Rossland Council wants in on Trail, Warfield amalgamation
Welcome to Greater Trail. That could be a revision to our new ‘Welcome to Rossland’ signs in the near future if Rossland City Council achieves one of the goals they are working towards. Recently the City of Rossland sent a letter to the City of Trail expressing their interest in pursuing a governance study on the amalgamation of Trail, Warfield and Rossland.
With eight governing bodies currently presiding over roughly 20,000 people in our region, there have been talks on and off for decades about realigning boundaries and merging some or all of the current municipalities into one or several regional municipalities.
Over the past couple of years, questions around amalgamation have been centred around which cities, towns or electoral areas should be merged with who and then getting the province on side with the most popular option to complete a full governance study.
The principle option that has been discussed over the years the entire greater Trail area including Rossland, Warfield, Trail, Area A, Area B, Montrose, Fruitvale and the Regional District coming together under one government. The province, which ultimately controls the situation, has said they will not pursue any governance study until all parties in this region can decide on which option to study.
From that comment and looking at the current stalemates in regional decision making between Rossland and Trail arose the possibility of the Beaver Valley (Fruitvale, Montrose and Area A) undergoing a governance study on amalgamation.
The City of Trail has not supported the Beaver Valley option and has maintained that their first and primary option is amalgamating the entire Greater Trail region.
Rossland has supported the Beaver Valley option and in light of the Village of Warfield’s recently sending a letter to the City of Trail indicating it would like to pursue an amalgamation study between Warfield and Trail, Rossland has jumped back into the fray, suggesting in their most recent letter that they would like to participate in a Warfield, Rossland, Trail study.
“Rossland has been in favour of having an amalgamation study (for the entire Greater Trail region) forever and certainly when this council was elected to office we said we wanted to pursue that,” explained Mayor Granstrom. “We agreed that the Beaver Valley should have one [a governance study] because we believe that could be the first step to getting this whole thing moving. Since Warfield was approaching Trail, we thought it would be prudent for Rossland to do it at the same time. The question has been on the table for so long, it’s time to get some answers, so we thought that we should maybe be invited to the table to discuss this matter and see if we can move it forward.”
Broadly, the answers the participating governments are looking for are based around whether it would make financial sense to amalgamate into one super city. Exactly what benefits and what negatives would come to each community through an amalgamation would be a major part of such a governance study.
“It’s difficult to be specific at this stage, but it would certainly ask the questions of whether or not it is a good idea for Rossland. The first question is, ‘is it economically feasible?’. We hear that there are too many councilors and mayors in a small area, and we agree with that. We’d like to know if there are benefits to being one region. We know there will be costs. If we were to become a larger municipality we would lose the small community grants we get from the government and our policing costs would increase. There are two sides to the equation and it would be a great thing if we could sit down and come up with some answers so we can get the answers to the electorate and say here are the issues. Then we can ask the electorate, knowing what we know, ‘should we proceed with amalgamation?’.”
Among the main benefits of amalgamating is the possibility of saving money through reducing duplication of services. The accompanying worry in that scenario is the possibility of centralizing services and outlying communities potentially losing services to the new super city’s centre.
“There would be synergies for sure, whether it’s less staff or less councillors and mayors there will be some cost savings in there,” noted Trail Mayor Dieter Bogs. “Even the pool arrangement, for example, could be improved. When the outdoor and indoor belong to one community, there might be a re-scheduling of events or operating times. There are lots of synergies like that that could take place.”
The City of Trail discussed Rossland’s letter, but the response was one of ‘not right now’.
“If the Minister decides to go ahead with the Beaver Valley study and not the Greater Trail study, then the second choice for us is to look at Trail and Warfield amalgamating,” explained Trail Mayor Dieter Bogs. “If that is acceptable to the residents of Warfield and Trail, then I think after that we might have a look at Rossland. That makes the most sense if there isn’t a district municipality.”
The information presented to Trail City Council by CAO David Perehudoff laid out a number of issues the CAO felt should be considered when discussing whether or not to include Rossland in their plans.
The perceived biases and difficulties in coming to an agreement over sewer and recreation were noted: “Rossland has recently suggested on several occasions that Trail should be ‘sharing’ its major industrial and commercial assessment base and Rossland has been reluctant to resolve the regional sewer issue because of the difference in user fees between the two communities. It is suggested that this could be one of the factors that is motivating Rossland with respect to this current request.”
Perehudoff continued to address Trail’s perception that Rossland has not been cooperating on other issues: “Once again, it is unclear how Council could simply ignore the fact that Rossland has not made any real effort to solve the current issues associated with the regional sewer review or recreation funding and enter into these discussions. The way Rossland has dealt with these matters serves to demonstrate how their involvement may only serve to negatively impact any sort of discussions with Warfield that could actually lead to restructuring.”
The result in Trail City Council chambers this past Monday evening was the passing of recommendations that stated if the regional governance review does not go ahead, Trail will pursue a study between Warfield and Trail alone and that the City of Trail will not support Rossland’s request to be a part of the talks between Warfield and Trail.
In response to Perehudoff’s claim that Rossland has not made any effort to solve the current issues between the two Cities, Mayor Granstrom replied “That’s the age old argument. We get that from down the hill all the time. Here we are sending out our olive branch and we’re saying, ‘let’s get on with this and see if it makes sense, just like we’ve said let’s talk about recreation and just like we said let’s get together and talk on sewer’. We keep sending out requests and we keep getting told ‘no’. I don’t see that as not making any effort. We’ve been willing to work with them on everything. We say that over and over and over.”
What Mayor Granstrom would like to see at this stage is the two communities get together with their staff and answer the preliminary question of ‘does it make financial sense and to complete this work in house before going to the province and asking for a full governance study?’.
“We need to go through the numbers and see how it would work. It won’t be a particularly costly effort. Rossland staff working with Trail staff could sit down and put some numbers together in a weekend; it’s that simple. The governance side of it might take a little longer but I mean certainly the financial end of it could be done by the staff we already have in place without costing either municipality a lot of money.”
Moving forward, the City of Trail is still hopeful that the province will approve a region-wide governance study. As a back-up plan, however, the Village of Warfield and the City of Trail have requested a meeting with the Minister of Community and Rural Development at the upcoming UBCM convention to discuss the sub-regional option of Warfield and Trail amalgamating if the regional study is not approved.
As for now, the possibility of a Trail, Warfield, Rossland merger doesn’t seem to be in the cards. Regardless, Mayor Granstrom remains hopeful that through getting together and discussing the matter a productive solution can be reached.
“I’m the eternal optimist,” he concluded. “If we sat down and put together some numbers that made sense, then how could anyone be against it? Maybe some of our neighbours don’t want to hear the reality, but to say we don’t want to work with Trail because we haven’t worked with them on recreation or sewer is just wrong. It’s, in my mind, a pretty simplistic answer to a pretty good question we’re asking. We’ve been willing to work with them on everything. We say that over and over and over.”
Rossland’s next step will also be a meeting arranged with the Minister of Community and Rural Development along with the Village of Warfield.
“I’ll be there,” added Granstrom. “I’m not certain if Mayor Boggs is going but I know he’s invited. That may be the first step to getting things moving.”