Springhill residents are getting a shocking 125th birthday present after council voted here Tuesday to apply to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board to dissolve the town on April 1, 2015.
“It’s a difficult day for all of us,” Mayor Max Snow said while breaking the news to residents during a special council meeting. “If we went another year or two years we would be in dire straights and have no room to negotiate. What we are doing here today is a good thing for Springhill. We have exciting things in our town and we will always be Springhill.”
Snow said the decision was a very difficult one for his council to make, but considering the town’s financial situation there was really no other viable option.
The mayor said the town’s finances should not come as a surprise to residents. He said the town does not have the money to pave its streets, has a substantial debt in its operational and capital budgets and water utility and already has among the highest property taxes in the province.
“Springhill has faced much adversity in the coal mines over its history, but we have always persevered because of our sense of community,” the mayor told a packed council chamber. “Over the last 16 months our council has looked for ways to increase revenue and decrease expenses but it has been much more difficult than any of us could have anticipated.”
While the Town of Springhill will no longer exist, the mayor said, the community of Springhill would live on. He also understands there will be mixed emotions along with some fear and anxiety, but he said council has no intention to abandon the town.
“I want to make it clear that this decision is council’s on behalf of our community as we work for the best long-term interests of our community and its residents. All of you will have an opportunity to provide input as we move forward,” the mayor said.
Longtime councillor Doug Dobson said the town’s situation is no secret.
“Saying that it’s unfortunate those signs of the times have caught up to us. We are struggling with rising costs, our debt is rising, our taxes are among the highest in Nova Scotia, we only have about 1,600 homeowners paying taxes, our population is decreasing and our infrastructure is hurting, namely our roads,” Dobson said. “In simple terms our town’s ability to manage this reality in today’s world is out of our reach. Our future is at stake.”
Coun. Harold Delaney said he never thought he would be entertaining such a motion when he campaigned for a council seat 18 months ago, but he understands why the decision is being made, while fellow Coun. Jack MacDonald said the town simply has no room to maneuver financially without raising the tax rate by at least 50 cents per $100 of assessment.
“It’s not an option for us,” he said. “We’ve talked it over at length and had some good advice on how to proceed. It’s difficult to make the decision to dissolve our town, but it’s the best way to go.”
Deputy Mayor Darrell White said the town has reached a crossroads and it’s financial picture is only going to get worse if something isn’t done.
He said a partnership with the county will help ease the tax burden, assist with renewing infrastructure and allow the community to full take advantage of its geothermal resource.
“It is a very difficult decision to make and we have come a long way to making it, but I’m comfortable it’s the best decision that can be made,” White said.
The town will file an application to the utility and review board to dissolve the town under the Municipal Government Act and work with the Municipality of Cumberland to negotiate an agreement to become part of that municipal government.
A transition co-ordinator will soon be appointed to oversee the dissolution process and to guide discussions between the town and the county. The goal is to have a new governance structure in place by April 1, 2015.
“We know that small towns across the province and even across the country are facing many challenges,” Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations Minister Mark Furey said in a news release issued following the council meeting. “I realize this was not an easy decision for the council to make but I am satisfied that they are moving forward with the best interests of their residents in mind.”
Furey said the province would help the town and the county through the process to help them reach an agreement that’s acceptable to both municipal units.
The town is hosting a press conference at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday in the council chambers.
Department spokeswoman Susan Mader-Zinck said residents will have the opportunity to provide input while the utility and review board considers the town’s application. There is no requirement for a plebiscite in the legislation, but votes were held in Canso before it joined the Municipality of Guysborough.