Small towns in Nova Scotia are in trouble.
First Springhill and then Bridgetown and now Hantsport have stood up publicly over the past few weeks and pointed out they can no longer continue with the status quo. Springhill and Bridgetown have already voted to dissolve, while Hantsport will make its decision April 16 at a public meeting.
It’s no surprise to anyone that Hantsport is facing challenges. Tax revenue has decreased substantially in recent years with the idling of Fundy Gypsum and closure of Minas Basin Pulp and Power, both of which provided a significant tax base for the town.
Budget cuts and reduction to staff can only go so far. Money has to come from somewhere to cover the infrastructure projects that must be done. Council faced a choice: hike the tax rate significantly or consider throwing in the towel.
Many towns in Nova Scotia are facing the same issues – it has only been a few years since Canso voted to dissolve - these other towns simply managed to hold on a little longer. There’s little doubt, Hantsport will not be the last to face this kind of decision.
Hantsport Mayor Robbie Zwicker and council should be commended for the leadership they’ve demonstrated in standing up and pointing out the problems the town faces and deciding that it’s time to take action to address the issues. It’s not always easy to be a leader, especially when it involves making a potentially unpopular decision that impacts the lives of so many. Hantsport, however, is between a rock and a hard place and council must make the best decision available, no matter how unpopular it may be.
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Hantsport is in a better position than many other towns in the same situation. The town’s physical location on the border of Kings County and West Hants gives it the option of choosing which municipality it wants to join, if that’s the decision council ultimately makes. As Zwicker told The Advertiser, “we have the ability to negotiate with both to determine what is the best option for our town and the municipalities.”
While it may seem odd to consider joining with Kings, the connections are there to make the transition easier. Hantsport has been a member of the Kings Partnership Steering Committee for a number of years now and is also a partner in Valley Waste. High school students board a bus and travel to schools in Kings County each day. The Hantsport fire service covers some of the area in Kings County and the mutual aid system is a strong, unifying force. The connections are also there, too, to join West Hants, if that’s council’s decision.
Whatever decision Hantsport council makes, residents can rest assured that it will be made with their best interests at heart. It’s time for Nova Scotians and our provincial politicians to realize that there is an epidemic plaguing our small towns. It’s time to take steps to address the budget shortfalls and funding challenges towns face or wait for the next round of councils to stand up and ask for help.