UPPER NAPPAN – Shared services between the Municipality of Cumberland County and the Town of Amherst was debated extensively during Wednesday’s bi-weekly meeting of county council.
Tabled for debate was a one-page document entitled, Inter-Municipal Cooperation Principles.
“I agree with every item in there except one,” said county warden Keith Hunter.
The one item Hunter had problems with was ‘Amalgamation of the two units.’
The document focuses the possibility of shared services between the two jurisdictions. One of the principals of the document states that discussions about share services will not result in the ‘Amalgamation of the two units’ (of Cumberland County and Amherst).
Hunter hopes discussion would lead to amalgamation.
“I think the public would be much better served if those five words were not there,” said Hunter, who represents District 3. “I think maybe sometime down the road, maybe not in my time, but sometime down the road amalgamation is probably going to happen. I’d like to see that taken out of the agreement when we vote on it. If we take it out I will agree with the rest.”
County CAO Rennie Bugley and his counterpart in Amherst, Greg Herrett, created the document in a spirit of good will between the two communities.
“We thought we needed guiding principals that would be approved by both municipalities,” said Bugley. “What we tried to do was set a positive framework to move forward.”
Hunter likes the idea of service partnerships between the two jurisdictions and hope they lead to amalgamation.
“I think it (discussion of shared services will not lead to amalgamation) should be eliminated from the agreement so that in the future if cooperation starts working then, sooner or later, the little lights going to go on and people will say, ‘hey, we’re cooperation on everything, why shouldn’t we be one unit,’” said Hunter.
“We have 34 municipal politicians in Cumberland County serving a little over 33,000 people," added Hunter. "I think we’re over governed. It’s not just the politicians. It’s five buildings, five sets of CAO’s, and five sets of staff for everything.”
Hunter said staff of the various jurisdictions most often drives rejection of amalgamation.
"I just don’t like seeing a restriction that would stop us from going ahead (with amalgamation),” said Hunter. “This amalgamation threat has always been turf protected. People are protecting their own turf and their own jobs. It’s not just staff, it’s councilors too and I think that should be out of there.”
Under the heading 'Termination of current employees' the document states, "Any staff related savings identified in a proposed shared service partnership business plan will be achieved through attrition and/or reassignment and reallocation of staff responsibilities. No current staff member will have their employment terminated as a result of a shared service partnership initiative.”
District 1 councilor Don Smith said, ‘I love this document.’
“I think it’s a great way to start,” he added. “Attrition and retirement, I’m not pushing for anybody to lose their job, but for efficiencies and cost savings, so be it.”
District 4 councilor Allison Gillis also said he likes the document and said he doesn't mind discussing amalgamation, but added:
“We represent rural Nova Scotia and the concern I have is that rural Nova Scotians would be represented more negatively if we have amalgamation,” he said. “We’re grass roots. We see the people we represent every day and we know their concerns.
“I want us to keep in mind that we could lose some aspect of rural government if we get into amalgamation.”
Hunter countered Gillis by saying, “What we’re discussing now is whether or not amalgamation is good or bad, and that’s not my point. My point is to get it (amalgamation) the heck out of there so that we can have that discussion down the road without breaking up the agreement.
Bugley broke the impasse by saying, “We could put a two-year agreement on this. We have eight service agreements in place, and then you might have a different state of mind. Then you could go into amalgamation discussions knowing how well the service agreements are working, and knowing if you should take that next step into amalgamation.”
District 5 councilor Lynne Welton said a two-year term would be counterproductive.
“I would much rather take amalgamation out of it and then whenever you decide to discuss it, whether it’s a year down the road or two year’s down the road, then we can discuss it,” she said.
Hunter said he agreed with Welton, but added, “At a two year term we can still discuss it because it’s going to take more than two years to get an amalgamation anyway. I don’t think much discussion would happen until two years is up. We can see how this works as far as combining services is concerned.”
District 2 councilor John Kellegrew then made a motion for council to sign the document, accepting it for a two year time period.
Hunter said, “All those in favour of the motion signify by raising your right hand.”
The motion was carried unanimously.
The one page document in its entirety is as follows:
Inter-Municipal Cooperation Principles Document
In the environment in which municipal governments operate today, it is expected that opportunities for service provision partnerships should be fully explored. These partnerships should be pursued to improve organizational efficiency and effectiveness. Successful municipal partnerships must, over the long term, add value to our customers and build organizational capacity to improve municipal services.
With this in mind we offer the following principles to guide shared service partnership discussions between the Town of Amherst and the Municipality of the County of Cumberland:
1. Organizational, political and staff threats should be removed from the process in order to ensure “buy in” at all levels. In that spirit, these discussions will not result in:
a. Annexation by either municipal unit
b. Amalgamation of the two units
c. Termination of current employees. Any staff related savings identified in a proposed shared service partnership business plan will be achieved through attrition and/or reassignment and reallocation of staff responsibilities. No current staff member will have their employment terminated as a result of a shared service partnership initiative. The human resource component of any shared service partnership proposal business plan shall include a requirement that the staffing complement be reviewed any time a current employee leaves the employ of the business unit involved to ensure that any potential efficiency identified may be captured.
2. All proposed shared service partnerships will be fully explored at the senior staff level and must be approved by the both CAO’s before being presented to the respective Councils for final approval. CAO’s will not bring forward shared service partnership proposals which do not represent, in their opinion, workable service provision alternatives which are sustainable in the long term.
3. The role of the respective Councils shall be to receive and consider for approval any shared service partnership proposal brought forward by the CAO’s.
4. The role of the CAO’s shall be to coordinate the work of their respective senior staff members in preparing shared service partnership proposals. Both CAO’s must formally approve a shared service partnership proposal prior to it being presented to the respective Councils.
5. CAO’s will provide periodic updates to their respective Councils on potential shared service partnership proposals that will be coming forward for Council consideration.