Amalgamation of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows will be on the agenda of both city councils, in the form of a letter from school board chair and former parks general manager Mike Murray.
He says “the two cities are essentially one community with several neighbourhoods,” and points out that they share a school district, hospital, health authority, library system, chamber of commerce, policing and an airport.
“The vast majority of the sports, arts, business and faith-based organizations, social service agencies, seniors groups, veterans groups and service clubs in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows provide support to citizens and include participants/members/customers/clients from both cities,” Murray says in the letter.
“One has to ask why the citizens who provide leadership to these groups see the benefit of working as single entities serving all of the residents of this area so clearly when our city governments seem to be heading in the opposite direction.”
Murray said he is writing as a private citizen, and was clear that this is not the position of the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school board. Murray is school board chair, and worked for the City of Maple Ridge from 1977 to 2010, retiring as the general manager of community development, parks and recreation.
In the three-page document, he proposes each city hold a referendum on amalgamation, as Abbotsford and Matsqui did in 1995, “following years of joint service delivery.”
He suggests a single council of nine members, with a ward system for equal representation for various areas.
“An amalgamation would address the current inability to reconcile the two councils’ differences, and avoid duplication at the governance and administrative levels,” he writes.
“In addition, as the new city of Abbotsford discovered, a city with a combined population of 101,000 would be better able to address larger challenges and achieve more than two cities of 83,000 and 18,000 acting independently.”
Murray suggests senior levels of government “would applaud the initiative,” and may offer support, and even fund the referendum.
He sent the letter to both mayors and senior staff, as well as MLAs Doug Bing and Marc Dalton.
Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read said Murray’s letter will come before her council for discussion.
“I understand Mike’s concerns, and with the number of connected services, it [amalgamation] seems a logical next step,” said Read.
However, she said the issue has not been a discussed by Maple Ridge council, even with the backdrop of the cities parting ways in tourism and parks and leisure services.
“We’re not at a point where we’re having those conversations,” said Read.
“I have never heard a suggestion of amalgamation from a Pitt Meadows resident,” said Becker. “We are very happy with who and what we are. The two communities have very different personalities.”
An example of that, he said, is that Maple Ridge is “an active growth community,” while Pitt Meadows has adopted a “constrained growth model.”
That Pitt Meadows has 85 per cent of its land in the Agricultural Land Reserve is “at the core of our differences,” he said.
Becker said it’s difficult for most people to see where Pitt Meadows ends and Maple Ridge begins, and the two cities have identified areas where both benefit by cooperating in delivering services.
“I have a lot of respect for Mike Murray. He’s been around a long time,” said Becker. “But I cannot embrace this on any level.”
That’s not the end of the matter.
Murray’s correspondence will be included in council’s next agenda, and any member of council can “pull it out” for comment or as the subject of a motion.
Or, it could be simply “received” as information as part of a batch of correspondence.
Some councillors have seen the letter, and “the response has been under whelming,” said Becker.
Pitt Meadows Coun. Bruce Bell said the letter was a surprise to him, given the climate of political friction.
“To do something like that, the councils should be working well on a lot of fronts,” said Bell. “His timing is out.”
Bell is in his third term on council, has lived in Pitt Meadows 36 years and is skeptical residents would want to join with Maple Ridge.
“The residents of Pitt Meadows are very proud of Pitt Meadows, and it’s uniqueness,” he said. “I don’t think it would be supported.”
Some Maple Ridge politicians say the cities are practically joined already.
“He [Murray] is a little late getting on the bandwagon,” said Coun. Gordy Robson, who tackled this issue himself as mayor.
“Ninety per cent of our services are already amalgamated,” he said. “The only things that aren’t are public works, fire departments and politicians.”
He said the issues of friction between the two cities, including parks and recreation, tourism and the Pitt Meadows airport, could all be resolved.
“We should be talking to a marriage counsellor, not a divorce lawyer.”
The united cities, with more than 100,000 residents combined, would gain political clout, with a stronger voice to senior government, and at the table with Metro Vancouver, Robson said.
“I would like to see amalgamation happen,” he added. “But they [Pitt Meadows residents] will feel they’re being absorbed.”
He said the issue could easily be put on a ballot during the next municipal election cycle.