The Municipality of the County of Richmond held public consultation sessions around the municipality last year.

ARICHAT: According to public feedback, a majority of Richmond County residents want a mayor instead of a warden.

During the regular monthly meeting of Richmond Municipal Council on January 28 in Arichat, councillors approved the recommendation of the committee-of-the-whole to accept Richmond County’s strategic plan for 2019-2024.

In the strategic plan, Richmond County officials detailed feedback provided during the public consultation process in which eight meetings were held in communities around the municipality.

The document also includes the results of a survey completed by Richmond County residents.

One of the more notable results was that 76.62 per cent of residents who did the survey support a mayoral system to govern the municipality, while only 23.38 per cent favour the current warden system.

According to the strategic plan document, “an overwhelming majority” of those who attended the planning sessions last year also stated their preference was to move to a system to elect a mayor.

“The people that came to these sessions… they’re informed citizens,” Richmond CAO Kent MacIntyre recalled. “They were passionate about their communities.”

Following last month’s meeting, Deputy Warden Brian Marchand said only a small fraction of the population – 154 residents – gave their opinion in the survey, and he felt the public did not have sufficient information to make an informed decision.

“I was surprised at the numbers,” Marchand told The Reporter. “I believe it was only one or two per cent of the population that was there. I think people should have had more information before making a yes or no pick out of that.”

According to the Municipal Government Act, should council decide to proceed with the change, it must authorize administration to begin the application process on or before October 1.

To make this change, as prescribed in the strategic plan, council has to first debate the governance model, then undertake a public engagement process with meetings and provide more options for input, and finally, have the administrative arm of the municipality define the process, estimate the cost and examine the workability of moving to a mayor.

Although he acknowledged that the number of residents who gave their opinions was not large and not everyone had all the information they needed, Richmond Warden Jason MacLean said there seems to be a consensus.

“It gives you a little flavour as to what people are thinking,” the warden said.

MacLean explained that instead of voting for a municipal councillor only, voters across the county would also be asked to vote for a mayor.

“If it switches to a mayor, you’d have a mayor and five councillors, one councillor representing each district,” MacLean said. “The immediate cost would be now you have an extra councillor and all you’d essentially be doing is changing the title from warden to mayor.”

Council will be discussing the strategic plan during its regular monthly meeting scheduled for February 25 in Arichat.

The strategic plan and survey results can be viewed on the municipality’s Web site at: http://www.richmondcounty.ca/council/municipal-documents.html?own=0.