Wednesday, March 17, 2004

City, area towns picked for case study

Group will examine benefits of amalgamating services, such as police and fire

BY MAC TRUEMAN Telegraph-Journal

An economic think-tank is setting out to study ways that Greater Saint John municipalities can improve services by banding together.

 The Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS), a Halifax-based  group that favours free-market economic policies, will take its  findings from its Saint John study and make them available to other  small cities, says Brian Lee Crowley, president.

 “We hope they stimulate discussion of how things are done in Saint  John, and perhaps whether there might be ways to do things better,” he said.

 The institute has hired Dr. Robert Bish, an economist who founded  the Local Government Institute at the University of Victoria, where  he is professor emeritus.

 “It’s a great way for us to get some leading-edge thought,” said  Tony Gogan, a Saint John accountant who led the New Brunswick  Chamber of Commerce’s study of the economic viability of the  province’s cities last year.

 “I’m really encouraged just by the concept that AIMS has looked at  Saint John, and that in their mind, we would be a good case study  for municipal service delivery.”

Rothesay council voted last week to co-operate and open the town  office to Dr. Bish. The institute is waiting to get the approval of  Saint John and all its suburban communities before starting the $20,000 project.

Mr. Crowley said his organization chose Saint John because there is already a lot of attention paid to big cities.

 “We thought that instead of just talking about amalgamation in  Toronto or taxes in Vancouver or Montreal, that we might pick a  representative small or medium-sized city and really have a look at  what we might say about how the quality of life could be improved,  how we could give suggestions about how more value could be obtained  for taxes spent, and that sort of thing.”

 Mr. Crowley doesn’t think the communities will turn down this  opportunity, since the institute is going to pay for it.

 If they agree to support the project, Dr. Bish could be here within  a few weeks, and could deliver his report before summer, Mr. Crowley said.

 Dr. Bish is to meet with local officials, then draw upon 30 years  experience with local government in North and South America.

 His specialty lies in how communities can do a better job by  amalgamating their services, such as police, fire, street  maintenance and solid waste.

 But Mr. Crowley emphasized that this is not a study of amalgamating  the municipal governments themselves.

 “Both Prof. Bish and I are rather skeptical, based on what we’ve  seen of the actual studies that have been done on amalgamations  around Canada and elsewhere.” 

 Also, privatization is not a focus, although Dr. Bish will equip the  communities with tools for evaluating the advantages or  disadvantages of purchasing services, Mr. Crowley said. 

 “I see it as very consistent with the Growth Strategy and what the  mayors are doing in terms of looking together at our growth  opportunities,” said Mr. Gogan., who has talked with Dr. Bish.

 “If we look at service-delivery opportunities too, it seems to be a  neat concept.”