shediac and the Village of Cap-Pelé, giving more than 6,000 citizens an elected council with the power to adopt and amend a common rural plan.
In July 2006 the Village of Saint-André and the local service district of the parish of Saint-André was also incorporated as the new rural community of Saint-André. In March, 2008, the Local Service District of Upper Miramichi was incorporated as the new rural community of Upper Miramichi.
1.4 Arrangements for the shared provision of services
Various regional service bodies are also found in NB, including 12 district (land use) planning commissions and 12 solid waste commissions established by the province to provide for the shared provision of localized services among municipalities and local service districts, as well as 15 community economic development agencies.
Other commissions are also in place for the sharing of such services as wastewater, airport, police and library. Urban areas, in particular, have several regional service bodies for the shared provision of other services, such as public transit, emergency planning, and pest control. For example, in the Greater Moncton Area, there are close to 10 commissions or agencies overseeing the provision of shared services. There are also a multitude of service arrangements without necessarily a joint service body (e.g., a municipality or local service district buying fire services from a neighboring municipality).
Councils elected through the municipal election process govern municipalities, while individuals (which may or may not be elected officials) appointed by municipal councils and the Minister (on behalf of local service districts), manage regional service bodies. Only municipalities and the Minister (on behalf of local service districts) are empowered to levy property taxes. Municipalities and the Minister (on behalf of local service districts) are responsible for funding regional service bodies, while these structures are empowered to impose fees for their services.