Springhill dissolution meeting draws packed house

Christopher
Christopher Gooding
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SPRINGHILL – It was too little too late for many in Springhill Thursday night.

Town of Springhill

The Town of Springhill, which voted to dissolve its town status in March, held a public meeting to show the financial information the town leaders used to make their decision, which came as a shock to the community.

Armed with the previous year’s financial statements, graphs and charts available through the Municipal Financial Condition Index released by the province earlier that day, and the support of the Dept. of Municipal Affairs,  Springhill Mayor Max Snow and Deputy Mayor Darrell White painted a bleak situation where deficits and tax rates would continue to grow in the coming years for the community. The audience of more than 400 citizens spilled into the hallway where a television monitor had been set up for the overflow of attendees listened quietly, but it was clear they were waiting for their turn to talk.

“I believe once you see the information you will have a better understanding of this serious, serious, serious situation Springhill is in,” Snow said.

“I guess in hindsight we should have approached the process differently,” White said.

In its 2012-2013 audited statements, Springhill’s long-term debt was $5.1 million, with an $800,000 overdraft.  It’s present unaudited statements, ending March 31 of this year, White says the town is looking at a $300,000 operating deficit and an overdraft of almost $1 million. And there’s still the issue of $1.6 million in uncollected taxes.

While dealing with the town’s financial situation it’s been leaving vacant positions putting strain on the town’s human resources, and infrastructure has been deteriorating.

“Anyone here who drives our roads would assay they’re in deplorable condition,” White said.

White did clarify protective services in the community is more than policing – it also includes building services and the fire department – but the cost of policing in the community still carried a lot of weight on the decision to dissolve the town. The town called for proposals for policing in Springhill prior to the decision to dissolve, with a bid coming in from the existing force and another from RCMP. The police proposal was for $1.5 million and the RCMP was $1.3 million. Members of the department argued the Springhill proposal didn’t account for revenues they make offering criminal background checks, which goes into the town’s accounts.  

Then White struck to the point. Why they chose to dissolve the town without public consultation. The policing contract required the town give 12-months notice to the department if it is going to end its services.

And with respects to the town’s responsibility to the officers’ pensions, White stated “Council will meet all of its legal responsibilities to its employees.”

For the Springhill Police’s Doug Williams, president of the police union, those were ominous words.

“If the town doesn’t dissolve and goes with RCMP, the town has to pay $2 million [in Springhill Police pensions],” Williams said. “If the town does dissolve, the town pays zero.”

Williams was not the only one in the audience who took offence with how the numbers were being presented. Former resident Stacey Fisher and her husband Pablo Rodriguez, both chartered accountants, had dug into the town’s previous financial statements and the very same information the town presented from the  Municipal Financial Condition Index the town used to present a negative picture of the financial situation, and called for clarification.

“The numbers don’t make sense,” Fisher said.

 “Is the town is dire short term straits? Is it going to be bankrupt in 12 months?...The long term debt, you’ve been paying your mortgage, but there is something wrong going on with you accounts receivable,” Rodriguez said. “You were in a solid financial situation for six years then came off the rails. What happened?

Mayor Snow and White would not comment on how the accounts receivable grew to such a sizable amount, but said council acted when the matter came to their attention. Audience members, however, were not satisfied and wanted to know who was responsible.

No names were given.

Organizations: RCMP

Geographic location: Springhill

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Recent comments

  • Wentworth
    May 20, 2014 - 16:30

    I sure hope that if Springhill joins the County they come without their debts. I am not sure that I want to pay taxes to cover your debts.

  • Citizen Joe
    May 17, 2014 - 21:14

    Town Council is proceeding with dissolving and amalgamating with Cumberland County. The Province will assist by appointing their own auditor/CA to go over the finances, also in depth work will be done to see the age and condition of the sewer and water lines (1952 on my street), the Lagoon, water treatment plant, buildings and other things owned and operated by the Town, such as equipment. They will be able to forcast what the cost would be to bring things up to normal standards. This is being done at their cost, how can that be a bad thing? Dartmouth, Bedford and Sackville amalgamated with Halifax, Liverpool with Queens, Canso with Guysborough, and now Bridgetown and Hantsport are dissolving. According to news there are 10 or 11 Towns on the brink of doing the same thing. In this day and age services must be shared, and cost savings must be made where possible, even if it only amounts to a few hundred thousand difference. Because the long term savings will be huge. Council is doing what is best for all citizens, with low, average and high incomes.

  • gary brown
    May 16, 2014 - 19:54

    figures lie and liars figure

  • Citizen Joe
    May 16, 2014 - 17:46

    Anyone that was at last night's meeting and didn't have tunnel vision would see that Council is trying to do what is best for ALL citizens, not a select few. Facts were presented by Darrell White and you can be sure Greg Herrett assisted in someway. It was a sure thing that we have a large debt, and if things were reversed on the dissolving the Town we would be in a much worse situation within two years. The present police contract was up in March and they are due for a new one. The last contract the town offered them 1.5% raise and they turned it down and went to arbitration and they receives an 18.5% raise. Dean Ruddick submitted a proposed policing cost for the next year, his figures were based upon present contract costs, not those of a new contract and another significant raise. The RCMP submitted a figure, which was lower, however this was to Town Council, I am sure that if the County of Cumberland contacted the Attorney General the costs would be lower, because they now cover Amherst, Oxford, Parrsboro, Athol, Lynn Mountain and so on so their patrols would always be here. The Province are doing a study on the Water lines, sewer lines, the roads, sewer plant, water plant and other thing to see what needs up-graded immediately or within the next few years. The Town has and will not have money to do any of these up-grades, but the Province already said they would do it. Doing these thing will attract people to move here and invest in the community. After a much draw out financial picture, that most people could see or follow on the screen, it is easy for someone else to step up to the microphone and find flaws with it. Stacey fisher and her husband did, because they had a vested interest in finding something wrong with council and wanting to belong to this vigilante committee, not Concerned Citizen`s Committee, because a few that spoke did nothing but shouting, accuse and threaten anyone that opposed their views. Council has, at hand, many experts that have suggested that this is the ONLY recourse and 99% of the Springhill residents will gain through this, if they give it a chance.

  • Rob
    May 16, 2014 - 17:32

    What I saw last night scared me. I saw a large group of people absolutely refuse to come to grips with reality. It is no wonder there was no plebiscite. I don't think Mayor, council, or anyone else could convince the people of my town that the sky was blue. It appears to me that the only thing the concerned citizens have left is fear. Mr. White did a great job of presenting the facts but this did not matter. The people of my town either don't care about facts or are not smart enough to know what they mean. The Fisher accountants were very smart well spoke people but they had to say sorry at the end because they could not beat Mr. White's numbers. Democracy is a myth that politicans use to give people a sense of control that they never had. I live work and pay taxes in this town. But after what I saw last night I would like to sell my house ASAP. Too bad I can't.

  • Linda Ann Campbell
    May 16, 2014 - 14:34

    All of the above is accurate, but there is so much more. The Mayor didn't listen to the citizens bu sat there with bland affect and gave short comments and no answers. The Mayor and Council never apologized for omitting to include the citizens in the process. What is the big rush? He absolutely refused to slow down the process so citizens can have time to make an informed decision. The worst is Mayor Snow absolutely refused a plebiscite! Shocking. As Bill Casey said, Where is the democracy!

    • more of the same
      May 19, 2014 - 17:09

      On the other hand the people in Cumberland County don't even have the option of saying yes or no to taking on Springhill with all it's problems . The County Council can't look at the request for amalgamation and say no they don't like the deal and reject it . The Council , taxpayers , and citizens just have to take it warts and all . Where is the democracy there ?

  • Fuzzy Math
    May 16, 2014 - 10:47

    How on earth can a town allow $1.6 million in taxes go uncollected? For a town that is less than 5000 people, how was this allowed to go on without checks and balances? The town administration should be ashamed of itself for allowing finances to get out of control. So glad I left this town that I am embarrassed to call a home town. It reeked with corruption for years. Good Riddance to Springhill !

  • Doug.P
    May 16, 2014 - 08:29

    When you promise everything to everyone, in the end when it collapses no one gets anything. Learn the lesson of politics: putting professional lairs in charge of your most import affairs has disastrous consequences.

  • noodle
    May 16, 2014 - 08:08

    Question: Is Stacy Fisher the daughter of Cathy Fisher - the former Springhill councillor who served on council for the past 12 years or so until this past year's election? If so, why doesn't she just ask her mother what happened to the town finances. The council that is in now hasn't even been in power for a year; any financial issues they're facing, especially such serious ones, are likely inherited from previous councils.

    • John Fisher
      May 16, 2014 - 10:19

      Stacey Fisher is not related to the Cathy Fisher you speak of in any way, shape, or form.

  • more of the same
    May 15, 2014 - 23:28

    The Springhill Debt Disaster is on a run away course . The 5.1 million long term + .3 mil yearly shortfall + .8 mil line of credit + 1.6 mil uncollectables amounts to $ 7.8 million dollars ... The town can't even handle the past debts and current bare bones operations so how can it pay for badly needed road maintenance upgrades , fixing up costly environmental problems and pay pensions ?

    • k
      May 16, 2014 - 07:33

      Its easy....county folks will pay it for them