VICTORIA -- The City of Victoria and the District of Saanich have approved of joint terms of reference to form a citizens' assembly that will explore the costs, benefits and disadvantages of amalgamating the two municipalities.

The joint terms of reference outline the cost to form a citizens' assembly, the assembly's responsibilities, its work process and expectations of an eventual report. The report would then produce non-binding recommendations to both municipalities. 

The citizens' assembly's recommendations will include a range of topics, like ways to optimize efficiencies between the two areas, mutual agreements and the recommendation for or against amalgamation. 

"The two councils have worked rigorously to come up with joint terms of reference as requested by the province," said Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes in a news release Wednesday.

Moving forward, Saanich and Victoria will present their joint terms of reference to B.C.'s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing alongside a request for funding. The municipalities are asking for a third of the project to be covered by the province, with each municipality and the province contributing up to $250,000 each, for a total of up to $750,000.

Costs to form the citizens' assembly include the process of selecting random residents from both municipalities, determining the scope of the assembly's mandate and the time that it will take to evaluate the case for or against amalgamation of the two areas. 

"The work of the citizens’ assembly needs to be free of interference by elected officials and lobbyist group," said Haynes. "It’s important that the recommendations they will provide will be based on facts rather than emotions."

The District of Saanich says that no confirmed timeline to review the joint terms of reference and request for funding have been provided by the provincial government yet. Once a timeline is announced, both municipalities will begin searching for a consultant that can provide a technical analysis to help determine the citizens' assembly's exact scope of work. 

"As the elected leaders of Saanich, the job of mayor and council is to look after the best interests of our community and our residents," said Haynes. "A decision of this magnitude must be well-considered and not rushed."