Council record draws fireworks at municipal forum

Jocelyn Turner
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Mayor Robert Small talks during Tuesday’s Amherst municipal candidates’ forum while town council candidate Ed Childs (left) and mayor candidate Wayne Bishop look on. 

Amherst Daily News

AMHERST – The first fireworks in what has been to date a pretty quiet campaign were heard last night during Amherst’s municipal candidates’ forum at the Amherst Lions Club.

Town council candidate Ed Childs sparred with Mayor Robert Small and incumbent town councillor George Baker over several issues including commercial taxes, business recruitment and the Dominion Public Building.

Childs criticized town council for its decision to consider relocating the police department to the Confederation Memorial Building, calling it “ludicrous” and said the town has done very little to spur economic growth over the last four years.

“What have you done in the last four years? You people haven’t done anything,” said Childs, a former town manager.

In his closing remarks, Mayor Small said he disagrees with Childs’ assessment of what council has accomplished.

“I disagree that we haven’t accomplished anything. In fact, it infuriates me,” Small said of the criticism. “I do not bully and I won’t be bullied.”

Small said his leadership style is not autocratic, but is one of consensus building and planning. He said his council did a lot of work listening to what the people of Amherst wanted four years ago and put a plan in place to bring it together.

After Childs took aim at the town for having successive surpluses when its taxes are so high, Baker responded by saying Childs wasn’t screaming several years ago when as town manager the town had a $14,000 surplus and transferred $397,000 to operations.

“I didn’t hear Ed Childs screaming for lower taxes then,” Baker said.

Small’s competition for the mayor’s office, Wayne Bishop, questioned taxes as well, saying commercial taxes have been increasing for too long. He said town businesses are among the highest taxed in Nova Scotia.

“Amherst has the second highest commercial tax rate in the province. We need to bring that down in order to bring people in. We have to control our tax rate and we have to get it down so we can be competitive, that’s the bottom line,” Bishop said.

On the subject of the police department, which needs a new permanent home after August’s fire forced it from its Victoria Street quarters, Small was firm in his stance to move the department to the existing town hall.

“I’ve been speaking with council about using the current town hall as the police station. A consultant did provide a report with several different scenarios for a police station,” said Small. “I also believe that you need to take the opportunity to utilize other services where possible. I still believe the current town hall is the right location.”

Bishop however said the renovations alone would cost around $5 million. He said because the current mayor and council are still waiting on the report from a second opinion, he was unsure of an appropriate answer.

Childs however was completely against the decision.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous to try and put a police station in the current town hall,” Childs said. “Police stations are specialized buildings. They require a huge amount of renovations in infrastructure. That building is not suitable and not equipped. You might as well bulldoze it down and build a new police station in there. In the long run, it’s going to be cheaper. In the utilizing aspect, it’s like putting a hospital in a garage; it just doesn’t work.”

Small was asked for a detailed accounting of the cost of moving town hall to the Dominion Public Building. He said the town is spending $825,000 on the project due to cost overruns on bringing the building up to code. He did not know how much it cost to use town labour.

Other issues raised during the forum included accessible transportation in the town as well as how to get more tourists off the Trans-Canada Highway.

The controversial deed transfer tax was also raised with several candidates saying it needs to be removed.

(With files from Darrell Cole)

jturner@amherstdaily.com

Organizations: Daily News, Amherst Lions Club, Town council Trans-Canada Highway

Geographic location: Amherst, Nova Scotia, Victoria Street

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Recent comments

  • Positively Amherst
    October 05, 2012 - 14:45

    I had my listening ears on and took some notes at the candidates forum. Some people certainly seem to have heard things I didn't. Here's what I heard. EVERY candidate said positive things about Amherst and acknowledged the good work on town projects. Ed Childs concerns seemed to be only about the lack of progress on new employers - a big issue for our healthy economy in the future. Amherst is a great town and will become better and better once we figure out how to get more jobs and dollars flowing through... Thanks to the organizers of the event for a great evening.

  • Mediaboy
    October 04, 2012 - 15:00

    It seems as if there's a concerted effort in this forum by supporters of the current mayor and council to trash Ed Childs for his reasonable commitment to cut the town's tax rate. As a former town manager, brought in to fix the town's problems in the wake of several embarrassing and costly lawsuits, Mr. Childs is extremely knowledgable about all aspects of municipal government. Smart voters know this candidate will be looking out for their interests.

  • Enough already
    October 04, 2012 - 11:08

    To say that the current council has done nothing in 4 years is nothing more than one candidates attempt to make himself look good at the expense of Mr Small and his council. I would say by the comments of those in attendance, he failed miserably! Furthermore, can we put this issue with the theater to bed. Let's place blame where it belongs. Tang Investments were an absentee landlord who let their property fall behind in maintenance and taxes. The town stepped up and purchased the building for taxes owed. As far as Tantramar Theater goes, they are a business like any other in town. If Lawtons Drugs was in a town owned building paying 20% of market value for rent, there would be riots in the streets. As far as I am concerned, the free ride is over for Bette and her group. Onward and upward to our current council. The status quo is why our young people are leaving. Change and growth are good things, not something to be feared.

  • Go for it harper
    October 03, 2012 - 13:11

    Well Rick harper, why don't you start a fundraising committee to build that "charity" (private enterprise) their own building, and the money to up keep it. Then, when you are done, you should add one for the other theatre organizations in town. It amazes me how that was ever an issue. Childs would be happy about one thing, there would never be a surplus if we focused all our tax dollars on ensuring all the "charities" of town had their own building. We have a beautiful theatre in town...use it.

  • Vince Kennie of Northport
    October 03, 2012 - 12:29

    NO NAME. I also do not live in Amherst, but do shop there almost at least 3 to 4 times a week, have Massage and Chiropractic treatments there on a weekly bases, so therefore even if I do not reside in the town I am very interested in what happens politically in the best interest of the residents and for us outsiders who depend on the shopping malls, doctors offices, hospitals and even the education system. The vote on October 20th will be very interesting. (THANK YOU)

  • Anonymous
    October 03, 2012 - 12:13

    I don't like Child's attitude. He doesn't have any rights to tell the current Council off.

  • Honest Ed
    October 03, 2012 - 11:02

    As someone who went to the forum last evening, I must say that I have not decided who I will vote for yet but I know that after last evening's "show"- I will not be voting for Ed Childs. To claim that the mayor and council has not done anything in the last 4 years is ridiculous. While I don't agree with every single decision that has been made, anyone can see that for the first time in a long time, Amherst residents were consulted about changes they would like to see in their community and many of those changes came to fruition in 4 short years and many more are on their way. It is amazing to me that Ed Childs cannot see this blatant fact. The worst part of the forum was that Ed Childs and Wayne Bishop only spoke critically of the current mayor, council and recent or past decisions...for future forums (although I doubt they will be present) please use the opportunity to speak about what you WOULD or WILL do as mayor or a councillor instead of only speaking about what has not been done or hollering about decisions you do not agree with. It does not say much for your platform if your only agenda is to lower taxes without any other plans, ideas or proposals. Taxes are nothing in a town that does not have economic growth, recreation, spirit, etc. Also, his behaviour was appalling- yelling, banging fists- not a desirable trait of a leader or a role-model and p.s. Ed- it must have been very embarrassing to be called out on your surplus during your time, next time check your facts and check your small-minded and see-through attitude. Oh, and indoor voices please!!!

  • no name
    October 03, 2012 - 10:35

    for a fellow who doesn't live in the town and who doesn't have a vote I wouldn't concern myself with town matters, u should worry about ur compaign and ur impending lost , I don't think u will even get ur money back, worry about Rod and Keith and how bad one of these fellows is going to beat u, or yes worry about county problems

  • Rick Harper
    October 03, 2012 - 09:41

    OK: 1. Tear down existing burned out cop station and learning centre. Build a business mall similar to that in the industrial park to house 10 or more businesses. 2. Put Betty and her theatre group back in the Dominion Building. 3. Leave the town council on Ratchford Street. Town cops need a professional building of which nothing is suitable in the town.,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    • Reason
      October 03, 2012 - 12:16

      And who, pray tell, will pay to keep Tantramar Theatre in the Dominion Building? Over and over again, this issue is brought up, but there is never any suggestion who will pay the utilities, and repair and maintenance that this building requires.

  • Amherst gets a smaller vision
    October 03, 2012 - 06:56

    IMO I see this Town Council with the mayor as a group who find it very easy to solve dollar problems with five cent fixes. If there is a stratagy to build on the fixes towards solving the economic problems - it is not apparent however, there does appear to be bull-headed intransigence on issues like the police station, the new Elementary School for West Amherst, the Dominion Building conversion. There is a great deal of public opposition to councils stance on these and other significant issues. The mayor claims it is not bullying however, he should keep in mind that if something sounds, looks and smells like a duck, it is most likely a duck.

  • Joe O'Byrne
    October 03, 2012 - 03:59

    I did not know that Ed Childs was an Architect' he certainly seems to know a lot about police stations.