WEST HANTS, N.S. — West Hants council is hopeful the Town of Windsor will withdraw their support for the amalgamation application that's before the UARB.
Doing so, they say, will show that Windsor is fully engaged and committed to working together.
“The province does not support the application for amalgamation currently before the UARB. That's all I would need to know,” said Warden Abraham Zebian when broaching the subject Feb. 27 at West Hants' committee of the whole meeting.
“They do support a model of regionalization and I'm not sure why our neighbours, if they're whole-heartedly interested in going into discussions on a regional model to be the example in the province, why they would still want to entertain the other option,” he said.
“I believe that you can't double-dip, which is what's happening.”
In 2016, the Town of Windsor backed the Avon Region Citizens Coalition's (ARC) application to the Nova Scotia Utilities and Review Board to have the benefits of amalgamation between Windsor and West Hants explored. Communication between the two municipal units were strained at the time, and had pretty well broken down by 2016. That fall, when municipal elections were held, West Hants council saw sweeping change, with seven of 10 new councillors being elected, and Windsor saw two new faces join the team plus a former mayor take the helm. Windsor agreed to work more collaboratively with West Hants and signed a memorandum of understanding in February 2017. At that time, Windsor and ARC agreed to temporarily halt the amalgamation application for a year.
That year is up.
At a joint council meeting Feb. 22 in Windsor, representatives from the Nova Scotia Municipal Affairs department described a pilot project on regional co-operation they hoped Windsor and West Hants would participate in.
A letter, signed by Derek Mombourquette, that was sent to both Windsor and West Hants states that he realizes that “both councils are in different places regarding their views on amalgamation” but is encouraged by the councillors' willingness to continue working towards improving regional cooperation.
“I would also like to reiterate that the Department of Municipal Affairs will not provide funding for the amalgamation application currently before the Utility and Review Board. Rather, we look forward to working with you over the next several months to develop and pilot a new approach for regional governance that could serve as a model for other municipalities,” Mombourquette wrote in the letter.
Councillors voted that evening to bring the topic back to their respective councils, where they would then consider writing to the minister to offer to participate in the pilot project on regional governance and municipal cooperation.
Shannon Bennett, the director of governance and advisory services for the Department of Municipal Affairs, said she was pleased with the positivity surrounding the pilot project.
“I thought it was very positive. The conversations that we had... I think all illustrate that there's a willingness for regional cooperation and I think that's positive, that's what we're looking for,” said Bennett following the presentation.
She said the next step is for the government to work with the Association of Municipal Administrators of Nova Scotia (AMANS) and the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities (UNSM) to design what “municipal modernization” is going to look like on paper.
West Hants council weighs in
At the committee of the whole meeting Feb. 27, Coun. Tanya Leopold made a motion that to “recommend to council that should Windsor withdraw from the UARB amalgamation process, that this council agree to work with the town and the province on a regional governance project.”
The motion sparked a fair bit of discussion around the council table.
Leopold said she thought participating in the regional governance project was “the direction that our council should be going; it's the direction that is being given to us by the province.”
Coun. Kathy Monroe said she didn't feel Windsor should have to pull away from the amalgamation application in order to work collaboratively with West Hants.
“To me, this is apples and oranges. It's two separate things. One doesn't prevent the other,” said Monroe, adding that the MOU allows the municipal entities to continue moving forward.
The warden asked at the joint council meeting for Windsor to step away from the UARB process, and reiterated that Feb. 27.
“I'm going to speak really bluntly here. We respect the Town of Windsor, its wishes, what problems they're facing,” said Zebian.
“Let's face the facts. The Town of Windsor has all of the problems; the Municipality of West Hants has no problems. We're willing to help them out on that; we're willing to work with them and we understand that if the Town of Windsor is strong, the municipality is strong or if the municipality is strong, the Town of Windsor is strong,” he continued.
“I feel it's always one-sided and this has to stop. If they really want to work together, make a decision. Go this way or that way, you can't have it both ways. Things have to be said. I'll say it.”
All councillors voted in favour of Leopold's motion except for Monroe.
Windsor council puts amalgamation application in limbo
During Windsor town council’s meeting on Feb. 27, Coun. Jim Ivey attempted to halt the amalgamation application process entirely, saying the province is no longer interested in forced amalgamations.
His motion to remove the town from the application was tabled and will be addressed at a later time.
In the meantime, Deputy Mayor Laurie Murley, with the support of council except for Ivey, agreed to ask the province some verifying questions on the municipal modernization pilot project before potentially proceeding with that route.
Some of the questions Murley wants addressed include the timeframe of the pilot, outcomes, and more.
More on Windsor’s discussion of the amalgamation topic still to come.
~ With files from Colin Chisholm