What is the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)?
The Memorandum of Understanding is a framework agreement under which the participating municipal units will:
(1) establish a work plan that includes a study on governance and administration, as well as the capital and operational requirements of regional government;
(2) manage the study process;
(3) fund the study costs; and
(4) consult with the public and keep them informed throughout the process.
The participating municipal units in the MOU are the Municipality of the County of Pictou and the towns of New Glasgow, Pictou, and Stellarton. These municipal units have formally approved their participation.
What are MOU preconditions?
The preconditions are, in effect, agreement on the assumptions that will be used to study regional government under the MOU. While the preconditions cannot bind a future government, they serve as minimum requirements upon which the financial projections and plans for the New Municipality have been based.
The Councils of each of the participating municipal units have set the preconditions. They are:
- Property taxes cannot increase;
- Service levels cannot decline;
- Reserves and savings of each participating municipality will stay in those former municipalities;
- Debts will remain the responsibility of the ratepayers of each former municipality until repaid;
- Albion Business Park’s debt will be paid through regional tax revenue; and
- A fair and equitable five-year infrastructure plan will be developed for the New Municipality.
The participating municipal units have also agreed to overall preconditions (guiding principles), including representation by population, usage-based cost recovery, and evidence-based decision-making. With respect to the usage-based principle, cost recovery is based on property owners paying only for the services they receive. The participating municipal units also agreed that those services benefiting all citizens equally, regardless of geographic location, would be paid by all taxpayers.
It was agreed by the MOU partners that regional government could proceed if all the preconditions are satisfactorily met.
The evidence shows that all the preconditions can be met.
Why are only four of the six municipalities participating?
The MOU was initially prepared by the Towns of New Glasgow and Pictou and the Municipality of the County of Pictou and released to all municipal units and the Province of Nova Scotia in August of 2014. The agreement was later amended and signed by the Town of Stellarton.
The MOU was developed after agreement could not be reached among all six municipal units and the Province on a 2011 proposal to conduct a Municipal Governance and Organizational Study for Pictou County. As the Minister of Municipal Affairs publicly indicated, the Province saw disagreement both within Councils and among the municipalities, and viewed that the units were not willing to proceed. The Minister also stated that the solution to municipal reform had to come from the municipal units. Minister Furey indicated his government would support any two or more municipalities who were serious about municipal reform. The Municipality of the County of Pictou together with the Towns of New Glasgow, Pictou, and Stellarton embraced the Minister’s comments and have commenced the MOU study and public consultation program.
The four participating municipal units have reached out to the Towns of Westville and Trenton on multiple occasions since last August. Unfortunately, their Councils are not in agreement with the MOU approach. Ultimately, it is their decision not to join and MOU participating municipal units will respect their choice.
What are the greatest benefits anticipated from regional government?
It is the desired approach to obtain efficient and effective service delivery to the citizens and businesses of our region within a structure that recognizes and accommodates the differences among urban, suburban, rural and commercial/industrial areas.
Pictou County will have a stronger voice to leverage opportunities and face challenges.
What evidence was collected and by whom?
The evidence that was submitted to the Utility and Review Board includes:
- Report on the size of council prepared by Grant Thornton LLP.
- Recommendation for staffing and organizational structure prepared by Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton.
- Financial projections prepared by municipal staff and verified by third parties comparing the performance of a new municipality against status quo operations of each municipal unit over the next five years.
- Legal review of severance implications prepared by external Counsel.
- Status quo five-year capital investment budgets and financial statements.
- Projected five-year capital investment requirements for the New Municipality.
- More than 35 community meetings, 22 of which involved consultation with residents on governance and boundaries.
The complete reports are available on the Utility and Review Board website.
What are the Main Differences between the MOU Process Relative to the Recent Dissolution of Other Nova Scotia Towns?
There are Towns that have recently applied under the Municipal Government Act (MGA) to dissolve. Those municipalities must first file a preliminary order to dissolve with the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (NSUARB) . The NSUARB then advises them on the studies to be undertaken - these tend to be expensive, time consuming and are completed by external consultants.
By contrast, the MOU process is voluntary and involves four municipalities. The primary reason for examining municipal reform under the MOU is the desire to have a unified voice for the region. The MOU references regional government – in other words, the creation of a new municipality, not the dissolution of three and adoption by one. The MOU further references that changes to the MGA will be required to enable regional government for less than the six Pictou County municipalities. The MOU process involves the use of in-house expertise to compile program and departmental profiles in addition to the cost and cost-recovery methods to be used in regional government. The intent is to efficiently study and report on municipal reforms, i.e. less cost and quicker timeframe. The studies and recommendations, however, will still be subject to public scrutiny and ultimately the examination and approval by Provincial representatives should an application for regional government be advanced. Under the MOU approach, a Provincial application for reform happens later – not at the start of the process.