By Stephen Hawboldt
Like much of rural Nova Scotia, the western end of the Annapolis Valley is facing challenging economic and community issues. Our community infrastructure is under severe stress due to a declining and aging population and diminished economic opportunities. As one step in addressing these pressing issues, some municipal units have or are discussing combined and consolidated services.
The most successful consolidation is the Queens Municipality where Liverpool and Queens County joined forces to enhance services, reduce costs, and improve governance. That local government is now well positioned to respond to the economic challenges surrounding the future of Abitibi Bowater. In the geographic area of Annapolis County, there are four municipal administrations with little sharing of services. The redundancies are costly for all taxpayers. Maybe there is something we could learn from Queens.
In an effort to provoke discussion on this topic, over the next few months, this column will from time to time, focus on the sharing of services among our four municipal governments. Do we need nearly 30 councillors with four separate administrations, tax, public works, water and wastewater, recreation, and other service infrastructure systems? This seems a bit excessive since our population is less than 25,000.
On November 25, citizens in Annapolis County District 7, encompassing the area from Round Hill to West Paradise and West Dalhousie will be electing a new councillor from a field of six candidates. As the first column in this series, these six candidates were asked by e-mail: “What are your thoughts on the sharing of municipal services in the geographic area of Annapolis County?”
By the November 10 deadline, five submitted responses. Some replies were only a few words while others were quite long and detailed. To stay within the space requirements of this column, summaries were necessary.
Anne Crossman recognizes that some past efforts to share services have not gone well, she says we must collaborate to, “share our diminishing resources and still provide the best services.” She thinks the existing Mayors and Warden Council should be examining the Queens Municipality model. She is concerned that the province may force it.
Citing the $700,000 in savings for Queens Municipality in the first year of consolidation, Timothy Habinski replies, “I am fully in favour of sharing and consolidating municipal services.” He says we need an open dialogue now to seek a solution that will create a “new spirit of cooperation” so as to increase efficiency of services and improve economic prospects.
Blair Hannan submitted a single-sentence reply. “ I am all in favor of sharing assets but we must have a real long look at what we have and need.” No amplification was offered.
Burt McNeil is a “firm believer in shared services.” He thinks that there is now an opportunity to begin these discussions as Bridgetown may be restructuring itself. “I would expect that there could be saving for all of the units which would mean savings for the taxpayers,” he adds.
No reply was received from John Rowlings.
Joan Wood is unaware of any discussion on consolidation of services, “only the talk we hear on the street.” While concerned about rising costs and duplication of services, she wants more information before giving her views. As “an open-minded person” she will make her views known when the discussion begins.
The views of these candidates offer a range of options on the consolidation of municipal services. If local elected officials do not address this important issue, it is highly likely that economic and community circumstances will force it. Are we leaders or followers?
Comments are always welcome and can be addressed to Stephen.Hawboldt@eastlink.ca