PARRSBORO - As the sun set on another eventful year in Parrsboro, Mayor Lois Smith looked back at the year that was, and also ahead to 2012, in a recent annual year-end interview with The Citizen-Record.
Citizen-Record: Mayor Smith, thank you for doing this again. In our interview last year, you identified some priorities from 2011, so let's start by revisiting those. Did Phase 2 of the sewer project move ahead this year?
Lois Smith: No. Phase 1 will be completely paid off in 2012. All municipalities have to meet the federal government deadline of 2020 to have upgrades to waste water and sewer facilities. There will have to be grants and funding from the federal government.
CR: Does that mean there will have to be treatment?
LS: To my knowledge, it hasn't been specific, but I would assume so. It wouldn't be done by 2020 but that's the aim. It all depends on the funding and all the municipalities will have to contribute. Financially it will be a struggle, but we will move forward, with some help, with Phase 2, which will be connecting the two outflows, from Riverside to the town.
CR: Another priority you mentioned was the improvement of Main Street. How much headway do you think was made there in the past year?
LS: The council committee has been working with the CAO on that. They have a list of what they want to do. We did a little bit of it this year, with the flowers, the barrels and Christmas flowers, etc. We will move forward in 2012 and continue with the Main Street improvements. We have to get the applications in and there is money available.
CR: You also talked about a new town hall. Is that still being pursued?
LS: Yes, very much. It's on the agenda at almost every committee of the whole meeting, and we just continue to carry it through. The main thing would be assistance with funding. It's long-range planning, but it's going to become a necessity. I believe we could sell the library building and have a facility in the new building for the library, and could also have a facility for our recreation department, storing equipment. The possibility is also there to bring the visitor information centre back.
CR: You had (Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley MP) Scott Armstrong over at the wharf this year, talking about some funding to repairs after some storm damage there. Where has that gone?
LS: Next week I intend to contact DFO/coast guard. We need to directly contact the minister, and first thing we need to do is ask someone to come and assess the breakwater. It's not going to break through. We as a town have to make the first move on that. We've talked to various departments but we need something specific in writing. We had major repair work done to the wharf, starting in 2010 and carried over into 2011.
CR: Tax rates stayed the same this year, but with that came the warning that it would probably go up next year because of provincial downloading. Is it still looking that way?
LS: For several years we've been asking property evaluation services to come and go through the town. They did this summer. They looked at every house in the town of Parrsboro, and folks will probably see in their January assessments that some have gone up because they haven't been assessed for years. Because there will be people paying increased taxes, hopefully we will be able to keep our tax rate the same. Our tax rate is high, no question about it, but we don't have industry. We have very few commercial accounts, and most of them are our tourist operators, which is unfortunate for them because they're trying to make a living.
CR: We had Parrsboro become the site of the province's first collaborative emergency centre this year. How do you think that is working for the town?
LS: From what I'm learning from some staff members that work at the care centre, is that some like it, and some are getting used to it. From what I'm hearing from my friends, they can see a doctor within 24 hours, and the seven days a week is nice, too. What I've been told is that it's working, and we hope it continues to.
CR: In the fall the town agreed to fund a regional marketing strategy with Springhill and Oxford. Why do you think that is the answer?
LS: For the last couple years we have been working with other municipalities on mutual interests. We're all in Cumberland, so what benefits the county will generally spill over into Parrsboro or Springhill or Oxford. We now have also formed a new energy office with the county and Springhill. The marketing strategy will promote the entire county. We have to work together because no one unit has the financial capabilities (to do it alone.)
CR: We had the opening of the FORCE (Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy) centre in West Bay. Does having that facility open now define Parrsboro's role in the tidal power industry? Are the service and maintenance jobs going to Digby and the tourism jobs coming here?
LS: I think all the ports on the Bay of Fundy, on all sides, will be used at some point for something, whether it's going in because of weather, because they're closer... I am optimistic about the entire project. I still co-chair the (FORCE) community liaison committee, and we are going to have another public presentation in Parrsboro early in the New Year for an update on tidal power. Obviously it's a tourist attraction, it will be a research centre for visiting scientists and people interested in tidal power. Fifteen companies with a lot of employees worked on it, and it will continue, with the laying of power lines, etc. There will be students working there in the summer too.
CR: The auditor was here in the fall, and once again declared the town's books to be in good shape. At the same time, when people hear how healthy the town's finances are, people wonder why their taxes need to be so high, or why the town isn't spending more on certain priorities. What do you say to that type of criticism?
LS: I say, ‘And you are wanting this done, and that done. That's why it's gone into reserve with the little bit we have there, to get that $100,000 we need to do it.' The surplus goes into a reserve account, and then from there we can put it into things like public works, town hall maintenance, Main Street... The big thing we did spend some of last year's surplus on was Glooscap Park. We're flying high with that. We just cleared seven new sites over there, put in the power we need, and the sites are going to be year-round, so the additional revenue will mean we can do more. We're upgrading the playground equipment at the park as well. We bought a new truck for public works this year and a new street sweeper.
CR: So what would you say your priorities are for 2012? There is a municipal election in the fall. Have you decided if you will run again?
LS: Yes, definitely. I really enjoy it. They have been very busy days for the past 3-4 years, but I intend to run again.