It's an idea that has been floating around for years, and in late March, the process of amalgamating Labrador City and Wabush took a big step forward.
In 2017, a feasibility study recommended moving forward with amalgamation and suggested the first step should be holding meetings to discuss how it should move forward with the public. That happened in late March, says Mayor Wayne Button of Labrador City.
“The meetings, in my mind, were very good," he said. "We had about 90 people at the meeting in Labrador City and about 60 in Wabush. At the session, which involved some round table discussions, people were asked to vote on several questions (using electronic devices). Two votes were held on each question at the beginning and later to judge how the sessions may have influenced the thoughts of people as they progressed throughout the meeting."
Button says the biggest concern he has been hearing centres around taxes. He says town council cannot predict what would happen there, as it depends on many variables. He also says the structure of the election process of a combined council seems to be a big concern for residents of Wabush, and says if they do not have more than one councillor elected, it would affect how many residents felt about amalgamation.
Votes at the sessions indicated that residents are in favour of holding a plebiscite to decide the issue, as they feel it’s a decision the people have to vote on, not members of the town council.
Both meetings were open to residents of either community.
Button says after the final consultants' report is received, he and the town council will meet and decide if a plebiscite will be carried out and discuss potential timing. He is hoping that could happen in September, as provincial elections will take up people's time in the summer and vacations might mean many voters are away.
Low turnout a concern: Barron
Meanwhile, Wabush Mayor Ron Barron says he was glad people showed up but he was concerned by the low attendance at both meetings.
"One hundred and fifty people, out of a population of close to ten thousand, tells me there isn’t a lot of interest in the issue."
He also wasn’t a fan of the way the meetings were carried out, saying that he would have preferred an open mic-style meeting, where people were encouraged to share concerns. He says round table discussions meant people may not have heard some of the points that were being made.
Barron says his council will decide its next move when the final report by the consultants is released, which could mean either dropping the idea of pursuing amalgamation or move forward with a plebecite. Given the turnout of recent meeting meetings, he said, he's concerned a plebiscite could be decided by very few people, but believes it's a decision that must be made by voters and not town council.
Barron says if the decision to drop the idea of amalgamation goes ahead, he will still pursue more cooperation and shared services between both councils. Whether amalgamation could cut costs is still up in the air, he adds, as the original report showed no huge savings - only roughly two per cent of the budgets of the communities.
The idea of amalgamation was to save money, he adds, and questions whether that will become a reality. With $170,000 already spent on a feasibility study, he wonders whether the plebiscite should have been held prior to approving that type of expenditure.
It's expected the final report will be released by the consultants in May.