CAO hopeful task force will help transform municipalities

Ashley Thompson
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Louis Coutinho is hopeful his involvement with the Towns Task Force will help municipalities in the long term.

Windsor CAO Louis Coutinho is playing an instrumental role on the Towns Task Force assembled to examine the plight of Nova Scotia’s municipalities.

The task force is tackling such issues as lack of land for growth, service delivery discrepancies, urban core road pressures, policing costs and cost-sharing around residential and commercial development situated close to a border.

Coutinho, the president of the Association of Municipal Administrators, sits on the task force as a member of the association that represents all 55 municipalities within the province. The Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities (UNSM) has six members serving on the task force, including three rural representatives and three provincial government employees.

“The purpose is to represent all of the towns and [examine] all of the issues that all municipalities are facing,” said Coutinho, a 36-year public servant.

The task force is in the process of drafting recommendations to present to municipal leaders throughout the province. The recommendations will be revised once the regional consultation process is through by the end of June, finalized in July, sent to the UNSM for approval in August, then revealed at the UNSM annual general meeting in September.

At that point, it will be up to the province to take the task force’s report — or leave it.

“The province would have to take some initiative in insuring the report doesn’t sit on the shelf,” said Coutinho, adding that some of the fundamental changes may require amendments to the Municipal Government Act.

“At the end of the day if it’s just another report that identifies issues and sits on the shelf, then we’ve all wasted a year and some of our time. There’s been a lot of time and effort put into it.”

“To me it would be great to feel that I not only worked to get a pay cheque, but worked to make a difference.” Louis Coutinho

Coutinho says some ideas discussed through the task force came from a review of how other provinces, or countries, govern. Others, he says, were sheer innovation.

“One of the recommendations we’ve made to the province is… to develop a set of performance indicators to actually be able to determine when somebody is in trouble,” Coutinho said, adding that it is important the provincial government steps in before a municipality is facing dissolution.

“I’d like to see the province take a stronger stand in intervening when it sees issues with municipalities deteriorating.”

The task force is also identifying municipalities relying on one or two industries to make the government aware of areas with limited sources of economic stability.

Coutinho says the $100,000 grant the province set aside for the task force to retain a consultant has remained untouched, but municipal leaders have invested a lot of time and energy into the project.

“At the end of the day you want to make things better. Not necessarily for yourself, but for those who follow you.”

He’s optimistic the hard work will create positive changes within the province.

“To me it would be great to feel that I not only worked to get a pay cheque, but worked to make a difference.”

Organizations: Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, Association of Municipal Administrators

Geographic location: Nova Scotia

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