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Windsor’s amalgamation application on hold as questions surround governance pilot project

<p lang="en-US">The newly sworn in Windsor town council pose for a photo following the ceremony on Oct. 25, 2016. Pictured are, from left, Laurie Murley, John Bregante, Mayor Anna Allen, Shelley Bibby, and Jim Ivey.</p>
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WINDSOR, N.S. — While the Municipality of West Hants is requesting that Windsor suspend their application to the UARB to pursue amalgamation, the debate still has to be had in Windsor’s council chambers. 

Despite the deadline of the memorandum of understanding between the two councils passing its expiration date, Windsor council gave no clear direction on their intention with the UARB application during their regular council meeting on Feb. 27. 

Coun. Jim Ivey said he’d like to see Windsor council withdraw their application to the UARB, saying the province is no longer interested in forced amalgamations. 

“If you look at these two councils, we’ve probably met and had more discussions in the last 12 months than in the previous five years,” Ivey said. 

“We haven’t always agreed, but it’s never been so disagreeable that anybody has walked away,” he continued.

“We know what it’s like when you try to force something together, and that’s all that’s going to happen, and they’ve been pretty firm on that,” he added.

Deputy Mayor Laurie Murley said that more needs to be done between the two municipal units when it comes to working together.

She said she wants both units to consider being part of a new municipal modernization pilot project that would integrate more services without direct amalgamation. 

But the deputy mayor said she still has questions about the project itself.

“There are things we don’t know about it. What will the terms of reference look like? How long will this pilot project run? What are the outcomes going to be? How will success be measured?” Murley said. 

“We all know towns are paying unfair amounts of taxes, for infrastructure in particular, and roads are the big one. Really rural (municipalities) don’t have to pay for the same things that we do,” she continued.

“Will those outcomes help to level the playing field between towns and rurals and if so, how will the inequities in roads and infrastructure be dealt with?” 

Murley said the road cost inequity would likely be dealt with through amalgamation, eventually.

“Because of that, I’m not in favour of removing ourselves from the amalgamation application at this time,” she said, suggesting it be extended to incorporate the pilot project, whatever that may look like. 

Coun. Shelley Bibby said she is in favour of combining or further integrating Windsor and West Hants, but said she wasn’t sure if forced amalgamation is the right way to do so.

Read more about West Hants' request to end the application here

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ARC weighs in

Tom Calkin, a member of the Avon Region Citizens' Coalition (ARC) was in attendance, and answered some questions that council posed. He said that members were waiting to find out what Windsor council’s next steps would be.

“You cannot, under the present legal structure under Nova Scotia law, have an amalgamation happen without it going through the public utilities board (UARB),” Calkin said.

“If you want us to carry on, we would try to help you with that; if you decided not to, we would understand that,” he said.

“If we drag on and on and on, what credibility do we have?” Calkin added. 

He added that any application to extend the UARB application would have to be done through ARC, as they initiated the process with their petition. 

Calkin also said that the UARB didn’t respond to their request to extend the deadline to Feb. 28.

“We do know the process of having amalgamation, as defined by the act, is not an easy one,” he said. “We believe you can put your two councils together, shrink council sizes, shrink the overhead and save money in the long haul.”

He added that if amalgamation is abandoned now, it’ll be much more difficult to revive it in the near future. 

Ivey said ARC’s data is now dated, as much of it was gathered in 2015.

“We wait much longer and that’s going to be even more stale; we’re hanging onto something and it’s time to let it go,” Ivey said.

Windsor Mayor Anna Allen said a lot of things have changed since ARC’s initial petition, which contained more than 2,600 signatures. 

“At that time, it looked like the only change we could make was amalgamation,” she said. “It started off as a dirty word, and has become the only option for municipalities, and now it’s seen… as not a really good idea (by the province).” 

She echoed the minister of municipal affair's letter, which stated that the provincial government is no longer interested in financing amalgamations. 

Allen said she still wants to see change in terms of governance and regional service, ideally before this council’s mandate is over in 2020.

“If we can do that and the residents can see us doing that, I would say ARC did their job, because you brought us to that point,” Allen said.

She said that a joint planning strategy between the town and the municipality is an obvious step that the two units could pursue.

Motion tabled

Ivey made a motion to cease the amalgamation application through the UARB and the partnership with ARC, however that motion was tabled and will be addressed at a later date.

Murley made a motion asking for her questions about the pilot project be addressed. That motion was passed. Allen suggested contacting the Municipality of West Hants council to see if they’d like to support that motion as well and send a joint letter to the minister.

She added that, for now, the amalgamation application is up in the air.  

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