Over the course of the past several weeks, a number of gatherings have been held in Gander and in Benton.
Yes, gatherings. Call them meetings, call them public consultations, call them whatever you like. The fact is, residents of both communities gathered together on multiple occasions to talk about something very important in terms of the futures of both Gander and Benton.
It’s uncertain at this point when or even if it will happen, but these two communities are poised to become one. The annexation, or joining, of Benton to Gander is an almost foregone conclusion. Benton is suffering from a number of ailments, not the least of which are its sub-standard water filtration and distribution system and its challenged sewage treatment system.
Add to that the fact the local service district can’t collect property taxes from a portion of residents and you can see how things are not likely to improve anytime soon.
A while back, the folks who make up the local service district committee came up with an idea to save their community — join Gander and hope the partnership will result in survival for Benton.
Money was secured from the Department of Municipal Affairs for a comprehensive study of how annexation might work, and how it might happen in the first place. A consulting firm was contracted to conduct the study, parts of which included public meetings in both communities.
When the 2011 Census was made public back in February, it listed Gander’s population at 11,054 and Benton’s at 175. At the first public meeting about annexation held in Benton around the same time, close to 40 people turned out to listen to the presentation and give the consultants their opinions about annexation. A similar meeting held in Gander around the same time was attended by around 30 people.
Last week, a second round of public meetings were held in both communities, this time for consultants to present their findings and recommendations to residents regarding annexation.
In both cases, the consultants recommended the communities join together.
In Benton, the turnout was greater than at the first meeting. A flyer sent through the mail to households in both communities outlined what might be in store for the annexed community, including water, sewer and fire protection services.
In Benton, more than 50 people showed up for the second meeting. Residents were vocal on both sides, some in favour of annexation, some very much against it.
In Gander, the second meeting was poorly attended. Subtract the number of elected officials and town employees on hand, and the consultants themselves, and there were eight members of the public in attendance.
Eight people. Out of 11,054. In Benton, close to one-third of the population cared to come out and hear what might happen to their community in the future. In Gander, .07 per cent of residents bothered to be informed.
If you consider the recommendations put forth by the consultants, and if you’d bothered to attend either meeting, you’d know this — the annexation of Benton to Gander is inevitable. It’s going to happen. There are some things that have to be worked out, including how much of the $3 million price tag Gander will be on the hook for regarding infrastructure upgrades in Benton, but it’s going to happen.
It may not happen this year, or next year. But it’s going to happen.
And when it does, the residents of Gander will have to respect the decisions made by their elected officials. After all, only a handful of local residents showed up to the meetings.
Benton and Gander will become one. As to why the residents of Gander don’t seem to care all that much? Tough to say. Apathy? Ignorance? Trust in council to do the right thing?
Who knows. All that’s certain is at the end of the day, it’s going to happen — whether or not you bothered to take part in the process.
Benton will become a part of Gander. And our opinion? It’s a good thing. And that’s an informed opinion.