© Jonathan Riley
Charlotte Sabean and forty friends filled the council chambers at Digby town hall on Monday, Dec. 16.
By Jonathan Riley DIGBY COURIER NovaNewsNow.com
A Digby taxpayer made her second appearance before town council in a month and a half and this time she brought 40 friends.
“I agreed to do the talking,” said Charlotte Sabean. “But they’re here because they support what I’m about to say.”
Sabean first made a presentation to Digby town council on Monday, Oct. 21 to tell them taxes were driving her out of town.
[ Moving to the municipality: young Digby taxpayer says enough is enough ]
Since then she has been talking to people about the questions she raised and hearing the same complaints from everyone.
This past Monday, Dec. 16 she returned with back up.
“I asked them to come to this meeting to support me so council could see it’s not just me saying it,” she said after the meeting. “We all walked in together and then out together to show we are together on this issue.”
Sabean also has tried to do some research to find out where the taxes are going.
“I looked at the budget documents and it made absolutely no sense,” said Sabean to council. “I sat down with Matthew (Raymond, the town’ director of finance) for two hours and he answered my questions.”
Raymond said that was the first time since he has been working for the town that someone had asked him about the budget in that amount of detail.
Sabean wants council to hold a public meeting where the budget is explained and the public can ask questions.
“There is a disconnect between what council is doing and what residents think is happening,” said Sabean. “Residents need to take a bigger role and more of us need to ask questions about the budget – when you actually ask questions you might get answers—you might not like them but at least you’ll know.”
Sabean says many of the people she talked to wished her good luck but didn’t think anything would ever change.
“My thing is I don’t want to keep complaining without trying to do something,” she said. “At least we can understand where our money is going.”
“People have to be their own advocate, show up to meetings, know what decisions are being considered and then we can make our points to council beforehand,” said Sabean.
Sabean says she hopes the net result of her activism is that the town will be a more attractive place for people to live.
“People want to live here, we have a lot to offer and we do a lot of things right but a lot of people who chose to come here (some behind me) are wondering if it was a good move,” she said. “The sole reason people aren’t happy is the taxes.”
Sabean laughed when asked later if she would be running in the next election.
“That hasn’t even crossed my mind,” she said.
Councillor Danny Harvieux thanked the crowd for showing up and said they’d never had that many people at a council meeting before.
Councillor Brian Manzer encouraged them to keep coming.
“We need you to keep us accountable, to make us work for you and I hope next time there are twice as many of you,” he said.
Mayor Ben Cleveland said recommendations from the town’s organizational review, now underway, may include changes to how the town presents the budget.
The consultant will present the first draft of that review to council on Jan. 10 and then will make a public presentation of the final report sometime in late January or early February.
Cleveland hopes they can possibly combine the organizational review meeting with a meeting to explain the town’s revenues and expenses.
“I’m hoping we can do that,” said Cleveland. “If not that evening, then another one shortly after.”
The mayor also wants to bring residents up to date on the Nova Scotia Towns Taskforce which is suggesting changes to the Municipal Government Act – changes that could, if adopted, ease the funding crunch facing many towns in the province.
The mayor said councillors have also discussed changes to the process of deciding on the budget – specifically the councillors would like to have an earlier look at parts of the budget so they can have preliminary discussions.
The mayor was happy to see Sabean and her supporters Monday night.
“It was nice to see people there,” said the mayor. “We have a number of committees where we need public representation and we’d love to see some of those people put their name forward.”
The mayor says for example they are short two people on the water commission.
“That committee actually votes on the water rate,” said the mayor. “This is one opportunity for people to get involved.”