The mass resignation of the town council and mayor of Bridgetown certainly sent shockwaves through municipal circles across Nova Scotia, but it could be a precursor of things to come as other small towns struggle to survive financially.
In a statement, Bridgetown’s mayor and council said it lacks the financial and human resources to manage the magnitude and complexity of its money problems and is acting on the advice of accounting and legal consultants.
Municipalities are not permitted to carry a deficit and any shortfall has to be the first expense on the following year’s budget. Unfortunately, municipal units have limited options when it comes to offering services and balancing the books. That usually means increasing taxes to offset growing costs or cutting services.
The province has given municipal units permission to carry deficits over several years when the situation warrants, but there is only so long this practice can go on before the decision on whether to continue has to be made.
Bridgetown’s council faced that decision and decided it was time to get out. UNSM president Bill Joe MacLean is very outspoken on this issue. He says Bridgetown is just the tip of the iceberg. It has happened in Canso and he believes it’s going to happen again.
He feels the province needs to either work with its municipal units or be prepared for the fallout when those smaller units begin to struggle and eventually fail.
At the same time the question needs to be asked as to whether we need 55 municipal units in a province of this size. Using the “A-word” in Nova Scotia is unpopular, but amalgamation may be something that needs to explored.
The province really needs to work with its municipal units to find a workable partnership that allows them to survive while helping those in trouble consider those alternatives.
The province is appointing a panel to run Bridgetown in the short-term, but unless it changes its relationship with its municipalities it may find itself running other municipalities.