Town council to decide at special meeting April 16
HANTSPORT – The topic of dissolution receives mixed reviews in Hantsport.
More than 300 people packed into the gymnasium of the Hantsport School April 9 for an open discussion with council regarding the future of the town.
Leading up to the meeting, Mayor Robbie Zwicker made it clear he was leaning toward voting in favour of dissolving the town into a neighbouring municipality to improve the long-term financial outlook for Hantsport.
Council members were tasked with personally calling citizens prior to the meeting to invite them to share their feedback, or sit back and take in the discussion, at the public forum.
It’s no secret that Hantsport’s commercial tax revenue has significantly decreased with the idling of the Fundy Gypsum and closure of Minas Basin Pulp and Power.
In starting the meeting, Zwicker informed the crowd the town has lost about 33 per cent of its revenue in past five years.
“To recover the cost of the lost revenue this year we would need to increase taxes by 15 cents,” said Zwicker.
Even with recent cutbacks, including the paring back of town staff from seven full-time employees to 11, more changes will be required for council to free up money for costly infrastructure project that have been put on the backburner.
“Taxes need to change significantly to make a positive change,” said Zwicker.
Holmes Hill Road, he added, would cost a minimum of $1.2 million to repair, leaving the town with a bill of at least $450,000 if the provincial and federal governments agree to cover one-third of the costs.
Zwicker said that project alone would require a 10-cent increase on the tax rate for a period of 10 years. He stressed continuing to operate the town as is, without significant tax increases or service cuts, is not an option.
“We can balance the budget but we still will not have money for infrastructure upgrades.”
Zwicker noted that annexation, occupying land in another municipality, has not historically worked well in Nova Scotia, and amalgamating two municipal units requires willingness from all parties involved.
Dissolution, however, is a process that can be initiated by a single council.
The mayor said the goal of changing the town’s governance structure would be to decrease duplications, allow for greater sharing of services and put Hantsport in a position to take advantage of support currently being offered by the provincial government.
“These decisions must be based on fact, not emotion,” he stressed, in concluding his prepared remarks.
The residential tax rates in the soon-to-be dissolved Springhill is $2.25 per $100 of assessment and Bridgetown’s is $2.10. Hantsport’s residential rate is $1.69.
Negotiations would determine if Hantsport joins the Municipality of West Hants or the County of Kings if council votes in favour of dissolution. Tax rates and service offerings would also be up for negotiation.
Once a town is dissolved, the mayor continues to represent the community as a member of the council serving the receiving municipality.
Residents share their two cents
Brian Bishop expressed concern that negotiations would only begin after council chose to dissolve the town. He suggested council consider conducting a plebiscite to learn which municipality the residents of Hantsport would rather become a part of.
“I think we do need to find out which one of those municipalities are going to be able to help us with our problems,” Bishop offered.
Zwicker assured Bishop council is committed to getting the best deal for the citizens of Hantsport.
“We think we can balance the budget without raising taxes and, if we agree to dissolve, that will help set the budget and we’re looking at a tax cut this year,” the mayor explained.
Joseph McGinn implored council to take more time to review pros and cons of dissolution before making a decision that cannot be reversed.
“Once it’s gone it’s gone forever. You’ll never be a town again,” McGinn said.
Paul Syme said he’d like to see council hold off on making a decision for another year.
“What we have the potential for, which I’d like to see a lot more of, is advocacy for the town,” he said, listing the dog park, school and landscape as key features to market.
He suggested they start focusing on promoting Hantsport as a wonderful place to visit, do business and raise a family.
“If no one knows the town exists why would they think about setting up a business here?”
The crowd seemed split between those in favour of dissolution if it meant lower taxes, and residents willing to pay more taxes to keep the services they have now.
Garth Scott said a little volunteerism would go a long way in such tough economic times.
“If we’ve got the community spirit let’s bring it out and let’s not just let these things slide away,” he said, to applause.
Chris Fry said he’d accept a tax increase if that would solve the Haven of Hospitality’s economic woes, but he’s not concerned that handing in the town’s charter will make Hantsport less of a community.
“We will all still be from Hantsport because this is our home.”
A special council meeting was scheduled for April 16, at 6 p.m., in the Hantsport Fire Hall to allow elected officials to vote on the future governance structure of Hantsport.