WENTWORTH CREEK, N.S. - The newly established transition committee, made up of members of Windsor and West Hants councils, as well as a transition co-ordinator, held its inaugural meeting inside West Hants council chambers Dec. 13.
Windsor Mayor Anna Allen and deputy mayor Laurie Murley joined West Hants Warden Abraham Zebian and deputy warden Paul Morton in representing the two municipal units and Kevin Latimer, appointed by the councils and approved by the province, will chair the committee as transition co-ordinator.
They have a lot to consider in the weeks and months ahead, as the town and municipality work toward merging in 2020 via special legislation passed by the province.
Several members of the public as well as councillors from both units were in the gallery to watch the proceedings.
Latimer said he’s been interested in, and working in, the municipal government field for approximately 25 years, primarily in the legal sector.
“I enjoy that area of work and I’ve recognized the need to reform and have spoken and written about it for some time,” Latimer said. “When this opportunity became available to play a part in this project, I thought it was a great opportunity to help out.”
Latimer is also a managing partner at Cox and Palmer, a law firm in Halifax, where he also resides.
He said the Windsor-West Hants amalgamation debate first came to his attention when the application was submitted to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.
“To work effectively, you have to be organized and think ahead, thinking about where you want to go and figure out where the trouble spots are,” he said. “What’s important here is the recognition on the part of the province and the two municipalities on having a good work plan that will allow us to identify the things that need to be done.”
Much of the initial meeting was focused on setting the framework for how the process will flow — scheduling, calendars and goals were top of mind for the committee as things ramp up.
Committee members also agreed that transparency and openness would be the goal of the process, and legal or personnel issues the committee will discuss will likely require in-camera, private discussion.
He said he’s already received a lot of support from West Hants and Windsor staff as well as the provincial Department of Municipal Affairs, which, he says, views this project as a priority.
Latimer said he’s aware that there are concerns and frustrations from residents regarding this process, but the committee will remain committed to obtaining feedback from the public.
“I understand those concerns. Any time you go to do something new, there are going to be those who are enthusiastic, those who are on the fence, and those who are opposed,” he said.
“I think that knowing those voices are there is important, and I think it’s important that these voices are heard,” he said.
“Having said that, the province has passed the legislation, the outcomes and the result of the project are clear. As a committee we have a job to do.”
The transition committee approved an RFP as well, granting Stantec $37,000 to conduct a boundary review study, which will be submitted to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.
Those funds will come from the transition funding from the province, with work beginning in January and ending by April of 2019.
That study will include at least eight public meetings, where residents will be able to have input on what they’d like to see the boundaries look like.
“The more public participating there is in the process, the better a position this committee will be in,” he said. “We’ll come up with a product at the end of the day that will meet the interests of the citizens.”
Future meetings will likely deal with other RFPs that the committee regards as top priorities, including a communications plan, an inventory of the two units’ assets and human resources analysis.
Those RFPs are already in the draft stage, according to chief administrative officers (CAOs) for both units.
“I know we have a lot of work to do, but I’m excited to be a part of this,” he added.
The committee agreed to meet on a fairly regular basis, possibly twice a month. Schedules will be coordinated by the two CAOs.
The next transition committee meeting is slated for Jan. 10.
The transition committee also approved the municipality’s purchase of several parcels of land from the province, however, Zebian remained mum about the reasoning behind the land purchase.
Zebian said, due to Bill 55, the transition committee had to approve the purchase as it deals with the operational reserves.
However, the PIDs in questions appear to be adjacent to the existing landfill site.