This just happened today, and since I live there currently, I thought it was interesting.
Town could become part of Municipality of Cumberland by April 1, 2015
SPRINGHILL – Springhill residents are getting a shocking 125th birthday present after council voted here Tuesday to apply to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board to dissolve the town on April 1, 2015.
“It’s a difficult day for all of us,” Mayor Max Snow said while breaking the news to residents during a special council meeting. “If we went another year or two years we would be in dire straights and have no room to negotiate. What we are doing here today is a good thing for Springhill. We have exciting things in our town and we will always be Springhill.”
Snow said the decision was a very difficult one for his council to make, but considering the town’s financial situation there was really no other viable option.
The mayor said the town’s finances should not come as a surprise to residents. He said the town does not have the money to pave its streets, has a substantial debt in its operational and capital budgets and water utility and already has among the highest property taxes in the province.
“Springhill has faced much adversity in the coal mines over its history, but we have always persevered because of our sense of community,” the mayor told a packed council chamber. “Over the last 16 months our council has looked for ways to increase revenue and decrease expenses but it has been much more difficult than any of us could have anticipated.”
While the Town of Springhill will no longer exist, the mayor said, the community of Springhill will live on. He also understands there will be mixed emotions along with some fear and anxiety, but he said council has no intention to abandon the town.
“I want to make it clear that this decision is council’s on behalf of our community as we work for the best long-term interests of our community and its residents. All of you will have an opportunity to provide input as we move forward,” the mayor said.
Longtime councillor Doug Dobson said the town’s situation is no secret.
“Saying that it’s unfortunate those signs of the times have caught up to us. We are struggling with rising costs, our debt is rising, our taxes are among the highest in Nova Scotia, we only have about 1,600 homeowners paying taxes, our population is decreasing and our infrastructure is hurting, namely our roads,” Dobson said. “In simple terms our town’s ability to manage this reality in today’s world is out of our reach. Our future is at stake.”
Coun. Harold Delaney said he never thought he would be entertaining such a motion when he campaigned for a council seat 18 months ago, but he understands why the decision is being made, while fellow councillor Jack MacDonald said the town simply has no room to maneuver financially without raising the tax rate by at least 50 cents per $100 of assessment.
“It’s not an option for us,” he said. “We’ve talked it over at length and had some good advice on how to proceed. It’s difficult to make the decision to dissolve our town, but it’s the best way to go.”
Deputy Mayor Darrell White said the town has reached a crossroads and it’s financial picture is only going to get worse if something isn’t done.
He said a partnership with the county will help ease the tax burden, assist with renewing infrastructure and allow the community to full take advantage of its geothermal resource.
“It is a very difficult decision to make and we have come a long way to making it, but I’m comfortable it’s the best decision that can be made,” White said.
The town will file an application to the utility and review board to dissolve the town under the Municipal Government Act and work with the Municipality of Cumberland to negotiate an agreement to become part of that municipal government.
A transition co-ordinator will soon be appointed to oversee the dissolution process and to guide discussions between the town and the county. The goal is to have a new governance structure in place by April 1, 2015.
“We know that small towns across the province and even across the country are facing many challenges,” Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations Minister Mark Furey said in a news release issued following the council meeting. “I realize this was not an easy decision for the council to make but I am satisfied that they are moving forward with the best interests of their residents in mind.”
Furey said the province will help the town and the county through the process to help them reach an agreement that’s acceptable to both municipal units.
The town is hosting a press conference at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday in the council chambers.
Department spokeswoman Susan Mader-Zinck said residents will have the opportunity to provide input while the utility and review board considers the town’s application. There is no requirement for a plebiscite in the legislation, but votes were held in Canso before it joined the Municipality of Guysborough.
I think it will be good for the people in the long run. Those who have lived in “The Town Of Springhill” their whole lives are going to be understandably upset (that part doesn’t affect me much because I wasn’t born here and have only actually lived here for 4 years)…but it’s better than going broke as a town. Also, the folks who work for the town sitll have their jobs for a while as it will take some time for this whole process to happen.
Obviously questions will be asked…like this one….
And to that I say… “people were ensuring the maintenance of the roads??? Have you driven down any of them lately?
Seriously though, it’s always sad to lose a town, but it’s the people that make a place, and they’re not going anywhere.
Here’s an interesting article written after the press conference that explains some more.
Source: Christopher Gooding / The Amherst Citizen
Springhill Mayor Max Snow, council and Amherst CAO Greg Herrett, under contract to the Town of Springhill, answered to the public Wednesday after passing a motion to dissolve the town on Tuesday.
SPRINGHILL – It hasn’t been an easy pill for many to swallow after Springhill’s town council announced it’s dissolving its municipal government and dropping its township title.
Mayor and council tried to clear the air Wednesday and give citizens a sense of what happened and what will happen in the coming months as its approaches becoming part of the Municipality of Cumberland County. From that meeting we’ve compiled some answers to some common questions.
Question: Is Springhill a village now?
Answer: No. Springhill is still a town until April 2015, when it hopes to become a part of the Municipality of Cumberland County.
Springhill is applying to become part of the Municipality of Cumberland County, meaning in the future it will elect a single representative to sit as a councilor on the municipal council.
[FYI – a village is another form of municipal government, with elected commissioners instead of councilors, and empowered with creating its own tax rate and policies, just like a town council.]
Q: What happens now?
A: With the motion to dissolve the town made, council will make an application to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board requesting it become part of the county. During this application process, the county and Springhill will enter negotiations and discuss everything from policing to road paving, snow removal, geothermal the fire department – everything. Reports will be made, questions will be answered and, hopefully, the level of services the people of Springhill have been receiving will be maintained.
Q: Do I still have to pay my taxes?
A: To quote the bible – “Pay what is Caesar’s to Caesar.”
You still have to pay your taxes. You could take the gamble of not paying your taxes this year, but when the new government takes over you will still owe those taxes, and you can bet the next government will want to collect. As Amherst Chief Administrative Officer Greg Herrett said, “There are provisions in the Municipal Government Act that should be incentive enough to pay your taxes.”
Those provisions include putting your home up for tax sale if you’re in arrears.
Q: What will happen to the town staff?
A: The town offers a number of services to its community, including Public Works, water treatment, Leisure Services and building services. According to Mayor Maxwell Snow and Deputy Mayor Darrell White there will be no job losses between now and April 2015, but they don’t anticipate jobs will be refilled if there are any retirements during that time.
Like services, though, it was well noted by members of the public that after April 2015, mayor and council don’t have the authority to make those promises.
Q: Who is going to police Springhill?
A: Until April 2015, according to Deputy Mayor Darrell White it will be the Springhill Police Service.
Springhill was reviewing policing services in the community and had called for proposals from the RCMP and other communities to determine if there was a cheaper alternative. A decision was expected soon, but council’s decision to dissolve the town changes that. Now, policing in Springhill will be part of the discussions the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board and the Municipality of Cumberland County have with Springhill over the next year.
Q: Will my taxes go up or down because of this?
A: The expectation is taxes will go down. The Municipality of Cumberland County has a scale to determine tax rates. If you have street lights, water and sewage services, etc. all factor towards what your tax rate will be and in the coming months the new tax rate for residents and businesses in Springhill will be determined, so it doesn’t necessarily mean what you’re aunt pays for living in a bungalo with well water and a septic system on a dirt road out in the county is what you will end up paying for living in Springhill.
Q: So, how much trouble was the town in?
A: A lot.
The town is $5.1 million in debt and didn’t have enough money coming in to pay its annual operating costs, which was $6.9 million in 2013. Loss of tax payers, a dwindling economy, too many roads needing repair, hundred year-old water and sewer lines needing repair only make things worse. To just maintain the town – without any paving or repairs – the mayor and council say they would have needed to raise taxes by 50-cents per $100 of assessment. At $2.25 per $100, Springhill was already the second-highest tax rate in the province.