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)