Making headlines in my hometown of New Westminster recently was the approval in principle of a hike in municipal utility fees by a whopping 6.5%. If you are an average homeowner in the Royal City, your annual fees will jump to about $2,400 from $2,250.
If you listen to municipal politicians from across the region, there is nothing much they can do to stop the endless cost increases at city hall. Whether it is licence or permit fees, garbage removal or green waste pickup, the bills from local and regional governments keep rising well beyond the rate of inflation.
Is the municipal tool chest really devoid of any creative ideas regarding how to keep costs down while improving service levels? What else could explain why few civic politicians are prepared to openly talk about amalgamation as one way of containing costs?
Metro Vancouver remains the last major holdout in Canada when it comes to pursuing the concept of reducing the overall number of municipalities in our region. Unlike Toronto, where citizens are governed by a single municipal bureaucracy, we have over 20.
Most Metro Vancouver cities need to hire their own manager, fire chief, director of planning, chief engineer and so on. The duplication in payroll in our region is not only staggering, it might even make bankrupt Greek cities blush.
Even if you oppose the notion of a mega-city, surely there must be efficiencies to be found through targeted amalgamation.
For starters, the City of North Vancouver and the District of North Vancouver could join forces.
Surely the cities of Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody could be easily amalgamated and renamed Moody Port Coquitlam.
Surrey, Langley and White Rock could transform into Surlangley Rocks. Vancouver could extend an olive branch to Burnaby and New Westminster to create New Vanurby.
While it is amusing to contemplate what targeted amalgamation might look like, the reality is it won’t be coming to a city near you anytime soon. Civic politicians simply love their little fiefdoms too much to give them up in the name of cost efficiencies.
The only way this concept would see the light of day is if Victoria steps in and provides local mayors with a nudge. This could come in the form of a referendum question during next year’s civic election that reads something like this: “Do you support the idea of amalgamating Metro Vancouver cities?”
If that question were on next year’s ballot, don’t be surprised if a majority of tax-weary residents gave it serious consideration.