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Candidates answer four questions from the Daily News

Q&A with Amherst's mayor and council candidates.

Amherst Daily News

On Saturday, voters will go to the polls to select who they want to represent them as the mayor and council for the next four years. We asked each of the candidates four questions. We asked what their vision is of Amherst for the next four years, how do they propose bridging the gap between commercial and residential taxes, is amalgamation of Cumberland County’s five municipal units an option or should we share more services, and what do they see as the future of policing in Amherst?

Mayor

Wayne Bishop

Q: What’s your vision of where Amherst should be in four years?

A: My vision for Amherst would be to have lower taxes so we can attract more business to our town. I would strive to have 50 new jobs per year for Amherst.

Q: Taxes, especially commercial taxes, seem to be a big issue? How would you suggest the gap between resident and commercial taxes be bridged?

A: The residential and commercial taxes can be bridged by reducing the overall costs of the operation of the Town.

Q: Cumberland County has five municipal units for 37,000 people. Should we have amalgamation, or more sharing of services?

A: I personally think we are over governed in Cumberland County. Amalgamation does not seem to be forthcoming. We should have more sharing of services, which should help in reducing operating costs.

Q: Policing is one of Amherst’s biggest budgetary items? What do you see as the future of policing in the town?

A: Policing Service costs will continue to grow with the introduction of the new federal Government policy on charging those with possession of marijuana We need to lobby the Federal and Provincial Governments for help in offsetting some of the costs associated with policing services.

Robert Small

Q: What’s your vision of where Amherst should be in four years?

A: While the obvious things are the establishment of a permanent home for the police department, the construction of a new elementary school and improvements to the West Highlands area, the construction of a new residential/commercial property to replace those affected by the recent downtown fire and continue our improvements to our downtown, it is my intention to have all the issues that the newly elected council has heard during the election, reviewed and through consensus, determine what the plan is for the next four years.

 Q: Taxes, especially commercial taxes, seem to be a big issue? How would you suggest the gap between resident and commercial taxes be bridged?

 A: When setting tax rates, you have to take into consideration the cost of services, costs of improvements to infrastructure, projected assessments and so on. While commercial tax rates have been raised as a concern, you also have to take into consideration residential rates when setting both tax rates. Amherst’s residential rate (1.66) has been lower than municipalities of comparable size and services. The residential/commercial gap is a province wide issue, not just Amherst. A review of taxation needs to be completed that provides council with a recommendation on a phased approach for tax reduction balanced with services.

Q: Cumberland County has five municipal units for 37,000 people. Should we have amalgamation, or more sharing of services?

A: The past four years have seen continual improvements in co-operation within the five municipal units, in terms of sharing of services with the most recent being the procurement sharing service agreement and this needs to continue. Currently, the provincial government in co-operation with the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities is working on a plan that will help provide a framework for more sharing of services between municipalities.

Q: Policing is one of Amherst’s biggest budgetary items? What do you see as the future of policing in the town?

While the police force is a big budgetary item, most of the costs associated with operating a police force are mandated to meet provincial requirements. Our police force provides a high quality service with both economic and social benefits to our community. We will continue to work along side the Police Commission, to ensure that it’s affordable.

Town Council

Frank Balcom

Q: What’s your vision of where Amherst should be in four years?

A: A vibrant and prosperous town attracting new business and jobs with an increased emphasis on tourism. Amherst is truly the hub of the Maritimes.

Q: Taxes, especially commercial taxes, seem to be a big issue? How would you suggest the gap between resident and commercial taxes be bridged?

A: The commercial tax rate should be lowered to bring in new business and jobs. By building our tax base, taxes can be lowered across the board, thereby bridging the gap that now exists.

Q: Cumberland County has five municipal units for 37,000 people. Should we have amalgamation, or more sharing of services?

A: Greater co-operation between the town and county is definitely needed. A sharing of services could result in a win-win situation for everyone.

Q: Policing is one of Amherst’s biggest budgetary items? What do you see as the future of policing in the town?

A: Policing is an essential service which is required in any town. While Amherst has an excellent police force, we could look at different models of policing as they exist in other towns, to see if cost saving measures might be adopted here.

George Baker

Q: What’s your vision of where Amherst should be in four years?

A: My vision for Amherst in four years is to have more infrastructure, more economic development and more good paying jobs for our citizens and to bring our town back to "Busy Amherst".

Q: Taxes, especially commercial taxes, seem to be a big issue? How would you suggest the gap between resident and commercial taxes be bridged?

A: We have to work harder to bring more businesses to our area in order to bring our commerical taxes to the rate that will fulfill the services that are required.

Q: Cumberland County has five municipal units for 37,000 people. Should we have amalgamation, or more sharing of services?

A: I feel we could share more services that will be fair to all municipalities but every municipality must pay their fair share. Smaller units could unite with the bigger units and all work together.

Q: Policing is one of Amherst’s biggest budgetary items? What do you see as the future of policing in the town?

A: I support our local police department 100 per cent however council, the police commission and the police department must work together to keep the rising costs down and the province must stop downloading paperwork and regulations in order for our department to have more policing on the streets.

Robert Bird

Q: What’s your vision of where Amherst should be in four years?

A: Population of 10,001. Busy and friendly Amherst. Clean, Green and Vibrant. A full industrial park employing local people who shop in local stores. The centre of it all. A place where people want to live. Jobs, recreation and leisure activities for the benefit of everyone. A great place to live, work, play, raise a family and retire. Not too big, not too small...just right.

Q: Taxes, especially commercial taxes, seem to be a big issue? How would you suggest the gap between resident and commercial taxes be bridged?

A: Fairness, expansion of tax base, restructuring/elimination of the PVSC and shared services. By expanding the tax base, sharing services and reducing the cost of policing, the tax burden can be reduced and fairly shared between residential and commercial rate payers.

Q: Cumberland County has five municipal units for 37,000 people. Should we have amalgamation, or more sharing of services?

A: Forced amalgamation is not an option. We are not over represented by our elected officials, however we are over bureaucratized. We do not need five of everything. Shared services is something all voters must demand of their elected representatives to reduce taxes for all of Cumberland County.

Q: Policing is one of Amherst’s biggest budgetary items? What do you see as the future of policing in the town?

A: My father was a police officer...badge #6, hired in 1968. I support local police and I believe any municipality loses some of its identity when they lose their local police force. Policing is more than the discussion about a new facility to house a consultants opinion about the need for 55 police officers in Amherst. It must be discussed in it's entirety with input and participation from all stakeholders, not just those grandstanding for political gain.

Ed Childs

Q: What’s your vision of where Amherst should be in four years?

A: In four years, citizens will regularly have input into decisions and lots of opportunities to share their opinions and ideas for a better Amherst. We should have attracted eight new firms to the industrial park with a total of 200 new jobs. As a result, taxes should be stabilized and any increase in tax revenue should come from residential and commercial growth.

Q: Taxes, especially commercial taxes, seem to be a big issue? How would you suggest the gap between resident and commercial taxes be bridged?

A: I firmly support lower taxes for both residents and businesses. This is a very serious and complex issue that won’t be quickly solved. Unless we have new sources of revenue, complete bridging of the gap is impossible without unfairly taxing one party or the other.

Q: Cumberland County has five municipal units for 37,000 people. Should we have amalgamation, or more sharing of services?

A: There are three choices – the system we currently have, one county, or partial amalgamation, say Cumberland South and Cumberland North. Issues as important as this need a detailed study. Once completed, then let the citizens weigh the pros and cons and make the decision in a plebiscite. Sharing of services could be a good solution as long as there are benefits for all those involved, and operational efficiencies are regularly measured.

Q: Policing is one of Amherst’s biggest budgetary items? What do you see as the future of policing in the town?

A: I fully support our current professional and competent force. Policing is costly no matter how and who delivers the service. Personally, I don't support switching to the RCMP because that would mean fewer officers on the street and therefore a lower level of service. However, we would have to get all the facts by commissioning a detailed study of the issue and letting the people of Amherst decide specifically the level of service they want and the costs they are prepared to support.

Lisa Emery

Q: What’s your vision of where Amherst should be in four years?

A: I see Amherst as being a more vibrant community with accessibility for all.  Our empty storefronts having shops and businesses open. I see our industrial park welcoming new industries and businesses thriving all over Town.

Q: Taxes, especially commercial taxes, seem to be a big issue? How would you suggest the gap between resident and commercial taxes be bridged?

A: The lowering of taxes must be done in a responsible manner. First check all government services for redundancies and waste and cut these and then set the tax rate to pay for whatever services are needed. By lowering the residential tax rate one cent a year over the next four years that would take away from some of the tax pain that was created by the property assessments going up so high. Lowering the commercial tax rate by one cent a year, instead of having the second highest in the province we would be more competitive in the middle of the pack. 

Q: Cumberland County has five municipal units for 37,000 people. Should we have amalgamation, or more sharing of services?

A: Right now HRM is having a lot of difficulties since their amalgamation several years back.  There are just too many communities with different issues that cannot be decided or packaged together in one blanket decision.  So I am for more sharing of services. 

Q: Policing is one of Amherst’s biggest budgetary items? What do you see as the future of policing in the town?

A: There are a couple of items that need to be understood by the citizens before anyone can properly answer this question. First, the province pays for four of our officers and the Federal government pays for one. The biggest issue is the minister of justice will not release the funding unless our police department keeps its core strength that’s determined by his office. First, we need to get the minister to release his hold on how many officers we have to have in order to get that funding and secondly we have to share more services between Amherst, Springhill and the Cumberland Detachment of the RCMP. Do we really need three dispatch services, for example?

Dale Fawthrop

Q: What’s your vision of where Amherst should be in four years?

A: Amherst is a town where the citizens are proud to say we live here. This is our home. We need to continue to build on our pride in Amherst. The streets and businesses are well maintained and thriving; and the sporting facilities are busy. The FibreArts and the Rockabilly Festivals are high-ranking tourist attractions. Our community spirit is our economic and social driver.

Q: Taxes, especially commercial taxes, seem to be a big issue? How would you suggest the gap between resident and commercial taxes be bridged?

A: Reduce, cut, slash are words that flow easily at election time. However, there is no easy one step solution to rationalizing the disparity between resident and commercial taxes. There needs to be a close examination of our infrastructure needs, our recreational needs and our protective services. How much can taxes be lowered and service levels maintained?

Q: Cumberland County has five municipal units for 37,000 people. Should we have amalgamation, or more sharing of services?

A: At present, there are a number of shared services provided through CJSMA (solid waste); CRDA (Economic and Community Development); Procurement Agreement; Water and Fire Protection agreements; and the Cumberland Y. In the near future, we need to look at recreational services, policing, planning and building inspection services. Amalgamation may be the culmination but being good neighbours is the first step towards cost saving.

Q: Policing is one of Amherst’s biggest budgetary items? What do you see as the future of policing in the town?

A: The first step is determining the right facility for our police department. There needs to be a close examination of needs, sources of funding and building resources. Whether the new police station is a refit of a facility owned by the town or the construction of a new building specifically designed for our police force, it must be a facility that will enable the police to protect and to serve our people for the next twenty to thirty years.

Dave March

Q: What’s your vision of where Amherst should be in four years?

A: A sustainable, connected, safe, growing town, in the heart of the Maritimes, that is a tourist service centre, with a vibrant downtown, full of unique shops and services. A town that is proud of what it is, that looks after its people and welcomes new comers and new ideas. Really.

Q: Taxes, especially commercial taxes, seem to be a big issue? How would you suggest the gap between resident and commercial taxes be bridged?

A: The Downtown Amherst Business Advisory Committee has heard that business taxes should be lowered. If we matched the rate of Truro or New Glasgow, the downside is that the town would lose $200,000 in revenue. What is the business upside? If residential taxes were lowered 5%, the downside is that the Town loses $300,000+ in revenue. What's the upside? As a taxpayer living in a $100,000. home, you save $100 on your taxes. I promise to spend our money wisely, but let's talk about lower taxes.

Q: Cumberland County has five municipal units for 37,000 people. Should we have amalgamation, or more sharing of services?

A: More sharing of services certainly. Amalgamation yes, for a whole lot of reasons, but most importantly because of the two major strengths we have, that nobody else does, anywhere – the untapped tourism potential  and the untapped green power. When we speak together, 37,000 voices are a lot more convincing than 4000 voices.

Q: Policing is one of Amherst’s biggest budgetary items? What do you see as the future of policing in the town?

A: A local police force, visible and involved in the community, working out of a state of the art facility, that we can afford. I see a force that is a combination of regular officers and bylaw officers and community officers.

Art Marks

Q: What’s your vision of where Amherst should be in four years?

A: More available full-time employment.  The downtown infrastructure completed with new business established in our down town core.  New recreational programs created for our youth and our senior population; and a strong economy that will benefit our community as a whole.

Q: Taxes, especially commercial taxes, seem to be a big issue? How would you suggest the gap between resident and commercial taxes be bridged?

A: It is not what you make, it is what you spend. We need to scrutinize our expenditures and bring them in check in order to lower both commercial and residential tax rates; especially our commercial rates.  

 

Q: Cumberland County has five municipal units for 37,000 people. Should we have amalgamation, or more sharing of services?

A: Amalgamation is not the answer.  Co-operation is what we should strive to accomplish. All municipalities should work together toward common goals that will benefit all of our citizens; whether it be sharing of services or increases in tourism dollars spent in our communities, etc.

Q: Policing is one of Amherst’s biggest budgetary items? What do you see as the future of policing in the town?

A: Policing is a necessity for every community. As a council we need to look at what services are being provided and the associated cost related to those services; we need to make collective decisions that benefit our entire community.  Policing is one expenditure that needs to be addressed.

Terry Rhindress

Q: What’s your vision of where Amherst should be in four years?

A: If I’m re-elected I would like to see Dickey Brook restored from one end to the other. I would also like to see the walking trails completed along the brook. I would also like to see trails to the marsh. The downtown is something else I want to see more continued. With the old police station, I’m looking forward to seeing what can be done in terms of developing that property, as well as where the apartments were and the office buiding next door.

Q: Taxes, especially commercial taxes, seem to be a big issue? How would you suggest the gap between resident and commercial taxes be bridged?

A: In the next few years we have to sit down and look at the taxes. We have to have a surplus because you never know what’s going to happen. We could have a lot of snow in one winter and it could wipe out our surplus.

Q: Cumberland County has five municipal units for 37,000 people. Should we have amalgamation, or more sharing of services?

A: I don’t think amalgamation is the answer. I think we can do a better job working together among the municipalities. If work together and share more services we can make it work to benefit all residents.

Q: Policing is one of Amherst’s biggest budgetary items? What do you see as the future of policing in the town?

A: Policing is a very expensive part of our budget. They’re saying by 2020 we’ll need 66 police officers. I don’t agree with that. I think we have to control the budget. Another option could be sharing services with other areas such as Springhill.

Organizations: Daily News, Policing Service, Federal and Provincial Governments Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities Police Commission Town Council RCMP The Downtown Amherst Business Advisory Committee

Geographic location: Amherst, Cumberland County, West Highlands Springhill Cumberland South Cumberland North New Glasgow

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  • Grant Walsh
    October 19, 2012 - 22:12

    Is there a reason why you didn't ask the 2 school board candidates any questions. Are the students not important to this newspaper?