Hantsport council exploring governance options

Ashley Thompson
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Hantsport’s town council is reaching out to the provincial government in an effort to explore the pros and cons of sticking with town status.

Mayor Robbie Zwicker says council is committed to working with Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations to examine the viability of Hantsport continuing to operate as a town in the long run.

“It’s just basically getting a second opinion,” said Zwicker, in a phone interview.

The Town of Hantsport has lost $1.1 million in commercial tax revenue since the idling of Fundy Gypsum in 2011 and the closure of Minas Basin Pulp and Power’s mill in 2012.

The tax revenue may have diminished, but the demands on the town’s coffers for such budget items as essential services, transportation, roadwork, infrastructure upgrades, water and sewer remain.

Zwicker admits approving the budget has been a challenge since the closure of two of the town’s largest employment centres, but he says Hantsport is not in such dire straits as Springhill.

Springhill’s council recently passed a motion calling for the dissolution of the town into the neighbouring Cumberland County as of March 31, 2015. (See related story on page 19.)

Zwicker noted that the residential tax rate in Springhill is $2.25 per $100 of taxable assessment while Hantsport’s rate is $1.69.

“Right now as far as budget discussions have gone there’s not been talk at all of increasing the rate,” he added.

Zwicker says he would like to see a sustainability study completed that outlines the governance model that is the best fit for Hantsport going forward.

He stressed that council will take the time to properly review the financial outlook before any decisions are made.

“You’ve got to have facts to make decisions.”

In the meantime, Zwicker says council is focused on keeping taxes as low as possible for their taxpayers, and prospective newcomers.

“We cherish every dollar they make. We understand, just like everywhere in this province, people are struggling and we won’t let pride get in the way of making the best decision.”

A town must apply for dissolution through the Utility and Review Board.

It has yet to be determined if Hantsport would become a part of the Municipality of West Hants or County of Kings if the town was dissolved in the future.

“The largest issue is the perception of residents of the town losing its identity, but that doesn’t have to be the case. The towns of Liverpool, Glace Bay, Canso and Bedford all decided to join with others and all retain their historical and community identities.” Mark Furey

Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations Minister Mark Furey says it is ultimately up to a town council to determine when a new governance structure is required based on the municipal unit’s ability to offer core services and manage debt.

“It might be an option to consider if a town is not financially viable, has debt servicing issues, has no choice but to substantially increase taxes, or has exhausted all shared services options,” said Furey, in an e-mail.

Furey says a dissolved town remains in tact as a community, regardless of the governance model.

“The largest issue is the perception of residents of the town losing its identity, but that doesn’t have to be the case. The towns of Liverpool, Glace Bay, Canso and Bedford all decided to join with others and all retain their historical and community identities.”

 

Organizations: Hantsport council, Utility and Review Board, Municipality of West Hants Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board

Geographic location: Hantsport, Nova Scotia, Cumberland County Kings Liverpool Glace Bay Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board Kings County Hants County Town of Hantsport

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