WINDSOR, NS - The Town of Windsor and Municipality of the District of West Hants could be on the cutting edge with a new approach to regional governance.
In February 2017, Windsor town council gave unanimous approval to entering into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with West Hants. Windsor agreed to suspend its application to the provincial Utility and Review Board (UARB) to amalgamate the two units for one year.
A third party involved, the Avon Region Citizens Coalition (ARC), also agreed to suspend its amalgamation application for the same period and monitor both councils. The citizens group had gathered some 2,600 signatures on a petition in favour of amalgamation - the catalyst for the application. The town then signed on to ARC’s application.
Windsor Mayor Anna Allen said the MOU with West Hants has now expired. There are differing opinions among members of each council on how successful the two units were in meeting the objectives of the MOU, she says.
“Some see it as being very successful, some see it as not as successful as we had hoped,” Allen said.
The MOU essentially stated that both councils would strive to work together whenever possible, including sharing of services and breaking down existing barriers.
Windsor council dealt with whether or not to move forward with the amalgamation application on Feb. 27. Allen said the province has been looking at ways to give municipal units the opportunity to work together to improve governance structures without going so far as amalgamating.
“This is brand new,” Allen said. “They’re developing a strategy which will be a regional lens, if you will.”
The councils of Windsor and West Hants could be the first partners out of the gate in exploring this new approach to regional governance. Allen said terms of reference have to be drawn up and she admits her council is still “a little leery” because the framework hasn’t been fully defined. The town wants its concerns addressed as the initiative moves forward.
But, she said, Windsor council has agreed to write a letter to the province to clarify whether or not both municipal units will have input into the terms of reference and how the governance model will work; whether or not there are objectives to meet; and the timeframe involved.
A lot of details remain outstanding, Allen said, but staff in the provincial Department of Municipal Affairs is working hard to define the model.
But, there are still outstanding issues between the two governments. Allen said that if Windsor drops the amalgamation piece, it wouldn’t have anything to fall back on if the new approach to regional cooperation doesn’t work. She said the town isn’t trying to hold anything over anyone’s head but the Municipality of West Hants wants the town to drop the application.
“My council feels that it’s sort of a safety net, if you will, so that we can make changes if this regional idea doesn’t work very well,” she said.
But, Allen believes both municipal units are committed to making it work. There is “truly great interest in moving forward and making things work better for our citizens,” she said.
The province has made it known that there isn’t any funding available to assist in the process but it will help facilitate and provide in-kind support. The provincial government has also made it clear it isn’t interested in forced amalgamations.
“At least we can set parameters now and try to make it work regionally,” Allen said.
The Hantsport experience
If Windsor’s town status was dissolved and it was merged with West Hants, it wouldn’t be the first community to see this happen in the area. On June 1, 2015, the UARB handed down a decision with regard to Hantsport’s dissolution application, ruling that the town would dissolve into the Municipality of West Hants with no possibility of village status.
The decision followed a lengthy process that also involved the County of Kings at one point. The five options the UARB was considering included merging Hantsport with Kings County, with or without village status, merging with West Hants, with or without village status, or having Hantsport remain as a town.
Financial studies painted a bleak picture for Hantsport’s future as a town after it experienced a steep decline in commercial tax revenue.
The UARB’s written decision stated, “A combined municipality (either with West Hants or Kings) would comprise a viable municipal entity and dissolution would be in the best financial interests of the town’s residents.”
- With files from Colin Chisholm