New act could create economic leap here

A new Municipal Act introduced at Queen’s Park yesterday could open doors for economic development here.
If passed, the proposed act would come into effect Jan. 1, 2003, giving municipalities more authority to set up corporations and involve the private sector in partnerships to finance and undertake public projects.
“It is good news for any municipality that has the desire to take advantage of it,” said Mayor Glenn Witherspoon. “It gives us a lot more flexibility in regards to reducing red tape for subdivisions and other future development.”
The act will reduce the amount of applications all towns have to send to the provincial government, often causing delays and hurdles to set back development.
It also will allow municipal governments to set up business corporations as a way to finance or deliver services—a move which could influence private-sector prices such as gas prices.
As well, municipal councils would be given more control to make communities safer, healthier, and to remove nuisances by giving them the power to close “crack houses,” gang clubhouses,” and “rub shops” as a public nuisance or order landowners to clear refuse and debris from their land.
Municipalities have been demanding more control for decades.
“Over the years, I’ve gone to many conferences and bear pit sessions where it’s one-on-one with the ministers and one of the things municipalities often repeated was the Municipal Act and when are you going to give us the people powers to make things move,” said Mayor Witherspoon.
“And it’s here, so it’s good news,” he noted.
“Municipalities have asked for a modern, streamlined Municipal Act that gives them new flexibility to react quickly to local economic, environmental, or social changes,” Municipal Affairs and Housing minister Chris Hodgson said yesterday.
But the proposed act, while giving more control to municipal councils, also would require more accountability from them.
Municipalities would have to publicly disclose improvements in service delivery, be accountable to taxpayers for their purchasing practices, and have limits placed on their ability to regulate business and impose user fees.
“We’ve consulted extensively, we’ve worked hard with municipal and business groups to find the right balance between municipal flexibility and strong accountability to taxpayers,” said Hodgson.
“The proposed new act reflects that balance.”