Friday, February 5, 2016

Wait, Did You say $27,000,000?

Today, I was just minding my own business, sewing a flower with the radio on in the background when I caught the tail end of these words, The province will give The Municipality of Pictou County more than $27,000,000 over the next five years to assist with amalgamation costs.  I really thought I had misheard that.  I googled it and found nothing. So, I e-mailed our local newspaper to verify that I had heard correctly.  It's true.  That's a lot of money.  I mean, I know it's not a lot of money if you are HRM or Toronto, but for a rural municipality that is a lot of money. According to the official press release, "If amalgamation proceeds effective Nov. 1, 2016, $15.2 million will support infrastructure, operating and capital investments for roads and transitional costs associated with amalgamation. Equalization funding for the amalgamated municipality will be frozen for five years at the levels that the four separate municipalities are currently receiving, totaling $11.9 million."

This got me day dreaming a little bit.  What could Lunenburg County do with $27,000,000? Well, in my fantasy, we would start here in Lunenburg by repairing our god awful sewage treatment plant.  How lovely it would be for all those poor souls on Dufferin street to be able to open their windows in the summer or maybe even sell their houses if they so desired.  But, I know, it couldn't all be for the Town of Lunenburg. Maybe some of that money could go towards helping home owners get rid of the straight pipes going into the Lahave River.  (I'm seeing a pattern here.) O.K, my little fantasy was not only about the control of excrement;  I was also thinking about those operating costs of the Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre.  Apparently, building a great facility is one thing, but then maintaining it is a whole other ball game.  Not sure there is even a plan in place for the future operating costs of The Lunenburg Academy. I hear it needs a new roof. 

So, what's the problem here?  I think it's a no brainer.  I would never say that if we were talking about a huge Metropolitan area.  That's an entirely different beast and I have heard compelling arguments on both sides, but in Lunenburg County what are we actually talking about?  We have a total population of 47,000 people and that number is going down every year. In this county we have five separate governments with five CAOs.  I know in Lunenburg and Chester each CAO earns over $100,000 per year and I imagine it is similar for the others. There are also deputy CAOs, town engineers, mayors, councillors, planners, building officials, and more.  Is that not the definition of over governance?  This is all supported by the tax payers of NS.   So, let's go back to that population number of 47,000.  The city of Portland, Maine has, 66,000 people.  That is a small, quaint city. Victoria, BC has a population of 78,000 people.  There's another small city for you.

Yes, yes, I know....The rural areas don't have town water, so why should they pay for the people that do.  O.K, well, maybe the tax rate is adjusted depending on what services you receive or maybe we factor in that people outside of towns come into towns to use recreational facilities that are paid for by those tax payers. Good Lord, can we not work this stuff out?  47,000 people and five municipal governments.  It's kind of embarrassing.  Shouldn't a person that lives in Blue Rocks, but runs a business in Lunenburg be able to have some say as to the direction of the town they work in?  But the worst part of five governments for 47,000 people is five different interpretations of rules.  It's a mess.  I would like someone to explain to me why one government for this small population would not be more efficient.  Please don't compare it to HRM or Toronto.  Those are not good comparisons. 

Here's the only argument that I heard against amalgamation and it's the one that really made me think that we need to amalgamate Lunenburg County.  A couple of months ago, The town of Lunenburg brought in Professor Jack Novack to talk about amalgamation.  It was billed as a public engagement session.  That was a less than honest representation.  The Town of Lunenburg does not want to amalgamate and Professor Novack supports their position.  What he said was that we need small municipal government because public engagement is the most important component to good governance and we can engage more easily with a small government.  I wonder if Professor Novack has ever lived in a small town?  The reality of public engagement in a tiny town is that it is not possible.  It is much too personal.  Everyone knows everyone and opinions are based not on facts, but on family ties or friendships.  It's an unhealthy democracy.  I completely agree with professor Novack.  Public engagement is everything, but I want real public engagement, not lip service.  When people feel that honest engagement is not possible, when they worry that offending a councilor means offending a friend or that engagement will affect their business or maybe even their child in school then we have a system that needs to change and needs to grow. 

So, there you have it.  I think we need to break up the old boys (and girls) clubs, make decisions with our neighbouring towns and learn that times are changing.  Lunenburg County would be stronger together.  Lunenburg will still be Lunenburg, Mahone Bay will still be Mahone Bay, Bridgwater will still be Bridgewater, but we would have $27,000,000 to deal with shit. Literally.



3 comments:

  1. I've been against full County amalgamation and in favour of creating 3 to 5 townships but you really make a person think about things Anna.

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  2. Anna, I hear you. I see the big picture of using a transition to fix what's broken. AND, as someone who lives in MODL, works from home, maintains my own well and septic (yes, we pay for our own shit), and contributes in a number of ways to the local community, I'm going to call you out on something. You (and most others in he discussion of amalgamation) speak of the towns and the county, but not MODL. That's the part of the world that people drive through to get from here to there. The part the power lines and Internet and phone lines go through. The part where you have to pay out of your own pocket for putting in a septic if you have a straight pipe or be fined, and if your water runs out you go to the lake with a bucket. My neighbours spent 10 years personally and persistently advocating with successive council, MPs, MLAs, to have the stumps and rocks in our gravel road sand sealed so our older residents would feel safe driving on it. Once that project was done, our road became a commuting route for businesses in Lunenburg and Bridgewater, and now it's not safe for the kids. There's a lake on private property on our road that in the summer attracts hundreds of teenagers, seniors, tourists and residents. They come from as far away as Chester. I know, because I talk to them. Perhaps Lunenburg could pay for my septic and water. And maybe the newly amalgamated area could foot the bill to clean up the beer bottles and chip bags those important tourists leave at the lake. Today, the property owner does that. For nothing.So, when I hear people talk about how much money will be saved by amalgamating, I have to wonder, "whose money?"

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    1. Hi Vicki, I do think about MODL in this scenario. Maybe it didn't come across. My reference to fixing straight pipes and someone living in Blue Rocks, but working in Lunenburg was meant to include the outlying rural areas in the vision. It's actually one of the main reasons that I think we need to see this as a team effort and adjust taxes for different areas according to what services they receive. Yes, I agree, town folk enjoy the lakes and beauty in the rural areas and those in the rural areas also enjoy the amenities of the towns, so we need to figure out a way to see that it's a group effort. I'm also aware that there is no perfect solution, but the one we have right now does not seem to be working. I think all the points you raised need to be addressed.

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