AMHERST – These are busy times for the Municipality of Cumberland.
Speaking to members of the Amherst Rotary Club on Monday, Cumberland County’s deputy warden Joe van Vulpen said the municipality is in the midst of more than $35 million in infrastructure upgrades in Pugwash, Parrsboro and Springhill while continuing to integrate the former towns of Parrsboro and Springhill into the county.
“Cumberland County is facing challenging and exciting times in the coming years. We are very grateful for the other councils that work with us and our staff that works diligently coming up with these projects and making sure they are completed on a timely basis,” the deputy warden said.
The $14.9-million Pugwash water project, he said, is in the commissioning phase and should be ready for this spring. It will bring reliable and safe drinking water to 370 homes and businesses in the Pugwash area.
The Springhill Downtown Infrastructure Renewal Project, valued at $6.6 million, will replace aging water and wastewater as well as storm infrastructure for a significant portion of the community’s downtown. It will be completed by the fall.
van Vulpen said Parrsboro’s wastewater treatment facility, valued at $13.8 million, will be fully in service by April – extending central sewer service to an additional 430 homes and businesses along with constructing a centre treatment facility.
Those projects have had the support of the federal Clean Water and Wastewater Fund.
Other initiatives include the development of an economic development plan for Springhill and Parrsboro and the continued development of the Pugwash waterfront development project set out in the village’s master plan in 2010.
The county is also preparing to work with Amherst and Oxford on a tourism development plan for all of Cumberland County and the creation of an inter-municipal tourism committee.
It also supports the Cliffs of Fundy Geopark application and the future development of Cape d’Or near Advocate Harbour as a world class tourist destination.
van Vulpen said the county is also working on a committee with Amherst and representatives of the Fort Lawrence and Amherst business communities to improve the appearance of Highway 2 from the Visitor Information Centre to the town.
The deputy warden, speaking in the absence of Warden Allison Gillis, said the municipality is also busy examining its governance including taking a look at how many electoral districts it requires and how many councillors are needed.
The county is also conducting a policing services review in concert with the RCMP and the Town of Oxford, while also working on succession planning and developing a safety culture among its 92 employees to minimize workplace accidents and injuries as well as to minimize the risk to residents on municipal property.
van Vulpen said one of the county’s goals is to take a leadership role in managing climate change and developing green energy, whether it be the development of geothermal energy in Springhill or tidal power in the Minas Passage off Parrsboro.
After 14 months of public engagement, the deputy warden said, the municipality is in the final stages of preparing a new municipal planning strategy and land-use bylaws. The revised documents, he said, will help protect sensitive environments and respond to climate change.
“Cumberland County has the most Class 2 agricultural land of any county in Nova Scotia yet has done little in the past to safeguard that resource,” the deputy warden told Rotarians. “This plan helps to protect that farmland while promoting agriculture-related businesses.”
It’s a plan, he said, that has been developed with a careful eye to the economy while removing some of the red tape and bureaucracy to provide more opportunity for small business.
The deputy warden said the county has been an excellent financial manager as shown by the financial condition index that contains 15 indicators on where municipalities get their revenue, how they spend their money and and how they managed their finances.
“Overall the municipality has met or exceeded the established thresholds for the majority of the 15 indicators,” he said. “We have seen negative trends in both uncollected taxes and growth in commercial assessment. As a result, the council has provided additional resources for the tax collection function as well as community and economic development.”
The deputy warden said the council is being aggressive with tax collection, including beginning tax sale proceedings on 912 accounts worth $3.6 million.
For county staff, van Vulpen said, the past few years have been full of upheavel with the dissolution and amalgamation of both Springhill and Parrsboro with the municipality’s operating budget increasing from $17.5 million prior to amalgamation to $27 million in 2017-18 along with more than 50 capital projects over the past two years.
The county is in the midst of a review of its capital investment plan and an asset management plan to acquire a snapshot of the municipality’s infrastructure assets and needs – a study that includes age, condition and value of the infrastructure to allow the county to make decisions on levels of service, capital and operations reserves allocations and capital expenditures.
“A full understanding of our infrastructure assets allows for the municipality to be strategic in the planning of expenditures and ensure that the provision of service remains sustainable into the future,” the deputy warden said.