The writing is on the wall for small Nova Scotia towns

Carole Morris-Underhill
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There's been a lot of talk lately about amalgamation, annexation, dissolution of towns, and general municipal reform. It's pretty well dominated the news in Nova Scotia as of late.

Springhill started the ball rolling earlier this year when they announced, much to residents' surprise, they could no longer shoulder the financial burdens placed on the town and council sought dissolution.

Then came the demise of Bridgetown at the end of March. That community has been languishing for some time, so the announcement didn't come as much of a surprise.

Nova Scotia Municipal Relations Minister Mark Furey has said that there's about 10 municipalities in rural Nova Scotia that are facing such decisions. When faced with declining revenues yet steady demands from ratepayers, small rural towns simply cannot keep up.

Now, Hantsport, our region's Haven of Hospitality, is considering taking a similar step and joining West Hants or Kings County to alleviate their financial pressures.

With the closure of two of its three biggest commercial assets in recent years, Hantsport has been hard hit. Still, they have done well to maintain the level of service provided while not raising taxes. They certainly have continued to offer a pleasant town to live in, and one that has much heart.

But, that desire to keep the town affordable — and attractive to possible newcomers — isn't paying the bills. The current tax base is simply too small to pay for the town's upkeep, let alone necessary upgrades. It's time they do something drastic, which is why all eyes will be on the town this month as they hold two meetings to discuss its future.

Hantsport's residential property tax rate for 2012-13, per $100 of assessed value, is $1.69. While it's nowhere near as high as Bridgetown's ($2.10), Springhill's ($2.25), Lockport's ($2.28), Parrsborro's ($2), Shelburn's ($2.06), Westville's ($2.09) or even Windsor's ($1.96), if they continue with the status quo, reducing services and replacing only necessary infrastructure, those rates would soon become on par with the highest town taxes in the province.

As such, council wants to hear from residents before they make the all-important decision of dissolution. The main public meeting was slated for April 9. At least three members of council appear to be leaning heavily towards dissolution.

Dissolution doesn't spell the end for Hantsport. Rather, it marks the beginning of a renewed hope for the future.

As long as residents continue to embrace their community, the town can, and will, retain its historical importance, its traditional values and its identity.

There's no shame in seeking municipal reform, be it amalgamation, better shared services, or dissolution. The only shame is doing nothing and watching a once vibrant community wither away.

 

Organizations: Town of Hantsport, Town of Windsor

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Hantsport, Bridgetown Kings Town of Hantsport Town of Windsor Kings County Hants County West Hants Hants West

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