Integration takes centre stage across Greater Victoria region

Amalgamation talk turns to discussion on efficiencies between municipalities.

Mayors in Greater Victoria municipalities are looking at efficiencies between them as discussions around the amalgamation issue turn soft.

Sidney Mayor Steve Price says the 13 regional municipal mayors met about two weeks ago with B.C. Minister in charge of community services Peter Fassbender. Price said the discussion quickly moved from amalgamation to integration — or how the region’s 13 municipalities can find cost efficiencies, instead of going for an outright blending of the communities.

In November, Fassbender stated the province would not do a study on amalgamation in the region, but speak with mayors on how to proceed on the issue — including looking at efficiencies.

“There was a lot of discussion about cost efficiencies,” Price said, “and a look at what shared regional services there are already.”

Price added there was an idea floated to do an in-depth study of how all the municipalities in the region can become more efficient.

Asked if this represents a step back from studying amalgamation outright, Price said he feels any business case made on amalgamation “will show the 13 are, essentially, amalgamated through the Capital Regional District.”

The previous minister of community, sport and cultural development, Coralee Oakes, had stated more than a year ago that the province would do an amalgamation study, in the wake of a referendum question during municipal elections in the region in 2014. Eight communities asked voters if they wanted such a study — a majority said yes.

In the case of Sidney, North Saanich and Central Saanich, Price said the three provide good examples of such shared services (recreation and wastewater treatment) — and where efficiencies already exist without having to amalgamate.

Questioned about police and fire services, Price said people have been fed misinformation about any cost savings there.

“You still need that same level of service, the same people, to be able to put out fires.”

As for the police, a combined force in a larger municipality would, in all likelihood, cost taxpayers more.

Price added he thinks any study on the amalgamation issue from the province will focus on efficiencies and how they can be improved upon.

Sidney was one of the eight regional communities to ask its electorate about amalgamation during the November, 2014 election.

The three Saanich Peninsula communities asked a variation on seeking provincial involvement (funding) for a study.

The province has since said it will not force amalgamation on the region and has been fielding questions and requests from local government on the terms of reference for any study they plan to do.