When the five municipalities of Greater Saint John agreed on a growth strategy, residents were urged to “think, speak and act as a community with a common focus, common goals and a regional perspective.”

Communities haven’t always lived up to the expectation, but rising costs are putting regional planning back on the political agenda.

In Saint John, politicians are trying to drum up interest in regional delivery for policing, fire and recreational facilities – a natural development as the city and suburban communities expand.

To make such proposals succeed, councils must be guided by the principle of value for money. If councillors can deliver better services and lower taxes through regionalization, residents will approve.

A municipal report card produced in May by the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies revealed that Saint Johners pay the highest rate in the province for policing and the second-highest rate for fire fighting. Based on the regional policing available in Greater Moncton and the Kennebecasis Valley, regional services are worth looking into.

Saint Johners are warming to the idea, but outside the city, the response has been cool. The city’s poor management of its own services has created resistance to regional co-operation. Many residents in outlying areas see regionalization as a way for the city to subsidize the unsustainable cost of poor management.

Value for money is the only selling point for regional services, and the status quo in Saint John isn’t going to sell.

Saint John must establish a dialogue with surrounding communities. But to be taken seriously, council needs to get its administrative house in order. If Saint John council can deliver good service management, it has a chance of re-establishing the bond of trust that led to agreements on sharing funding for municipal facilities years ago. That would produce benefits for the entire region.