St. John's to stop pursuing amalgamation with Mount Pearl, Paradise - for now

New report recommends merger but St. John's mayor says city will focus instead on regional co-operation

Daniel MacEachern dmaceachern@thetelegram.com
Published on January 7, 2012
St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe speaks with reporters Friday on the release of the St. John's Amalgamation Report 2011.

St. John's Mayor Dennis O'Keefe says he and city council still believe in amalgamation with Paradise and Mount Pearl, but in the wake of a new review of its feasibility, will focus more on regional co-operation.

The city released its latest amalgamation study to the public Friday. The report - the fifth of its kind, cost about $34,000 - recommends St. John's continue to pursue amalgamation with Mount Pearl as well as the Elizabeth Park, Evergreen Village and St. Anne's Industrial Park areas of Paradise. This would bring together all lands which drain into the Waterford River basin and then into St. John's harbour.

The report says tax rates in St. John's would initially go down as a result of amalgamation, but acknowledges rates in Paradise and Mount Pearl - despite being lower in the longer term - would initially rise.

O'Keefe said Friday afternoon that given the lack of support in Paradise and Mount Pearl for amalgamation, the city will concentrate more on regional co-operation - but that amalgamation is an inevitability.

"You can read this report and you can pick at it and you can get enough information to kill the whole concept of 'let's all of us work together.' Or you can look at the report and you can find more than enough material to show that on a regional basis, the coming together, the re-organization of the St. John's metropolitan area is going to be a benefit in a number of ways for all of us who live here."

Paradise Mayor Ralph Wiseman dismissed the recommendations of what he said was a St. John's-centric report, calling them "amusing."

"What they're looking at is taking the service area of Paradise, and the industrial park of Paradise, to enrich their own coffers. That's basically what they want to do," he said.

"So this is a St. John's report, looking for a way to subsidize St. John's. They should move on and deal with their own problems. If it has to do with the provincial and federal governments, they should do that. They should not be looking to the people of Paradise to pay for them, and to leave the town of Paradise high and dry without the St. Anne's Industrial Park and any of the revenues that we'll be getting from the Elizabeth Park area."

Mount Pearl Deputy Mayor Jim Locke likewise said his city doesn't see any benefit in amalgamation.

"Our position as a council on the issue hasn't changed. We still view it as a non-issue," he said.

"There's no compelling evidence from our perspective as to the benefits to the residents of Mount Pearl for such an amalgamation."

Still, O'Keefe mused about the possibility of bypassing Mount Pearl and pursuing amalgamation with Paradise alone, but he also said the city wouldn't be asking the provincial government to step in to compel any sort of merger.

"We're not going to push, because when you push and you achieve something, you create bad feelings," he said.

"If the province is not going to do it, and the current politicians in the region are not going to do it, then we're not going to keep pushing it. We're not going to knock our heads against a wall."

Politicians and bureaucracies change, said O'Keefe, and some sort of re-organization is inevitable, he added, pointing to the success of the amalgamation of the communities into Conception Bay South.

Mount Pearl doesn't have any more room to grow, he pointed out, which is going to cause problems down the road unless something is done.

"The face of the metropolitan area, when my grandchildren are 25, is not going to be the current face of this area. It is going to change," he said.

Wiseman and Locke - who both received the report Friday - both welcomed O'Keefe's remarks on pursuing more regional co-operation.

"It's always better for us to co-operate regionally and look at ways that we can benefit from each other as opposed to trying to take over each other," Wiseman said.

Part of that greater co-operation is presenting a unified voice to the province in matters like the province's current fiscal arrangement with municipalities, O'Keefe said. To that end, he's called a meeting of metropolitan mayors for next week.

"None of us can exist any more with that arrangement the way it is. It has to change," he said.

"We're going to meet, and we're going to talk about coming up with one voice and approaching the province together as the urban core of the metropolitan area, and approach the province in a co-operative fashion in that way. So those are some of the things that we could be doing a lot of, and we're going to continue to go down that road and do more of that, and it's my hope that will lead us to where we want to be, five, 10, 15 years from now."

And where they want to be, he said, is with a reorganized metropolitan area.

"It may take time because of the current players, but it will happen, and it might happen despite people being involved because it will be driven by factors such as economics, and it will be driven by factors such as the need for more coherent planning, but it will happen."

Locke, though, disagrees that it's inevitable.

"That's not new. They've been singing that song for a number of years now."

dmaceachern@thetelegram.com Twitter: TelegramDanie