There was a time when any issue could set off a quarrel between Cumberland County’s two largest municipalities. Whether it be fire protection, recreation or water, Amherst and Cumberland County’s elected officials just could not get along.
Relations were so bad at one time that council meetings and the media became a political soapbox for politicians to air their grievances about each other.
Turning the clock forward has seen things change a great deal. Gone are the insults and accusations and in their place there appears to be a spirit of co-operation. While the councillors themselves can’t be blamed for looking out for the people who elected them, it’s the staffs of the two municipal units who have come together to look for ways in which services can be shared in a way that’s not threatening to staff in Amherst or the Municipality of Cumberland and could benefit taxpayers in both areas.
In recent years, there have been numerous examples of both municipalities working together. Amherst and the county worked together on the Amherst Ramblers’ bid to host the Fred Page Cup; they agreed to share procurement services; and more recently Amherst agreed to extend its water to Maccan – something that never would have happened a decade ago.
Earlier this week, Amherst agreed to enter into a new service sharing agreement with the county. The county agreed to the same guiding principles at its meeting last week. In effect, both municipal units have come to the realization that to improve organizational efficiency and effectiveness, it’s incumbent upon them to explore doing things in other ways – especially if it adds value to residents and helps improve municipal services.
While neither annexation or amalgamation are part of the agreement, there remain some elected officials in both areas who believe the time is coming when Cumberland County’s five municipal units will have to take a long, hard look at how they are governed. Do we need five councils for just over 30,000 people – especially when the region’s population is aging and declining.
Hopefully over the next two years, Amherst and the Municipality of Cumberland will find ways to share services to avoid duplication and bring about a better deal for residents in both areas. We can also hope that whatever recommendations come out of this process don’t follow other service-sharing studies and end up gathering dust on a shelf somewhere because there isn’t the political will to implement them.