A survey of 300 people conducted for the town by Corporate Research Associates found 76 per cent favour having the remaining four municipal units in Cumberland County participate in an evidence-based discussion on municipal structure.
The results were released Tuesday by the town at the request of the Amherst News. The other survey questions regarding policing have not yet been released to the town by the pollster.
“I think having an evidence-based discussion is the only way to do it,” Coun. Robert Bird said Tuesday. “Getting the facts and figures on the table and getting people to participate is important. It makes perfect sense.”
Bird has long advocated for a study of a regional governance model, adding the status quo can’t continue and also includes some painful decisions.
“This is a good place to start, especially in an election year when the people of Cumberland County are being asked to make decisions about who they want to put in office to represent them in four years on issues like regional government, taxation and economic development,” Bird said. “This shows people are prepared to have this discussion and the elected leaders of this community need to pay attention to the people. What we need to do know is make the sure the correct and accurate facts and figures re on the table.”
The survey found that only nine per cent are opposed to such a discussion taking place. Two per cent neither support nor oppose the discussion while 13 per cent didn’t have an answer or would not provide an answer.
It also found that support for participating in the discussion on municipal structure is high across all demographic groups and all parts of the town. Eighty per cent of men and 72 per cent of women favour the discussion and support was highest among those ages 18 to 34 at 80 per cent.
The pollster said that, as expected, support decreases the longer someone lives in the town – although 68 per cent of those who have lived in Amherst for 45 years or more support having the discussion with other potential municipal partners.
The release of the survey comes as Amherst CAO Greg Herrett presented a discussion paper on regional viability during a brief committee-of-the-whole meeting prior to the regular October council session on Monday night.
Herrett cautioned the discussion paper is not meant to be a recommendation, but a stimulant to discussion.
In his report, the CAO looked at the current situation in Nova Scotia, what factors lead to consolidation, how it can take place – whether through amalgamation, annexation, regional government or dissolution, the provincial position and how it could impact shared services and the sale of service arrangements in Cumberland County.
It also discusses Amherst’s role within the Cumberland region and how it could be impacted by the amalgamation earlier this year of Springhill into the county and the potential dissolution of Parrsboro.
“Through the dissolution of Springhill and the pending dissolution of Parrsboro, significant and important discussions are being had about the future of our region and the town is not a party to those discussions and the focus of those discussions is never Amherst,” Herrett said in his paper. “It can be argued that Amherst is at a serious risk of seeing its position in the region decline, even having its long-term sustainability threatened by not being engaged in those discussions.”
He said there is one way the town can become engaged in protecting its future sustainability and that’s to “pursue, promote and advocate for an evidence-based study of optimal municipal structure including all municipal units in the Cumberland region.”
He stresses that the lesson learned from the Springhill experiences requires that transparency be key.