Province Backs Merger

Posted by One Pictou County on 25 May 2016


From the New Glasgow News, Published May 24

 

Zach Churchill hopes his next visit to Pictou County will involve signing a cheque.

The provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs was in Pictou County in February to announce $27 million in funding over five years to support four local municipalities should they proceed with a new governance structure. And he hopes to return to deliver those funds.

“We support amalgamation,” he said. “We think the evidence suggests it’s a good move for the communities in terms of ensuring long-term viability and sustainability.”

He said the Nova Scotia Utilities and Review Board agreed in a preliminary decision released in April, based on the evidence presented at hearings in March.

He said the province is in favour of the amalgamation of the towns of New Glasgow, Pictou and Stellarton and the Municipality of Pictou County because when municipalities are in a “strong, stable financial position and when communities are thriving and succeeding long-term, it benefits the entire province.”

Churchill noted that $8 million is on the table in the deal for infrastructure, with close to half of that for upgrading water and waste water systems. The funding will also be used for operating and capital investments for roads and transitional costs associated with amalgamation.

Funding given to municipalities for mergers such as the proposed one in Pictou County is based on needs of the communities and are derived from formulas, Churchill said. He added that the province assesses what the needs are, along with such things as the costs of transition and liabilities for infrastructure.

Regarding infrastructure money, in many cases it’s based on cost-sharing between the municipal, provincial and federal governments, with each providing one third of the project cost, but in this instance, the $27 million is not contingent on federal money, he said.

Churchill said if formed, the new municipality could also apply for federal funding over and above the funds from the province. “An amalgamated Pictou region could leverage more money in terms of federal infrastructure programs.”

With federal programs, a matching component is always needed, and he said an amalgamated unit would have more resources to put toward these programs, allowing it to obtain greater sums of federal monies.

The money promised in the letter of intent is separate from this.

The money is being provided “because we want our communities to be viable, sustainable and thriving for the long-term. Things are changing economically across the province, demographics are changing. We need to adapt to those changes… that’s why this process is so important from a provincial perspective --  not just in Pictou – but across other parts of the province.”

Churchill has been following the process and said he’s knows the debate has become “fierce” at times, but he’s encouraged by the support from municipal and business leaders.

He said he understands others have concerns about loss of community identity if the merger proceeds, however he said this hasn’t been the case with other municipalities that have dissolved.

 He mentioned Bridgetown, Parrsboro and Springhill as examples, and said in those instances, the communities have benefitted from lower residential tax rates as a result of joining with other municipal units.

“I really think it will be a positive thing for the economy of the region and the long-term sustainability and viability. I’m very anxious to see the outcome of the plebiscite and how the municipal leaders decide to move forward.”

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