Still up in the air

Wind­sor’s amal­ga­ma­tion ap­pli­ca­tion on hold as ques­tions sur­round gov­er­nance pi­lot pro­ject

Valley Journal Advertiser - - NEWS - BY COLIN CHISHOLM WWW.HANTSJOURNAL.CA Colin.Chisholm@HantsJournal.ca

While the Mu­nic­i­pal­ity of West Hants is re­quest­ing that Wind­sor sus­pend its ap­pli­ca­tion to the UARB to pur­sue amal­ga­ma­tion, the de­bate still has to be had in Wind­sor’s coun­cil cham­bers.

De­spite the dead­line of the mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing be­tween the two coun­cils pass­ing its ex­pi­ra­tion date, Wind­sor coun­cil gave no clear di­rec­tion on its in­ten­tion with the UARB ap­pli­ca­tion dur­ing the reg­u­lar coun­cil meet­ing on Feb. 27.

Coun. Jim Ivey said he’d like to see Wind­sor coun­cil with­draw its ap­pli­ca­tion to the UARB, say­ing the prov­ince is no longer in­ter­ested in forced amal­ga­ma­tions.

“If you look at these two coun­cils, we’ve prob­a­bly met and had more dis­cus­sions in the last 12 months than in the pre­vi­ous five years,” Ivey said.

“We haven’t al­ways agreed, but it’s never been so dis­agree­able that any­body has walked away. We know what it’s like when you try to force some­thing to­gether, and that’s all that’s go­ing to hap­pen, and they’ve been pretty firm on that.”

Deputy mayor Lau­rie Mur­ley said that more needs to be done be­tween the two mu­nic­i­pal units when it comes to work­ing to­gether.

She wants both units to con­sider be­com­ing part of a new mu­nic­i­pal mod­ern­iza­tion pi­lot pro­ject that would in­te­grate more ser­vices with­out di­rect amal­ga­ma­tion.

But, Mur­ley said, she still has ques­tions about the pro­ject it­self.

“There are things we don’t know about it. What will the terms of ref­er­ence look like? How long will this pi­lot pro­ject run? What are the out­comes go­ing to be? How will suc­cess be mea­sured?” Mur­ley said.

“We all know towns are pay­ing un­fair amounts of taxes, for in­fra­struc­ture in par­tic­u­lar, and roads are the big one. Re­ally ru­ral (mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties) don’t have to pay for the same things that we do. Will those out­comes help to level the play­ing field be­tween towns and ru­rals and, if so, how will the in­equities in roads and in­fra­struc­ture be dealt with?”

Mur­ley said the road cost inequity would likely be dealt with through amal­ga­ma­tion, even­tu­ally.

“Be­cause of that, I’m not in favour of re­mov­ing our­selves from the amal­ga­ma­tion ap­pli­ca­tion at this time,” she said, sug­gest­ing it be ex­tended to in­cor­po­rate the pi­lot pro­ject, what­ever that may look like.

Coun. Shel­ley Bibby said she is in favour of com­bin­ing or fur­ther in­te­grat­ing Wind­sor and West Hants, but said she wasn’t sure if forced amal­ga­ma­tion is the right way to do so.

ARC weighs in

Tom Calkin, a mem­ber of the Avon Re­gion Cit­i­zens’ Coali­tion (ARC), was in at­ten­dance and an­swered some ques­tions that coun­cil posed.

“You can­not, un­der the present le­gal struc­ture un­der Nova Sco­tia law, have an amal­ga­ma­tion hap­pen with­out it go­ing through the pub­lic util­i­ties board (UARB),” Calkin said.

“If you want us to carry on, we would try to help you with that; if you de­cided not to, we would un­der­stand that.”

He said that mem­bers were wait­ing to find out what Wind­sor coun­cil’s next steps would be.

“If we drag on and on and on, what cred­i­bil­ity do we have?” Calkin added.

He added that any ap­pli­ca­tion to ex­tend the UARB ap­pli­ca­tion would have to be done through ARC, as that group ini­ti­ated the process with its pe­ti­tion.

Calkin also said that the UARB didn’t re­spond to a re­quest to ex­tend the dead­line to Feb. 28.

“We do know the process of hav­ing amal­ga­ma­tion, as de­fined by the act, is not an easy one,” he said. “We believe you can put your two coun­cils to­gether, shrink coun­cil sizes, shrink the over­head and save money in the long haul.”

He added that if the amal­ga­ma­tion idea is aban­doned now, it will be much more dif­fi­cult to re­vive it in the near fu­ture.

Ivey said ARC’s data is now dated, as much of it was gath­ered in 2015.

“We wait much longer and that’s go­ing to be even more stale; we’re hang­ing onto some­thing and it’s time to let it go,” Ivey said.

Wind­sor Mayor Anna Allen said a number of things have changed since ARC’s ini­tial pe­ti­tion, which con­tained more than 2,600 sig­na­tures.

“At that time, it looked like the only change we could make was amal­ga­ma­tion,” she said. “It started off as a dirty word, and has be­come the only op­tion for mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, and now it’s seen… as not a re­ally good idea (by the prov­ince).”

She echoed the minister of mu­nic­i­pal af­fair’s let­ter, which stated that the pro­vin­cial govern­ment is no longer in­ter­ested in fi­nanc­ing amal­ga­ma­tions.

Allen still wants to see change in terms of gov­er­nance and re­gional ser­vice, ideally be­fore this coun­cil’s man­date is over in 2020.

“If we can do that and the res­i­dents can see us do­ing that, I would say ARC did their job, be­cause you brought us to that point,” Allen said.

She said that a joint plan­ning strat­egy be­tween the town and the mu­nic­i­pal­ity is an ob­vi­ous step that the two units could pur­sue.

Mo­tion tabled

Ivey made a mo­tion to cease the amal­ga­ma­tion ap­pli­ca­tion through the UARB and the part­ner­ship with ARC; how­ever, that mo­tion was tabled and will be ad­dressed at a later date.

Mur­ley made a mo­tion ask­ing for her ques­tions about the pi­lot pro­ject be ad­dressed. That mo­tion was passed. Allen also sug­gested con­tact­ing the Mu­nic­i­pal­ity of West Hants coun­cil to see if it would like to sup­port that mo­tion as well and send a joint let­ter to the minister.

She added that, for now, the amal­ga­ma­tion ap­pli­ca­tion is up in the air.

Mayor Anna Allen

Deputy Mayor Lau­rie Mur­ley

ARC mem­ber Tom Calkin

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