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Springfield ward changes sputter out

By: Jordan Ross

Posted: 03/12/2018 8:00 AM

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Ward boundary changes in the RM of Springfield may have to wait for the 2022 general election, as competing proposals for dealing with rapid population growth in Oakbank are failing to yield a consensus while a provincial deadline looms.

Reeve Bob Bodnaruk, who prefers 2018 property assessment data over 2016 census figures, and favours boundary adjustments over the creation of a new ward, said yesterday that a 38-signature petition presented to council earlier this week will trigger a municipal board hearing.

The petition seeks a full municipal board review of the ward boundary process in Springfield, said chief administrative officer Russell Phillips.

On Tuesday, Phillips informed council a municipal board hearing can’t be organized before Apr. 27, the deadline finalizing ward boundaries for the Oct. 24 general election, Bodnaruk said.

Council still has time to carry first reading of a new ward bylaw and satisfy the petitioners’ concerns at a public hearing, Phillips said.

The Manitoba Municipal Act requires municipalities to strive to achieve a near-equal number of residents in each ward to ensure proportionality.

Springfield’s current ward bylaw dates back to 2009.

Debate over the electoral implications of Oakbank’s booming population began Dec. 19, when council, absent the reeve, voted 3-2 to add a second Ward 2 councillor to address Oakbank’s population discrepancy.

A report from administration noted the rate of population growth in Oakbank nearly doubled that of the rest of Springfield during the last census period. As a result, the community’s 2016 population stood at 4,604, while other Springfield wards hovered around the 3,000 mark.

In December, council also turned down a recommendation to accept a $9,900 ward review quote from Morden-based Way To Go Consulting Inc., opting instead to task administration with generating recommendations.

Phillips’s report, delivered Feb. 27, leaned on data proffered by Peter Williams of DataLink Mapping Technologies in Oakbank.

Williams argued the municipality should elevate census data over assessment data, noting the latter, though more recent, does not differentiate between occupied and unoccupied buildings.

He proposed a new Ward 2 West bounded by Oakbank’s Main Street to the east, Willow Avenue and Lake Drive to the north, Vernon Road to the west, and Springfield Road to the south.

At a Feb. 27 meeting, a vote to add a second Oakbank councillor was defeated 3-3, Phillips said.

On Tuesday, Bodnaruk’s own proposal met the same fate.

His report, derived from preliminary assessment data, suggested altering the boundaries of Springfield’s other four wards to bring Ward 2 to within five percent of a one-fifth share of the municipality’s population.

Speaking with The Carillon, the reeve doubted the gridlock would end quickly.

"It sounds like we’re going to go into the next election the same way that we currently are, with the five wards and discrepancy between populations," Bodnaruk said.

He declined to comment on Williams’s participation but acknowledged both assessment data and census figures have pros and cons.

Bodnaruk said he wants to save taxpayers the estimated $60,000 in annual indemnities and expenses entailed by the addition of a sixth ward councillor.

"Money is a scarce resource," he said.

Resident feedback has been mixed, he added.

"It’s not an important issue to most people," he said.

"We get elected by wards, but our decisions…are for the municipality as a whole."

Still, Bodnaruk acknowledged the need to start the review process earlier to ensure ward population figures are adjusted as needed every term.

"It shouldn’t be sitting for eight years," he said. "We knew that the population was changing."

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