WINDSOR – The Town of Windsor could soon be no more - and one councillor believes it could benefit the business community.
The Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board received applications from a community group and the Town of Windsor Feb. 24 to merge the town with the Municipality of West Hants.
Council heard during the Windsor council meeting Feb. 23 that members of the Avon Region Citizens (ARC) group was ready to send its application to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board. As per motions from council late last year, the town agreed to make its own application in tandem.
Coun. John Bregante believed amalgamation was in the best interests of the business community.
“It’ll bring prosperity,” the Windsor councillor said. “There have been businesses that have looked at the area in the past and have decided not to come here to set up shop because there was too much in-fighting between Windsor and West Hants. As a direct result, it has cost the area thousands of jobs and dollars."
Windsor council gave its full support to the initiative, agreeing to submit its application to amalgamate, jointly with ARC.
Mayor Paul Beazley told the members he’s been pushing for this since he took office.
“The important part is the community aspect of it. It truly is the people who want this. Democracy in action is what we saw here tonight," Beazley said.
“I’m very hopeful that we’ll see amalgamation in the not-to-distant future. We’ve supported ARC in their application, we’ll have to see what the UARB says about it.”
Beazley said the provincial government is in favour of municipal reform; combining Windsor and West Hants is simply a matter of time.
“We’re looking forward to working proactively for change,” he said. “We’ve invited (West Hants) to join us in this process. ARC asked them to come along. It’s time to move forward.”
Windsor chief administrative officer Louis Coutinho said the application is not another dispute between the town and the municipality.
“It’s now before the URB, who will call who they want to call, and if West Hants has reasons to not want to provide information or participate, that’s between them,” Coutinho said. “This was a citizen application, it’s not between councils, it’s a disagreement with the community.”
Kathy Monroe, one of the lead organizers of the initiative with ARC, said the action was consistent with the Ivany Report’s suggestion to streamline local governments to increase efficiency.
The process began last September, when several citizens discussed what could be done to improve local governance in the region.
“While what galvanized the need for action may have been West Hants council’s decisions regarding fire services, numerous additional concerns go far beyond this issue,” Monroe said during her presentation Feb. 23.
“Citizens have long witnessed the lack of co-operation between the two municipalities. They’ve been the victims of the inability of these two units to work together for the benefit of all.”
Monroe said the petition that was circulated last year garnered nearly double the number of signatures necessary to make a citizen-led application for amalgamation to the NSURB, which will be a first in Nova Scotia’s history.
“It was obvious that wherever we canvassed, there was an angry electorate looking for change,” she added. “We are confident that this provides a strong mandate for us to go forward with this request of amalgamation.”
If the application is accepted by the NSURB, it’s highly unlikely that the two units could merge prior to this October’s municipal election.
Stan Kochanoff, with ARC, said the group will be putting up ARC-endorsed candidates for the upcoming election in West Hants.
West Hants role unknown
ARC members said West Hants declined an invitation to join in the application.
Monroe said the application to the NSURB is the biggest milestone in the process so far, but there’s still a long road ahead.
“I suspect West Hants will be an intervener,” Monroe said, following the council meeting.
In terms of funding for attorneys and other resources, Monroe said ARC will “cross that bridge” when they get to it.
“We’re very hopeful that the province will step up,” she said. “We’ve been told that we’ll get funding, so we’ll see if that’s true or not.”
Cathie Osborne, chief administrative officer of West Hants, said her staff and council are waiting for the NSURB’s decision.
“If the board should accept their application and call for some action, we will have to respond as a responder,” Osborne said. “It’s up to the board to make that decision.”
Osborne said she couldn’t say whether or not the municipality will act as an intervener, but it will be involved if the process goes ahead.
“At some point, we’ll take the matter to council with our legal advisor to discuss our approach,” she said.
West Hants Council passed a motion in November to veto studying amalgamation with Windsor.
At that time, West Hants Coun. Shirley Pineo, who made the motion, said it was premature to consider merging the two units.
“We are still in the process of working through the dissolution process with Hantsport,” Osborne said. “There’s an awful lot of work involved with responding to whatever requests may come through the board or any response to studies. It’s an awful lot of work to put on a municipality that’s still dealing with responding to the results of a dissolution process.”