Is it too late to save Springhill

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Community Editorial Panel with Jerry Randall

I was at a dental office yesterday, and while I was waiting got into a conversation with a lovely older lady by the name of Mrs O’Brien from River Hebert.

She had started the conversation by telling me about certain difficulties she is now experiencing with her husband who is not quite up to par health-wise, and who now requires much of her time and attention, which severely limits her ability to get out to take care of dental matters and other personal needs.

She relies on others to stay with her husband while she’s away, and I could tell she was a bit antsy about getting back home.

From there the conversation went on to tell me about how things were getting better again down in “the River.” She said they have a gas station now, at the same location where a previous station had been, but now cleaned up and operated by the same person who had closed it down a year or so ago. She said that service returning there was very important to the village and it’s residents, and she thinks a greater percentage of the areas drivers are trying harder to support the business in an effort to keep it there.

Mrs. O’Brien went on to say that things are much better now at the Co-op grocery store, and gave very high praise to one particular female employee. She said the place is all newly painted and cleaned up, and she now sees citizens leaving with a full compliment of groceries instead of just a quart of milk. Local appreciation that this business has been cleaned up and is offering improved service is obvious.

We concluded with a brief discussion about the long-suffering school issue, now resolved. The much-needed work on the high school is proceeding well, she reported, and when all is completed the former high school will become a P-12 facility and a source of pride for all the community.

“Mrs. O’Brien, our short time together was indeed a pleasure for me, and I was so glad to get your perspective on what’s happening in your community of River Hebert. Your pride in the village is quite obvious. I wish you well as you continue to care for your husband, Perhaps someday you can campaign for River Hebert to be recognized as a town, and you can run for mayor. You are certainly a great ambassador/”

Well, it seems that Springhill is headed in a different direction, with the application from the mayor and council to the NSUARB to turn that historic town into a village. From where I sit, the whole matter seems to be based on the town’s high debt level, with no plausible means in sight to reduce that problem to a manageable level. It seems that a raging controversy has sprung up (What? In Springhill? Never!)

It seems the issue is not with the debt figures, but whether or not the mayor and council were responsible to consult the community about such a move before actually making their application to the UARB, if not legally, then at least morally.

I am told the UARB has been in town for an initial meeting, and has given special status to the citizen committee apparently headed by former MLA Murray Scott and MP Bill Casey, both of whom have spoken out strongly in favour of a formal plebiscite offering various options to the citizens.

It might appease some disgruntled people there, but overall, at this point, it looks a though it might be a matter of too little, too late. I think any effort to involve the taxpayers of that old town should rightly have happened before application was made to the UARB to dissolve the town status and turn the town into a part of the Municipality of Cumberland with the status of village. Really, such action by council to involve the citizens in the financial plight of the community should have happened decades ago. That would have been the right thing to do! But now, time has defeated the purpose. The debt is so high against the low tax base that repayment of the debt is no longer possible. Years ago it might have been possible to fix the matter. Now it’s too late!

Its all in the hands of the UARB now, who will present their findings soon. In the meantime citizens of Springhill, be careful what you wish for. Any withdrawal of that UARB application could easily result in a very hefty property tax increase as a way to get that debt reduced. It took decades to create it. It could take decades of tax pain to reduce it. 

Are you prepared?

 

Jerry Randall is a member of the Amherst News Community Editorial Panel.

Organizations: Amherst News Community Editorial Panel

Geographic location: Springhill, River Hebert, Cumberland

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  • Citizen Joe
    August 01, 2014 - 17:13

    After having read these comments, I have to make a couple corrections. Springhill never applied for village status, and Bill Casey no longer has been given any status before the URAB. During the open meeting on May 15th, Bill Casey, Murray Scott and others representing the Concerned Citizens Committee went to the microphone and shouted, threatened and pointed fingers towards our elected representatives. They didn't come there to ask questions on behalf of citizens. Their whole focus was to save the police department. Yes it is going to cost nearly 2 million dollars to replace them, as this amount is pension money, that we were obligated to pay regardless of whether the police remained or not. The Town is over 6 million in debt and a budget for this fiscal year over 6 million. We had/have 1600 taxpayers, with 53% not paying their taxes last year, that leaves 752 taxpayers that were paying taxes. Any person can see that no Town can survive with this happening. The Town Council has the luxury of having top financial experts such as Greg Herrett, Daryl White, Harold Delaney, John Boyle plus others from the Province saying the same thing, Springhill must dissolve and join with the County in order to survive, otherwise we would be a Village. I have lived here much of my life and have voted in every election and I cannot recall anything that Murray Scott or Bill Casey ever did for Springhill. In fact to my knowledge they never attend any Council meetings over the past 10 to 20 years or they would have see or could have asked questions regarding the financial situation in Springhill. Remember it wasn't that long ago the there was a question of $300,000.00 the Govt. was after them about. The previous Mayor and Police Commission Chair contacted the Attorney General's dept. on Oct. 9, 2012, just 11 days before the next election, explaining the cost of keeping the police department and looking for costs related to replacing them with the RCMP. The Province is very willing to help because it is their mandate to reduce costs and share services. No one can explain to me or others that have asked the question "what will change when we amalgamate?" The Province, the County of Cumberland and the Mayor and Council are thinking what is best for the citizens of Springhill, which includes seniors, low income earners, average/high income residents and the children, that are the future here. The Concerned Citizens Committee were formed, according to the petition that some residents signed. it was to ask questions on their behalf, the Committee has now changed to "Stop Amalgamation" no matter what. May people that signed this petition have had their names removed, and there are others that say this Committee no longer speaks for them. This Committee wants a plebiscite taken. When Antigonish and Antigonish County joined they were not allowed a plebiscite, and neither was Canso never had a plebiscite. It would be no good to have a plebiscite taken in Springhill because of the cost, the fact that many residents don't have the information to make a wise decision and the Committee has tainted the process by bullying and threatening people. The Mayor was bullied twice, plus some Councillors wives were encountered while out shopping. This Committee has already has already divided Springhill, which in time any heal, but if it continues, Springhill will never be the same.

  • Citizen Joe
    August 01, 2014 - 11:56

    After having read these comments, I have to make a couple corrections. Spring never applied for village status, and Bill Casey no longer has been given any status before the URAB. During the open meeting on May 15th Bill Casey, Murray Scott and others representing the Concerned Citizens Committee went to the microphone and shouted, threatened and pointed fingers towards our elected representatives. They didn't come there to ask questions on behalf of citizens. Their whole focus was to save the police department. Yes it is going to cost nearly 2 million dollars to replace them, as this amount is pension money, that we were obligated to pay regardless of whether the police remained or not. The Town is over 6 million in debt and a budget for this fiscal year over 6 million. We had/have 1600 taxpayers, with 53% not paying their taxes last year, that leaves 752 taxpayers that were. Any person can see that no Town can survive with this happening. The Town Council has the luxury of having top financial experts such as Greg Herrett, Daryl White, Harold Delaney, John Boyle plus others from the Province saying the same thing, Springhill must dissolve and join with the County in order to survive, otherwise we would be a Village. I have lived here much of my life and have voted in every election and I cannot recall anything that Murray Scott or Bill Casey ever did for Springhill. In fact to my knowledge they never attend any Council meetings over the past 10 to 20 years or they would have see or could have asked questions regarding the financial situation in Springhill. Remember it wasn't that long ago the there was a question of $300,000.00 the Govt. was after them about. The previous Mayor and Police Commission Chair contacted the Attorney General's dept. on Oct. 9, 2012, just 11 days before the next election, explaining the cost of keeping the police department and looking for costs related to replacing them with the RCMP. The Province is very willing to help because it is their mandate to reduce costs and share services. No one can explain to me or others that have asked the question "what will change when we amalgamate?" The Province, the County of Cumberland and the Mayor and Council are thinking what is best for the citizens of Springhill, which includes seniors, low income earners, average/high income residents and the children, that are the future here. The Concerned Citizens Committee were formed, according to the petition that some residents signed. it was to ask questions on their behalf, the Committee has now changed to "Stop Amalgamation" no matter what. May people that signed this petition have had their names removed, and there are others that say this Committee no longer speaks for them. This Committee wants a plebiscite taken. When Antigonish and Antigonish County joined they were not allowed a plebiscite, and neither was Canso never had a plebiscite. It would be no good to have a plebiscite taken in Springhill because of the cost, the fact that many residents don't have the information to make a wise decision and the Committee has tainted the process by bullying and threatening people. The Mayor was bullied twice, plus some Councillors wives were encountered while out shopping. This Committee has already has already divided Springhill, which in time any heal, but if it continues, Springhill will never be the same.