Mayor, two councillors leaning toward dissolving town to solve financial woes
For the latest Town of Hantsport news, be sure to read the Hants Journal.
Hantsport’s town council is in the midst of a budget year unlike any other.
Rather than focusing solely on how to move forward as they set the budget, this council must decide if they should dissolve the town’s status and join a neighbouring municipality.
It became clear at an April 1 council meeting that a few of Hantsport’s elected officials are seriously considering casting their vote in favour of dissolving the town.
CAO Rob Frost presented council with two budget scenarios at the meeting. One draft budget shows what a 10-cent tax hike and service cuts would do for the town if council sticks with the status quo, the other suggests that the tax rates could be reduced by 10 cents if the town is dissolved.
Hantsport’s residential tax rate of $1.69 per $100 of assessment is lower than the rates of many Nova Scotian towns, but that will soon change if council continues with business as usual.
Dissolving, and being absorbed by a municipality, would substantially cut costs by eliminating duplications. They’d save on such major line items as staffing, RCMP services, education costs and waste collection, Frost noted.
The dissolution process would take one year. During that time, negotiations would determine what the tax rate in Hantsport will be, what changes in staffing would be required and which services will be maintained.
Coun. Margot Bureaux, who expressed her opposition to tax increases, said she’d like to see Hantsport’s public pool remain open this year to allow for the potential for its future use to be part of the dissolution negotiations.
“I really feel very strongly that the pool should continue, at least for this year,” said Bureaux.
The town, spanning one-square mile of land, has about 1,100 residents.
Hantsport Mayor Rob Zwicker said council must remain committed to cutting costs in hopes of coming out of the transition with lower tax rates. He noted that it appears the tax rates in the dissolved towns of Springhill and Canso have not dropped yet.
“This budget, I believe, will set the tax rate going forward,” the mayor said.
Frost said council has the option of dropping the tax rate by 10 cents this year, freeing up money that would have gone into reserves and starting the dissolution process with lower rates.
Deputy Mayor Harold Bulger said he’d rather council take another year to explore their options before a final decision is made.
“I think that we’re trying to rush our decision without the proper documentation because this is going to affect history,” he said.
Bureaux begged to differ, pointing to the budget scenarios prepared by Frost.
“He’s shown us the figures in a variety of ways that really give us a very clear picture of where we are now and what it could look like in the next few years,” she said.
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Bulger, whose concerns were echoed by Coun. Faye Hill, responded by emphasizing that they don’t know if it is better to be absorbed by the Municipality of West Hants or County of Kings.
Zwicker said they’ve “trimmed the long-hanging fruit” from the budget and the cash-strapped town cannot continue to delay important maintenance and infrastructure projects.
The mayor suggested council set a special meeting following a public consultation meeting scheduled for April 9, at 7 p.m. in the Hantsport School, to make a decision.
“Right or wrong, make a decision and live with it,” said Coun. Paul Morton. “The writing is on the wall. You can only maintain the town for so long.”
Bureaux concurred, adding that she feels it is better to dissolve sooner rather than later.
“To me I feel it is the responsible thing to do the dissolution now before we get ourselves into a further crisis,” she said.
The provincial government will help with the dissolution process if council decides to take that route, Bureaux noted.
“In my opinion the province is steering us where they want us to go and they’re not going to give us any other options,” responded Bulger.
Bulger questioned how many towns the provincial government can offer guidance and financial support to in light of the fact that the councils for Springhill and Bridgetown recently voted in favour of dissolving their townships.
“How much can they bail out and how many of these can they handle in one shot?”
An undeterred Bureaux pointed out that Hantsport’s financial situation is not quite as dire.
“Because we’re not as severe as Bridgetown and Springhill that actually puts us in a stronger position moving forward to make the dissolution, and the next step, that much more comfortable for our citizens,” said Bureaux.
Councillors Shannon Cunningham and Rob Frederick were absent for the discussion.
Council agreed to host a special meeting April 16, at 6 p.m., in the Hantsport Fire Hall to have a roundtable discussion and vote on the future of the town.
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To view the document CAO Rob Frost prepared for Hantsport town councillors to review as they discuss the future of the town, visit: http://www.hantsjournal.ca/media/issues/flipbook/0000012751.