Springhill, Oxford and Parrsboro all had plenty of red in their municipal financial condition index that was released Thursday.
HALIFAX – While a new municipal financial condition index paints a less than ideal picture for some of Cumberland County’s towns, Nova Scotia’s municipal affairs minister is cautioning people against using it as a tool to judge those individual units.
“Each of the municipalities has its own unique circumstances in the financial condition index and the index supports plans for mitigating risk and planning for the future as elected officials look out and project opportunities and challenges as they move forward,” Mark Furey said Thursday. “It will also increase the transparency for municipal residents and allow staff to share in the information in a more intricate way with its residents.”
Furey said the index indicates there are municipal units faced with some challenges and there are others that are in good financial condition.
“This is just a snapshot, it’s not the full story. It is a trigger that allows government and staff to engage their municipal partners to identify areas and work together on improvement,” the minister said. “Although a municipality’s score on any of the indicators may not meet a class average, it allows the municipalities to take a closer look at those areas and make adjustments or changes as they see fit. There may be a valid reason for the results.
“In the end this index provides an overall snapshot that allows for discussion within the municipality, within the provincial government and with residents.”
With the index, based on 2011-12 data, both Amherst and Cumberland County scored well with most indicators in either in the green or yellow meaning they are at or above the provincial average.
The story is not the same for the smaller towns, including Springhill, Oxford and Parrsboro. Springhill, which is in the early stages of dissolving itself as a town, had six reds – meaning it’s below the provincial average –five yellows and only four greens, while Parrsboro – where a citizens group is urging town council to consider dissolution – there were five red, two yellow and eight green.
Oxford had four red, six yellow and five green.
Cumberland County Warden Keith Hunter, who is also a member of the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities executive, said the indicators could lead to a discussion about the future of individual units.
“The Municipality of Cumberland is one of the best situated as far as the rural municipalities go and the same is true for Amherst among the towns,” Hunter said. “As for the other towns the numbers are not quite as good. They have to make some changes to reduce the number of reds they have as indicators.”
Hunter said the index brings out into the open the financial condition of the province’s municipalities and gives both councils and residents the information they need to make informed decisions on their future.
While amalgamation with neighbouring municipal units may be the answer in some cases, Hunter said it’s not always the answer.
“In some cases it may be as easy as sharing more services,” the warden said. “To me, that’s a good move. Everyone should be trying to share more services. In some instances, though, it won’t work and amalgamation or consolidation is the only way out.”
UNSM president David Corkum of Kentville said the indicators will prove invaluable to his organization’s members.
He said the indicators will assist councils and communities in understanding the financial condition of the municipality and “should promote good, informed discussions. They will help ask good questions and determine a good future.”
He also cautioned about putting too much into the numbers.
“They do not tell the whole story. They are influenced by factors the municipalities have little or no control over such as declining population or dependence on one employer. This is not doom and gloom, this is an opportunity to have good discussions with citizens about the future they want for their community,” Corkum said.
The index was developed after a recommendation of the UNSM’s towns task force and was worked on by Municipal Affairs, the UNSM and the Association of Municipal Administrators.
The index for each municipality looks at how it gets its revenue and how it budgets for municipal priorities. There are 15 indicators that show a municipality's score, the average for its class (rural municipality and town) and the threshold, which is an achievement benchmark.
Each municipality has reviewed and approved its data and provided information to explain certain indicators, unique circumstances and trends. The index is available at http://novascotia.ca/dma/finance/indicator/fci.asp .