Financial index should lead to informed discussion on municipal future

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While at first glance the municipal financial condition index paints a gloomy picture for a number of Nova Scotia municipalities, it’s not time for any of them to panic or make any rash decisions they could later regret.

As Municipal Affairs Minister Mark Furey said in releasing the report card along with UNSM president David Corkum, the index is to be used as a guidepost or an indicator of how a municipality is doing in various categories and hopefully start a discussion that could either lead to improvements or start a dialog that could eventually lead to the sharing of more services or full amalgamation.

What it does do is present to the public a snapshot of where their individual municipal unit stands in terms of its debt, its reserves and its overall financial conditions. For some, change could be as easy of adjusting the way they do business, while for others it could mean having a frank and open discussion with its residents about whether continuing as a municipality is the right path.

What it does show is that Nova Scotia’s 54 municipal units are not in great shape financially. Some are, including Amherst and the Municipality of Cumberland, but a lot are in poor financial shape – almost bordering on insolvency.

When Springhill announced several weeks ago that it would be applying to the utility and review board to dissolve the town and join the Municipality of Cumberland there was genuine shock in the former mining town because no one knew the town’s finances were in such poor condition.

Since then, both Bridgetown and Hantsport, have started their dissolution journey, but they have kept their citizens informed along the road. Springhill missed its chance to have an open dialog with its residents and it’s paying the price now of an incensed population.

If anything, future indexes will provide information on trends and end the secrecy that sometimes goes along with municipal finances. In some cases, municipal councilors may not want the electorate to know how bad things are in case they kick them out of office next election, or they might consider it embarrassing even though it could have been out of their control.

By providing the information on a regular basis, people can judge for themselves how their municipal leadership is doing at managing the budget and they can feel engaged in the process.

At the end of the day, some municipal units may make the courageous decision and pull the plug on an unsustainable model. At least with the index, they will have the right information to base those decisions on and an informed electorate.

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Cumberland, Hantsport

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  • Jim G
    May 22, 2014 - 01:47

    Some how this financial abyss has to be turned around. For the most part the financial problems of the municipalities are not necessarily the fault of the elected councilors. They are most likely doing their best. There are some groups receiving high salaries that may be deserving but the taxpayers cannot afford. Some municipalities or maybe all of them are stuck with these unaffordable salaries because of contracts with certain groups. There is also the provincial government salaries as well as federal. If you work for government you get to live on the good side of town but it is the hard working nonunion nongovernmental person that has a lower salary that pays the taxes from this low salary so others can have good salaries. This does not make sense but it has been going on for years. The only place growing is Halifax and this city seems go have the size and momentum drawing everyone from the smaller towns. It also has a lot of government. The transfer payment from Ottawa go directly to the provincial government. This keeps things going for Halifax. The only entity that can assist the towns in Nova Scotia is the provincial government. The province has to reverse the tax and spend arrangements in place where they tax successful companies to death and fund all these start up companies that only last as long as the government. The other obstacle is that if a business tries to move into one of these towns there is the possibility that no one wants them. Everyone has their circle of friends and somehow they make ends meet even though they do not have reasonable paying jobs. When a company and new people move into town no one likes this situation and these people and businesses feel unsupported and in some cases leave. This works for the people living there but their kids all have to leave town. Think this is not true? Amherst had the same population in 1922 as today. Someone else can figure out how people should be in Amherst now but at say 2% per year it should be 200 X 92 or near 20,000 more people. They all went somewhere else. Next time some person moves to town or a company wants to invest in a town, try and welcome them and give support and maybe this will help get the province out of the abyss.