West Hants council vetoes studying amalgamation

Carole Morris-Underhill editor@hantsjournal.ca
Published on November 16, 2015

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WEST HANTS – Council is not comfortable moving forward with any discussion on amalgamation between Windsor and West Hants at this point in time.

During their Nov. 10 meeting, Coun. Shirley Pineo made a motion that council agree that it is premature to consider amalgamation with the Town of Windsor and that the municipality opposes contributing any money to the cost of a study relating to such an application.

“I think we heard from the staff here loud and clear... that they are still working through the transition with the Town of Hantsport information,” said Pineo. “I don't think they can honestly take on any more at this time without us having to hire a lot more staff to help and I don't see that as being a proper thing to do.”

Prior to Pineo's motion, the municipality's lawyer, Peter Rogers, presented to council a verbal report on the potential for municipal reform. He cautioned council about rushing into things.

“My concern is we haven't had time to evaluate how closely the Hantsport dissolution worked out relative to the projections the experts made, whether the assumptions that went into those reports are bearing out, and I'm just concerned about launching into a bigger amalgamation,” said Rogers.

He noted that Windsor has a much greater “critical mass” than the former Town of Hantsport did when the county absorbed them July 1.

The municipality's Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Cathie Osborne said they were just four months into examining the impact dissolution has had on the county.

“To be honest there's really no extra time in the day for us to take on anything more at this time,” said Osborne.

“We are three-weeks into a new fire service. We're only four months into Hantsport so we don't even know what the full year is going to look like or what the impact might have on taxes or not,” Osborne added.

Pineo also said she can't tell her constituents yet what the financial impact of absorbing Hantsport will have.

“We can't even go out to our citizens at this point in time and tell them whether this is going to cost them extra money on their tax dollars, whether it's going to be a total wash, whether Hantsport citizens will absorb all the costs,” said Pineo. “We don't know that yet. We have to work through this first year and I think there's a lot of unknowns out there.”

Two councillors – Jennifer Daniels and Paul Morton – voted against Pineo's motion.

“Is there no reason why we, as two municipal units, can't write to the province and ask how they may support some preliminary discussions,” Daniels asked earlier in the evening, suggesting the provincial government may help fund some groundwork.

Rogers said while the municipality could ask, he didn't see them stepping up to the plate with funding.

I think there would be a reluctance on the part of the province to embark on those without a pretty clear statement of intent that both municipalities are interested in the process,” said Rogers.

Morton indicated during the meeting that he wanted to see figures before making any decision about amalgamation.

The topic was discussed at the meeting due to a citizen-led petition that is currently being circulated in the area in an effort to have the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board examine combining the two municipal units. The petition already has enough signatures to be submitted for consideration.