I would like to share my perspectives and experience as a County Councillor for the past 18 years.
Antigonish is a growing community. It is an amazing place to live, work and raise a family. Both County and Town Councils have been working hard to attract development to the area and making infrastructure decisions to support this growth.
However, with growth comes challenges.
While there are examples of growth across the County, over the past 10 years much has been concentrated in areas surrounding the Town of Antigonish, including the area I represent on County Council. While we are incredibly proud of our growth, we realize to continue that trend, serious decisions regarding infrastructure, particularly water and sewer systems, will need to be made.
The County purchases all the water used by County residents in the area surrounding the Town from the Town. Town and County water all comes from the James River Dam and is treated by the Town before it comes through your tap. Town and County water is the same water whether your tap is on Main Street or Williams Point.
A safe and abundant water supply is essential for a healthy and growing community. Climate change and community growth, primarily in the County, are presenting a collective challenge as water conservation measures are becoming more frequent and longer in order to manage our water systems over the summer. Source water is a serious issue that requires our attention and affects the whole community.
There is a similar challenge with sewer treatment. The sewage produced by County sewer customers surrounding the Town is treated by the aging Town Sewer Treatment Plant at the east end of Main Street. Climate change and community growth require us to look at the long-term needs of that facility. Who pays for upgrades?
When considering its own needs, the Town has enough water and sewer capacity for Town residents. If separate, the Town of Antigonish must look out for its own residents and have their best interests when negotiating water supply and sewer capacity to the growing County. For the last few years, we have been able to cooperate on these important issues, but I’ve been sitting at the table long enough to remember when this wasn’t easy or even possible.
If our relationship changes, the Town could easily put a moratorium on future development in the County and not supply any further water until new source water is found or accept any wastewater until they increase their capacity. The inability to allow further development would be crippling to our community, both Town and County.
Why should residents outside of the fringe area care? In the last 10 years, the taxable assessment in the Town and County has grown by over $630 million. Over half of that growth is concentrated within a five-kilometre radius of the Town of Antigonish. That growth has allowed us to invest in services, community programs, infrastructure and facilities and keep our property tax rates low across the County.
Consolidating the Town and County into one municipal unit would see that all decisions are made in the best interests of all residents – regardless of their street address –, and will allow us to grow as one community. The source water and sewer capacity challenges are much easier solved when we make decisions together.
Opponents of consolidation argue that we should keep cooperating on these issues, rather than consolidating. I can share from experience that the most common source of conflict between the Town and County are water and sewer services. Today’s cooperation is relatively uncommon if you consider the full view of history. We have seen our relationship and community falter several times when we look at things as “us vs. them.”
We want our community to continue growing. We have families, professionals and investors that are eager to come to Antigonish. They don’t see municipal boundaries and expect us to provide these core services.
The Town of Antigonish relies on the growth in the County to sustain a vibrant downtown core and to support local businesses and services. We are so intertwined and reliant on each other that being one just makes sense. It’s time for our municipalities to catch up to the way we live today.
Let’s remove the lines in the sand created over a century ago that divide us and grow together as one community!
Councillor Bill MacFarlane
Chair, Asset Management Committee
Municipality of the County of Antigonish