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Windsor suspends amalgamation application, signs MOU with West Hants

Windsor Mayor Anna Allen and West Hants Warden Abraham Zebian sign a memorandum of understanding Feb. 8 that will see the municipal units work cooperatively together for the betterment of the entire region.
Windsor Mayor Anna Allen and West Hants Warden Abraham Zebian sign a memorandum of understanding Feb. 8 that will see the municipal units work cooperatively together for the betterment of the entire region.

WEST HANTS, N.S. — The Town of Windsor is seeking to suspend its application for amalgamation after a historic memorandum of understanding was signed today by the town's mayor and West Hants' warden.

A special council meeting was held at 4 p.m. on Feb. 8 in West Hants' council chambers. After about a 45-minute private, in camera session, West Hants council voted to enter into the MOU. Following the motion, the majority of Windsor's council stopped by to watch as Mayor Anna Allen and Warden Abraham Zebian signed the agreement.

A special council meeting was held at 4 p.m. on Feb. 8 in West Hants' council chambers. After about a 45-minute private, in camera session, West Hants council voted to enter into the MOU. Following the motion, the majority of Windsor's council stopped by to watch as Mayor Anna Allen and Warden Abraham Zebian signed the agreement.

The purpose of the MOU is to see if both municipal units can work together to create efficiencies.

“The Town of Windsor is going to suspend our application to the UARB for up to a year and work on some initiatives between the two units so that we can move our community forward in a positive manner,” said Allen mere minutes after signing the document.

She said their next step is to request that the Nova Scotia Utilities and Review Board temporarily halt working on the amalgamation application filed by the town and the Avon Region Citizens Coalition (ARC).

Allen said the application before the UARB is causing a stumbling block between the two councils, and by suspending it, they will be able to get more accomplished.

“We met with out CAOs and quite frankly, this application was really standing in the way of progress, I think,” she said.

“There's so many things that we could be doing for the betterment of the community and we do want to work towards the ultimate perfect governance structure for our community. But to do that, we have to take this route.”

Prior to the special council meeting Feb. 8, Windsor was in favour of pursuing amalgamation studies while West Hants council was opposed. West Hants' lawyer appealed the UARB's decision to require the county to help pay for studies that would show the pros and cons of amalgamating the two municipal units.

Windsor Mayor Anna Allen and West Hants Warden Abraham Zebian hug Feb. 8 after agreeing that both municipal units will work together.

The UARB became involved in the process after a citizen-led petition, led by ARC and backed by the Town of Windsor, was presented. The petition, which garnered about 20 per cent of the population, wanted to see the benefits of amalgamation be explored. It was also the way citizens could voice their objection to the way the former council was doing business. (Communication between Windsor and West Hants councils deteriorated significantly between 2014 and 2016.) The 2016 fall election saw seven new councillors, out of 10 in West Hants, be sworn in, and some fresh faces in Windsor as well.

Zebian, who is serving his first term on council, said this MOU is a positive first step.

“This is about building the trust, building our communities, moving forward, and we believe this is the best way at that,” said Zebian, noting there are several projects he has in mind that they can work towards.

The MOU states that the parties agree to “maximize cost sharing, access and utilization of resources, services and programs for the benefit of the citizens of the community.” It also notes they will review the MOU annually. They have four objectives listed as their initial items of business. The first initiative is to jointly and immediately approach the UARB and the Court of Appeal to suspend the proceedings. The second is to “review cost sharing formulas, agreements and models for fairness and equitability,”

which could potentially impact this year's coming budget. Thirdly, they are going to request the government provide full funding assistance for studies to determine the merits of joining as one regional unit. The fourth initiative indicates that after 12 months, and if the municipal units agree, Windsor would withdraw from the UARB process.

Allen and Zebian hugged before and after signing the document, and both said they were encouraged it would work out.

“To accomplish our end goals, I think we need to bring our community together. Right now, they're kind of fractured and we need to bring them together and I think this is the positive route that will do that,” said Allen.

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