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Lac Baker residents left dejected after meeting with minister to protest amalgamation

Roseline Pelletier is the mayor of the village of Lac Baker. She and nine other residents travelled to the New Brunswick legislature Thursday to protest a proposed amalgamation with the community of Haut-Madawaska. (Jacques Poitras/CBC - image credit)

Roseline Pelletier is the mayor of the village of Lac Baker. She and nine other residents travelled to the New Brunswick legislature Thursday to protest a proposed amalgamation with the community of Haut-Madawaska. (Jacques Poitras/CBC – image credit)

Ten residents of the village of Lac Baker met with provincial officials Thursday to voice their outrage over a proposed amalgamation.

The village — 34 kilometres west of Edmundston — is expected to amalgamate with the community of Haut-Madawaska next year.

But the move has not been welcomed by Lac Baker residents who fear they will shoulder a financial burden.

That prompted them to travel 3 hours to the New Brunswick legislature to protest the decision.

They later met with Daniel Allain, minister of local governance reform at a nearby hotel in Fredericton.

“We are self-sufficient because we only get a small portion — $1,000 —  unconditional grant from the province,” said Roseline Pelletier, mayor of Lac Baker.

Close to 750 permanent residents will be affected by the amalgamation, along with approximately 300 cottage owners who don’t live there year-round.

“We’ve shown with numbers and we proved that we are one of the most valuable municipalities out of the 104 that are still in existence.”

But Pelletier said the village’s financial viability is in jeopardy, “The first scenarios that we ran were based on the 2022 expenditures. Our municipality, the tax rate would go up by probably $0.20. We are at $1.12.”

Shane Fowler/CBC

Shane Fowler/CBC

The village has requested a two-year moratorium on amalgamation in the hopes that a municipal commission — which will be created in 2024 — will have the mandate to help municipalities become viable.

But that didn’t dissuade Allain, who said he is trying to make New Brunswickers understand why the government is moving ahead on amalgamation.

“We’re moving forward on local governance reform because we haven’t had any kind of change in 60 years.”

Ron Cormier, a permanent resident of Lac Baker for the past four years, said he has contacted Allain’s office multiple times to voice his concerns.

He said he left the meeting with Allain feeling like those concerns were not fully heard.

“[Feeling] frustrated, disappointed, a bit sad, I was going in with nothing in return.”

Similarities and differences 

“There’s a lot of common interests,” Allain said about the decision to amalgamate the communities.

“People work, go to school in those areas. That’s why the finance side will work with the department to make sure they have those tools and that analysis.”

Allain added that the amalgamation would give rural residents better electoral representation.

“Thirty per cent of New Brunswickers do not have the ability to vote during municipal election time. There is a democratic deficit.”

The government claims amalgamation will lead to efficiencies by creating fewer entities.

But Pelletier said people in the community have concerns over significant differences between the two municipalities.

Shane Fowler/CBC

Shane Fowler/CBC

“We have a special budget for the environment of our lakes to look at the quality of the water. They [Haut-Madawaska] have $0 in their budget, so I don’t see what service or amenity we could add.”

Pelletier said the village also worries about losing control over local development.

“We do not want big development, tourist development … we want to keep our local voice, means making our own decision.”

Pelletier questions why certain entities like Fredericton Junction and the village of Tracy were left untouched.

“If some municipalities that are really not prosperous could keep their local government, why not us?”

Both Pelletier and Cormier said the village will continue to fight the amalgamation despite the response from government on Thursday.

“It’s like being forced into a marriage where one of the partners is financially viable and the other one isn’t.” Cormier said,  “The way I see it, we’re there to save their skins and I don’t agree with that.”

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