WINDSOR, N.S. — Anyone from the town, please raise your hands. About five go up. Anyone from West Hants? About two dozen hands go up.
While only a handful of Windsor residents came out to a public engagement session on consolidation on Nov. 19, many more West Hants residents showed up to voice their concerns about the process.
Windsor Mayor Anna Allen and members of Windsor council led the meeting, fielding questions on tax rates, the pros and cons of consolidation, and other areas of concern.
Allen said the lack of attendees from the town shows that, generally, Windsor residents are OK with consolidation and have confidence in the council’s process.
“We have our guiding principles, which we’re going to follow, which were designed by both municipal units,” Allen said.
“We don’t want to think in silos, we want to think as a community effort,” she said.
“We do hear people’s concerns; it’s good to hear them and we do recognize them. Now as we’re working at this, we will address those any way we can,” she added.
She said that studies on how the two units operate are already underway, with the first one expected to be out by year-end.
More public meetings are also planned, although none are scheduled as of yet.
Concerns about the tax rates were one of the top questions from residents during the meeting.
Councillors reiterated that no council can ever 100 per cent guarantee what the tax rates will be, but that their goal is to keep them the same or lower them if possible.
Coun. Jim Ivey said it’s something voters should ask their candidates during the 2020 municipal election when the new regional council will be elected.
What’s in it for West Hants?
Dawn Allen, who lives in Centre Burlington, wanted to know why consolidation would be beneficial for county residents.
Windsor’s deputy mayor, Laurie Murley, said some of the benefits would include a regional planning strategy, streamlining of services, and a lack of competition when it comes to applying for grants and funding.
She also added that many of the benefits will be long term.
“Why do we plant a tree today? If we’re never going to see… a full-blown tree?” Murley asked. “It’s for our kids and for our grandkids.”
Dawn Allen said she appreciated the sentiment but is still waiting for more concrete data — the nuts and bolts of how it’ll look.
The Centre Burlington resident, who has already attended a couple of West Hants town hall meetings on the topic, said she wasn’t surprised that there were more folks from West Hants than Windsor.
“I know how my friends in Windsor feel already; they don’t think it can be anything but good,” she said. “I think that it reflects the concern that West Hants people have.”
She said the Avon Region Citizens Coalition petition is also a sore spot for many, which began the most recent wave of amalgamation discussion and debate.
“The fire services issue that was going on at the time coloured people’s decision to sign,” she said.
She added that despite the cost, a plebiscite on consolidation was warranted.
“I’m worried about where all of this is going to go.”
She’s also concerned that the transition committee is made up of people who are from urban areas, including Windsor’s mayor and deputy mayor, who both live in Windsor, as well as West Hants Warden Abraham Zebian, who lives in Falmouth, and West Hants deputy warden, Paul Morton, who lives in Hantsport.
Some West Hants residents were also concerned about representation on a new council, and how the electoral boundaries will be distributed.
The mayor said the county population outnumbers the town five-to-one, and therefore, should have more clout on the new council.
Former West Hants councillor Shirley Pineo, who has also attended many of the West Hants-led town halls, said she’s worried that the more rural electoral districts will have to be massive in size in order to satisfy population parity with more urban parts of a new council.
Although the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board decides the new districts through a boundary review, Windsor councillors agreed that it’s important to ensure fairness in how the new districts are drawn.
Tough pill to swallow
Leonard Frenette, a Windsor resident, said he came to the meeting to stay up to date on what’s happening.
“It’s something that’s being told to them by the provincial government that this is going to happen,” Frenette said. “(Council) has a job to do, and it’s not an easy pill to swallow.”
Frenette said he’s hopeful that if consolidation moves forward, that tax rates will go down across the board.
Frenette, a retired truck driver, said he’s worked with people from all over Windsor and surrounding communities.
“I’ve worked with people from down the Chester Road, down the Shore, from all over,” he said. “In one way or another, we all work together; we might not be right beside each other, but we work together.”
Editor's Note - A previous version of this story said Paul Morton was West Hants' deputy mayor, he is actually a deputy warden.