By Darrell Cole
SPRINGHILL - Cumberland County's municipal leaders are asking Premier Darrell Dexter to hold an independent economic impact study into the long-term impact of moving the correctional centre outside the county.
"We are calling on the premier to take the advice outlined by his economic advisory panel by placing a stop on his government's decision to build one jail rather than two facilities," Amherst Mayor Rob Small said during a press conference Wednesday in front of the Cumberland County Correctional Centre. "We call on his economic advisory panel or an external consultant to perform an economic impact study on what this decision will do both short and long term to the social and economic conditions of Cumberland County,"
Amherst's mayor joined with Cumberland South MLA Murray Scott, the warden of Cumberland County and the mayors of Springhill, Oxford and Parrsboro in expressing their opposition to the decision earlier this month to build one jail as opposed to two.
Small said municipal leaders don't know how the decision was arrived at, what criteria was used and what calculations were used to determine the savings being quoted.
"I don't believe it's going to save them money. When you work the math, they talk about saving $5.5 million. It's a smaller facility so of course you're going to save money from the original plan," Small said. "The problem is we don't understand what was the basis for this decision and that's why we need the premier to get involved."
The mayor believes an independent analysis would make sure there is a clear understanding of the risks and long-term costs associated with the decision.
"You may save a little today, but pay considerably more in the future," Small said. "This is going to cost the taxpayers of Nova Scotia more money. I see people leaving Cumberland County and I see this causing more social pressure on this end of the province. Give us the information so we can understand and provide solutions that will work for them."
In making the announcement Dec. 1, Justice Minister Ross Landry said the decision was based on economics and the province's precarious financial position. Aside from the savings from construction costs, the minister said having one jail in northern Nova Scotia would save about $1.7 million in operations.
The municipal leaders are also questioning Landry's impartiality after comments in the New Glasgow News saying he'd prefer to see it built in his Pictou County riding.
"We don't accept his view and can't see how he can be impartial," Small said
Because of this, Small said the county's municipal leadership has lost confidence in the justice minister. "Mr. Minister, based on your comments, we do not believe that you will be making an impartial decision on this matter. We believe you are in direct conflict with this decision."
Landry, Small said, has not taken into consideration the impact of uprooting families of those who work at the county correctional centre.
Springhill Mayor Allen Dill is urging county residents to speak with one voice urging government to change its mind.
"We are asking each and every one of you to join together with us as one voice, a unified voice that will tell the premier and his cabinet that we are not too happy with their decision to exclude Cumberland County from the site selection process."
Dill does not believe one jail will meet the needs of the justice system and feels two jails are better than one.
While the premier has publicly said he's in favour of spurring rural economic development, county Warden Keith Hunter said that won't happen in Cumberland if the jail is moved.
"The premier indicated this government will put public interest first and take a practical approach from an administrative standpoint that best serves the public. He indicated he would save millions of dollars in capital and operational costs in the next decade. I would save that a government must be fiscally responsible but it must not forget its citizens at the periphery of this province," Hunter said. "If you want to do what you want to do give Cumberland County the opportunity to create a win-win situation for the province and this area by taking the time to understand the economic impact this decision will have on Cumberland County."
Hunter said there has been an erosion of services in Cumberland over the years and the jail decision further reinforces the feeling among residents that the province ends at Colchester County line.
Scott said a review is imperative and needs to be done.
"The information as to how the government made this decision needs to be released as quickly as possible so the residents of Cumberland County can see that," Scott said. "The premier needs to uphold the promise he made during the election campaign that he'd honour the commitments of the previous government."