Our present provincial government, not unlike its two predecessors, continues to take a safe political stance on the future of struggling small town Nova Scotia by sitting on the fence and letting frustrated municipal councils determine their own governance future and, ultimately, review by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.
Dissolution for urban core serviced towns like Hantsport and Springhill and merging with existing or new electoral districts in an annexing rural unit does not make political or economic sense.
The towns will always be urban units and the rurals always rural with distinctive differences. It is a myth that the designated annexing unit will treat its new municipal family members as economic and political equals. Not so, if the Canso scenario is a model for the Hantsport and Springhill files.
It is understandable that citizens of a dissolving town will expect to receive the same tax rates as existing residential and commercial citizens in the new unit plus area rates for services not received for others. However, the receiving council, at its own discretion, may become creative and add a new rate to bring the total tax payable equal to or exceeding what citizens paid under its own town incorporation.
Apparently, as is the case of Canso, this new rate is not appealable. The new unit may also offer for sale many of the former town's public buildings and other infrastructure, and, with no offers or interest, may order them demolished. Greater still is the fact that the political voice of the dissolved town will become muted.
Hantsport has at its borders millions of dollars of residential assessment presently on the books of the municipalities of Kings and West Hants. Rather than seeking dissolution, the town council should have requested a boundary review through the UARB. The extension of its boundaries with new assessment and the sharing of common services with one or more municipal units would keep the town economically viable for many years to come.
While I haven't visited historic Springhill in a number of years, I expect that the same scenario as that of Hantsport — a boundary review and sharing of services with County of Cumberland — may be a more viable and attractive alternative to dissolution.
Citizens should also remember that should the above considerations not be the end result, the UARB must give consideration to having dissolved towns continue as incorporated villages and this can be done within the same budget parameters as with full dissolution and merger with an adjacent rural unit.
The governance future of the towns of Hantsport and Springhill is no longer with its respective town councils but with its citizens and the UARB, with the Government of Nova Scotia monitoring the situations as interested bystanders. Notwithstanding the above, province-wide municipal government reform is well over due but it will not happen without the full involvement of the Province of Nova Scotia and the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities.
Frank X. Fraser,