‘The ele­phant in the room’

Wind­sor and West Hants coun­cils get up­date on re­gion­al­iza­tion stud­ies

Valley Journal Advertiser - - NEWS - BY COLIN CHISHOLM WWW.HANTSJOURNAL.CA Colin.chisholm@hantsjournal.ca

There’s still some time be­fore the stud­ies re­lated to the Me­moran­dum of Un­der­stand­ing (MOU) are fi­nal­ized, but both Wind­sor and West Hants coun­cils got a progress up­date dur­ing a joint coun­cil meet­ing Oct. 26.

The stud­ies, paid for by the prov­ince, are a stop-gap mea­sure to see if ef­fi­cien­cies can be made be­tween the two mu­nic­i­pal units with­out hav­ing to for­mally amal­ga­mate.

Wind­sor coun­cil sus­pended its amal­ga­ma­tion ap­pli­ca­tion with the Nova Sco­tia Util­ity and Re­view Board to go through this more con­cil­ia­tory process with West Hants.

Ron Dauphi­nee, from the de­part­ment of mu­nic­i­pal af­fairs, gave some de­tails and an es­ti­mated time­line on the sta­tus of the 11 stud­ies cur­rently un­der­way as part of the MOU.

“The stud­ies are what’s typ­i­cally re­quested by the Util­ity and Re­view Board when con­sid­er­ing mu­nic­i­pal re­struc­ture,” Dauphi­nee said. “In­di­vid­u­ally, th­ese stud­ies are im­por­tant, but when taken to­gether as a whole, they should, I hope, paint a pic­ture of both the mer­its and de­mer­its of co­or­di­nated gov­ern­ment.”

The com­pre­hen­sive stud­ies in­clude look­ing at a va­ri­ety of the two unit’s op­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing: hu­man re­sources, fi­nance, po­lice, fire, wa­ter, roads, in­fra­struc­ture and gov­er­nance.

Most of the stud­ies are ex­pected to be com­pleted be­tween Nov. 30 and Jan. 1, 2018, a time­line Dauphi­nee de­scribed as “ag­gres­sive,” although some could take longer to com­plete.

The fea­si­bil­ity study on the new Wind­sor – West Hants Hockey Arena pro­pos­als is not part of this process.

Unique sit­u­a­tion

Dauphi­nee said this sit­u­a­tion is unique be­cause both coun­cils agreed to work to­gether, re­mov­ing them­selves from the typ­i­cal UARB model.

How­ever, the UARB process is only sus­pended while this me­moran­dum of un­der­stand­ing is un­der­way.

The stud­ies will ul­ti­mately try to de­ter­mine where ef­fi­cien­cies, gaps in ser­vices, or re­dun­dan­cies can be found be­tween the two units.

West Hants chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer Cathie Os­borne said, de­pend­ing on how a new ser­vices model is de­liv­ered, fewer staff - espe­cially at the se­nior level - would be re­quired.

“The ele­phant in the room is: Will we, as your CAOs, have enough in­for­ma­tion for you?” Os­borne said. “The Town of Wind­sor’s coun­cil have de­layed their move­ment with the Util­ity and Re­view Board, that’s the big­gest ques­tion.”

Wind­sor’s sus­pen­sion of the ap­pli­ca­tion to the UARB lasts un­til Fe­bru­ary 2018.

“It is a very chal­leng­ing time­line to a cer­tain ex­tent, but once we get this in­for­ma­tion, the big­gest chal­lenge will be de­ter­min­ing how you as coun­cil­lors work through it,” she said. “It’ll take more than one fa­cil­i­tated ses­sion, it’s a process.”

Mu­nic­i­pal staff, in­clud­ing the two CAOs, are han­dling some of the re­ports in­ter­nally, with mu­nic­i­pal af­fairs work­ing on or as­sist­ing with the re­main­der, while also con­sult­ing with pro­vin­cial and mu­nic­i­pal in­sti­tu­tions, such as RCMP and fire de­part­ments.

‘Prop­erly in­form the com­mu­nity’

Wind­sor chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer Louis Coutinho said he’s hope­ful th­ese stud­ies will clear the air on what could hap­pen.

“Once this is done, the whole is­sue of tax rates and the im­pact of the town’s debt on the res­i­dents of West Hants, there’s a lot of mis­in­for­ma­tion on that, about taxes go­ing up,” he said. “All of those things will come up with this study, to prop­erly in­form the com­mu­nity.” The De­vour! Food and Film Fest hosted what will be­come an an­nual event on the last day of the fes­ti­val in sup­port of re­gional food banks – a free roast chicken din­ner pre­pared by celebrity chefs, in­clud­ing Craig Flinn. The successful din­ner, held in Ro­bie Tufts Na­ture Park, raised sev­eral thou­sand dol­lars.

Mayor Anna Allen asked if the stud­ies will only ad­dress fi­nan­cial im­pact or also look into how changes could im­pact res­i­dents.

Dauphi­nee said the stud­ies pri­mar­ily ad­dress the fi­nan­cial side in the first phase, while look­ing at the hu­man fac­tor of choices next year.

Coun. Tanya Leopold ques­tioned whether the stud­ies would show how taxes would be im­pacted.

“We’re look­ing at it in a va­ri­ety of ways, there’s no one an­swer here,” Os­borne replied. “It could be a rec­om­men­da­tion to coun­cil for a shared ser­vices model or a re­gion­al­ized model, or some­thing en­tirely dif­fer­ent.”

It will ul­ti­mately be up to each elected coun­cil to de­cide how to go for­ward, she added.

West Hants War­den Abra­ham Ze­bian said he’s con­fi­dent that the stud­ies will be done ef­fec­tively and com­pe­tently to give both coun­cils a clear in­di­ca­tion of how they can move for­ward.

WENDY EL­LIOTT

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