Who will be responsible for maintaining our streets and roads?
If consolidation were to move forward, the responsibility and maintenance of streets and roads would remain the same as it is today. Town Streets and some County Streets and Roads would still be maintained by municipal staff. J Class Roads and Highways are under the responsibility of the province and would remain so. Councillors play an important advocacy role for residents to lobby the province to repair provincial roads and highways.
To determine if your County Street or Road falls under municipal or provincial responsibility, click here. To report a concern over a provincial road call 1-844-696-7737 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Will there be changes to land use by-laws or zoning with agriculture land or hobby farms?
Councils have heard the concerns raised by the agricultural community about the ability to conduct farming activities in a consolidated municipality. There will be no changes to the use of agriculture land because of consolidation. If consolidation occurs, the by-laws that currently exist only apply to the areas where they are currently being used. Any future changes to land use by-law, which includes zoning, must go through a public process, and have consultation from the community. The provincial Farm Practices Act also supersedes any municipal by-law.
Why fix what isn’t broken?
Consolidation may be a more efficient use of existing resources to provide a high level of services to residents of both municipalities. Many issues facing our community such as climate change, economic development, infrastructure planning, accessibility, and housing, would benefit significantly from one voice. We agree, nothing is broken. However, it may make more sense to address these major challenges together so we can continue to build a community where everyone benefits.
Will County residents be responsible for Town debt and vice versa?
If consolidation were to move forward, it is anticipated that any outstanding debt would remain with the preexisting municipal unit. Payment for these services would be charged as an area rate. County residents would not be responsible for paying Town debt and Town residents would not be responsible for County debt.
What is the long-term debt amounts for each municipal unit?
The Town’s long-term debt is made up from 3 different organizations within the Town’s structure.
- Town of Antigonish General Account: $2,953,800
This debt is associated with the replacement of Braemore Bridge, the construction of the People’s Place Library, a Pumper Truck for the Fire Department, and work done to Town Hall.
- Town of Antigonish Water Utility: $960,000
This debt is associated with building of a new Water Utility Plant that provides water services to the Town and Fringe Area in the County.
- Alternative Resource Energy Authority (AREA): $28,347,351
This debt is associated with the Town’s 63% ownership of a 10-turbine windfarm. The windfarm supplies 40% of the electricity needs for the Towns of Antigonish, Berwick, Mahone Bay, and the Riverport Electric Utility. The annual debt and costs are covered by operations of the windfarm and the Town has received approximately $5 million in profits since 2017. Those profits are used to fund various projects for the Town like paving, sidewalks, infrastructure upgrades, etc.
The County’s long-term debt is $2,783,650. This debt is associated with:
- The construction of the Municipal Building
- The construction of the People’s Place Library
- The upgrade to the water system in Havre Boucher
- Public Works Shop Building
- Water Treatment Plant
Why are you not having a plebiscite?
Both Councils have endorsed the current community engagement process. The process was designed to share information and give residents ample opportunity to ask questions and give feedback that will help inform Councils next steps.
Plebiscites are not the norm for municipal mergers that have occurred in Nova Scotia in the past 25 years. Queens/Liverpool (1995) and Windsor/West Hants (2018), which followed the consolidation model and voluntarily merged. The dissolutions of the Towns of Springhill, Bridgetown, Hantsport, and Parrsboro into their surrounding counties did not involve a plebiscite.
The only municipal units to use a plebiscite in recent years were the Town and County of Antigonish in 2006 and the Towns of Stellarton, New Glasgow, Pictou and the Municipality of Pictou County in 2015. Multiple plebiscites were conducted in the Town of Canso resulting in both positive and negative results as it considered its future before dissolving into the District of Guysborough.
Will the report to Council be available to the public?
Yes. Once Council receives the final ‘What We Heard’ report written by the consultants, it will then be made available to the public for review and comment. Timeline for the delivery of that report is undetermined at this stage.
How will a new Council structure and district boundaries ensure our cultural identity is maintained?
If consolidation were to move forward, a new community engagement process would be initiated to determine new district boundaries. Residents and existing councils will provide input on a recommendation to the UARB for Council size and new district boundaries. The UARB takes community of interest and cultural identity into consideration when reviewing the proposed new districts. Ultimately, the UARB makes the final decision on Council size and district boundaries.
What is Consolidation?
Consolidation is a newer approach to municipal merger for communities and councils than the better-known Nova Scotia examples of amalgamation and dissolution. Whereas amalgamation or dissolution is a process where the NSUARB makes the decisions. With consolidation, the province would create special legislation to empower the “Transition Committee” that represents both municipal councils. The Transition Committee would have the authority to determine what the new Municipality would look like. The Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board would still be involved in reviewing elector district boundaries, but much of the detailed work of the merger would be coordinated locally.
Why are the Town and County considering consolidation?
Over the past few years, the Town and County have partnered on many projects that have resulted in significant successes for our whole community. The relationships and collaboration between the two municipalities have increased to the point where it is worth exploring the option of consolidation.
We have seen the benefits of working together with examples like hosting the National Special Olympics, construction of the Antigonish Skatepark and community Dog Park, Holiday Events, Regional Emergency Management, and Physician Retention just to name a few.
Consolidating may be a more efficient use of existing resources to provide a high level of service to residents living in Antigonish’s urban and rural areas. Many of the issues facing our communities, such as climate change, economic development, infrastructure planning, accessibility and housing, require or would significantly benefit from working together.
One municipal government in the Antigonish area would allow us to work more collaboratively and leverage more opportunities, instead of competing for funding from other levels of government and investment opportunities.
Is this happening because one or both parties are in financial trouble?
Both Municipalities are financially healthy, with a track record of maintaining stable tax rates, investments in community infrastructure and programs, and saving for the future. Our property tax rates are reasonable when compared with other municipal governments in Nova Scotia, in spite of the rising costs of delivering services and maintaining and improving infrastructure.
We are willing to explore the option to consolidate to make municipal government more efficient, provide more value for tax dollars, and to better serve the communities in which we live, and work and create a more sustainable community.
What is the process for determining whether we will consolidate?
The two municipalities are exploring an approach to merger similar to those used by the Town of Windsor and District of West Hants and the Town of Liverpool and Queens County. This involves gathering and assessing information about both municipalities, reflecting on what is important to our communities, consulting with the communities involved to proceed or not. Councils are gathering and assessing information now. Community consultations will take place after March Break. We anticipate a decision by Councils in June 2022.
Should a decision to proceed be made then, the municipalities would approach the Province for support in terms of special legislation and transition funding with a view to creating a joint municipality beginning in April of 2024.
If the Joint Council decision in June is not to proceed with the merger, then the Town and County would continue to exist in the present form.
How will the public be engaged?
There will be many avenues for public feedback. To the extent possible while following public health guidelines, we will hold public meetings in every municipal district and the Town. We will also meet with residents at “pop-up” events at places like the arena, farmers’ market, legion events, etc.
We understand the hesitancy to come out to public meetings as there is still COVID present in our community. To overcome these challenges and to ensure we meet residents where they are safe and comfortable, there will also be virtual sessions, a website created that will serve as an information hub and a place to submit questions and collect feedback.
We will include information in local newspapers, in mail outs, social media and radio ads and both the Mayor and Warden are committed to speaking with media as a way to update residents. Residents can also contact the municipal office or Town Hall with any questions or concerns. The goal is to create avenues where all residents feel comfortable giving their feedback.
What is the purpose of the public engagement? How will our input be used?
The public engagement process is vital piece of the process before Councils can make a decision on whether to proceed with consolidation or not. The purpose is to provide residents the opportunity to let both Councils know what is important to them as we look at consolidation. If there are questions about the merger that might impact or benefit local communities and individuals, it is important to get them into the process early.
Public input will be used to help the Councils understand the values and issues that are important to residents and give everyone an opportunity to reflect on how municipal government is organized and whether a consolidation would be beneficial.
How will a decision be made and by who?
A report will be presented to both Councils containing all of the input from the public engagement. Municipal staff and the communications consultants will also prepare information about questions raised and potential responses. Council members from the Town and the County will take time to reflect on the findings and decide on whether to move forward with consolidation or remain as separate entities.
When will a decision be made?
The timeline for exploration has been extended due to the extension of the community engagement process. The date for a Council vote is undetermined at this point in time.
What happens once a decision is made by Town and County Councils?
If a decision is made to consolidate, a request for special legislation under the Municipal Government Act to consolidate is made to the province. Based on other municipal mergers, there would also be a request for provincial transition funding, intended to support the Town and County with the coordination and preparation for creating a joint municipal unit. If the decision is to remain as separate entities, the Town and County will continue to operate as they do now.
How do I get information if I live in an area without strong Internet?
We are planning public meetings in every municipal district and the Town. To the extent possible, and following public health guidelines, in-person meetings will be held in all municipal districts and the Town and there will be “pop ups” where people naturally gather. Anyone who cannot or does not feel comfortable participating in a public meeting can get information or their questions answered by phoning 1-833-563-2786 or 1-833-563-2787. Please leave a voice mail and staff will get back to you.
What would the District Boundaries of a consolidated Municipality look like?
If consolidation takes place the entire new municipality (former Town and County) would be divided into districts, similar to how the County is divided into districts now. A separate public review process would determine the number of districts and their boundaries with input from all residents.
As part of that separate public review process options for the number of districts & council size as well as the district boundaries will be developed for public consultation. Council size would be determined based on the optimum number of representatives needed to provide effective and responsive governance. Establishing new boundaries is not a precise science and there will be more opportunities for public feedback if we get to that stage.
While specifics like the number of districts and their boundaries are not known at this stage, Councils have stated that any options developed will provide for balanced representation of rural and urban areas and boundaries would NOT reflect the existing boundary between the Town and County.
Once options through the public engagement process are developed, the Transition Committee for the consolidated municipality would recommend one of the options to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board for approval. The NSUARB would complete another public process before ruling.
How would representatives be elected if the Town and County Consolidated?
A consolidated Municipality would have elected Councillors by districts and a mayor elected at-large who represents the whole municipality. The number and territory for all districts would be determined as part of the transition process.
Will there be staff redundancy and job losses?
The intent of consolidation is not to reduce staff, but to make better use of the existing resources in one combined organization. Every effort would be made to retain staff. Staffing changes would be made through retraining, increasing capacity in some service areas and attrition. The organizational structure will look different, but the provision of high-quality services would not change. Existing union contracts would continue in effect in the merged organization.
Is the Province providing financial support through this exploration phase as well as through the transition phase if the decision is made to consolidate?
Yes. The Province has awarded the Town and County the funds needed to complete the exploration phase which includes community engagement.
There is typically funding available from the Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing to aid in the transition phase if Councils vote to move in that direction.
What will happen to my tax rate?
We do not expect any significant changes in rates for the municipal services communities use now. Based on past municipal mergers in Nova Scotia, it is likely to expect that a base property tax rate would be established along with a series of area rates based on the services provided in that specific area. This decision would ultimately be up to the new council elected if the consolidation takes place. The current councils would not determine the tax rates for the consolidated municipality.
Water rates are regulated by the NS Utility and Review Board, based on periodic reviews of infrastructure and safety requirements, and there is nothing in the consolidation process that should trigger a change in these rates.
Will rural areas lose their voice to the more urban areas?
The role of any municipality is to put the structures in place that support individual community identities to ensure they remain intact. These communities are what make our area so unique and vibrant. Elected officials represent the voice of their districts and would continue to do so within a new municipal structure.
The Municipality of the County of Antigonish already manages urban and rural services and concerns on a daily basis. We are a municipality that values and understands and needs and service requirements of rural communities. The communities in a consolidated municipality would remain as they are.
What is the state of each Municipality’s infrastructure?
Since 2019, both the Town and County worked with the Province of Nova Scotia to do an inventory and assessment of all linear infrastructure. This included all water and sewer lines, as well as roads and sidewalks. Part of the transition process will be to review the inventory and state of all infrastructure. Infrastructure investments are constantly being made by both municipalities, and this process is anticipated to continue should the two units become one in the future. In many instances our infrastructure is already intimately linked.
If I’m not hearing about consultations, who should I contact?
You can contact Shirlyn Donovan or Kate Gorman at email@example.com.