Increase in spending: mergers under study for small municipalities

Inflation, labor shortages, skyrocketing expenses and bureaucracy are forcing many small municipalities in Quebec to consider the possibility of merging. Others even launch the idea of ​​sharing elected officials.

Two merger requests are currently in the hands of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MAMH) and about fifteen municipalities have requested studies to regroup.

In Beauce, the elected officials of Saint-Évariste-de-Forsyth are hoping for the ministry’s agreement to merge with the neighboring municipality of Courcelles, located in the MRC du Granit.

« Do not wait to hit the wall, » says the mayor of Saint-Évariste-de-Forsyth, Camil Martin.

His Courcelles counterpart, Francis Bélanger, confirms that in the municipal world more and more small communities are talking about regrouping.

“We feel a surge of solidarity […] Everyone around the mayors’ table is of the opinion that, yes, something will have to happen, ”he analyzes.

If the ministry gives a favorable opinion, the two municipalities could merge as early as 2023. The holding of a referendum has not been ruled out since some citizens of Courcelles oppose the project.

Demand in Abitibi

The other official request for regrouping concerns La Morandière and Rochebaucourt in Abitibi.

The elected officials of the two municipalities began the merger process in 2021 with the completion of a study, which was presented to citizens last April.

“If there is no regrouping, we are no longer able to offer as many services to our population and we have to increase taxes,” says the mayor of Rochebaucourt, Alain Trudel.

Like many, he deplores the lack of personnel. For example, the municipality of La Morandière has been operating without a mayor for several months.

Mr. Trudel expects a response from the department in December. He even mentions the possibility of another municipality joining the merger movement between now and the next election.

Studies for Islet and Kamouraska

In the RCM of L’Islet, the municipalities of Saint-Roch-des-Aulnaies, Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, L’Islet, Saint-Aubert and Sainte-Louise are shortly awaiting the results of a study on the possibility of forming a new city which would have about 9000 inhabitants.

The exercise carried out by the MAMH will reveal, in particular, the hypothetical figures for a first budget. If the merger materializes, it would be the largest merger in the province since that of Drummondville in 2004 when four entities were unified.

In the neighboring MRC, 7 of the 17 municipalities of Kamouraska announced in November that they were asking the ministry to carry out an opportunity study.

La Pocatière, Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière, Saint-Onésime-d’Ixworth, Rivière-Ouelle, Saint-Pacôme, Saint-Gabriel-Lalemant and Saint-Denis-De La Bouteillerie could join forces.

“Reality is catching up with us with skyrocketing costs. The responsibilities of municipalities are becoming greater and greater, we have to find ways not to overtax our taxpayers,” explains Vincent Bérubé, Mayor of La Pocatière.

Even the possibility of “doing without” elected officials between the municipalities was mentioned. “No solution is ruled out. The study will tell us,” concludes Mr. Bérubé.

The smallest village wants to merge

The growing interest in mergers is also observed in one of the smallest municipalities in Quebec.

Saint-Guy, located in Bas-Saint-Laurent, and its 52 inhabitants are reaching out to their neighbor Lac-des-Aigles.

A study is underway and the elected officials took part last week in a second meeting with representatives of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.

This project is causing controversy since the municipalities of Bas-Saint-Laurent, although bordering, are not in the same MRC.

For this reason, the MRC des Basques opposes the merger of the two entities, because it fears losing Saint-Guy to the benefit of the MRC du Témiscouata.

However, the mayor of Saint-Guy, Gilles Roussel, is keen on it for the well-being of its citizens.

Grouping requests under analysis

At the request of some fifteen municipalities, the ministry is also working on several opportunity studies for municipal amalgamation.

Mayors Bélanger and Martin

Lack of staff gives nightmares

The president of the Quebec Federation of Municipalities (FQM), Jacques Demers, notes an unprecedented appetite from its members to consolidate services.

Jacques Demer. President of the FQM

Courtesy picture

Jacques Demer. President of the FQM

If the general rise in costs worries municipal officials, the lack of staff also gives them nightmares.

Whether as general manager, treasurer, road worker or day camp monitor, there are many vacant positions that are difficult to fill in the municipalities.

“Finding general managers has become very difficult […] For snow removal, we have difficulty getting bidders for several municipalities,” notes the president of the FQM.

Running out of solutions

Small municipalities are running out of solutions and the situation is going from bad to worse. “We have aging staff. You find yourself in the fall and you don’t have anyone to drive your snow plow, ”cites the mayor of Saint-Évariste-de-Forsyth, in Beauce, Camil Martin, as an example.

He also recalls that the candidates do not jostle at the doors to become councilors or mayors in the municipal elections. “Apart from the big cities, it is often retirees who are begged to introduce themselves,” underlines Mr. Martin.

Indeed, the number of elected officials without opposition has drastically increased in 2021, confirms Danielle Pilette, professor expert in municipal finance and taxation at UQAM.

Documents and other requirements

« We see cases where there is not even a candidate at all, » she notes.

According to the teacher, all the documents to be completed and other government requirements are pushing municipalities into the abyss, which are struggling to meet these demands.

« Yes, expenses are increasing a lot, gasoline, etc., but it’s not just that, it’s a question of requirements […] It’s very heavy for small municipalities in a context of labor shortages. »

More than twenty years after the painful episode of the forced mergers, the government of Quebec has no intention of replaying in this film, believe our stakeholders.

It is rather the elected officials who embark on the search for solutions to keep themselves alive.

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