It’s ironic, says Lennie White. The very study which Westville council proposed – and supports in theory – is only hindered from going forward now because of a lack of financial contribution from the town.
The only other holdout, Stellarton, agreed to fund the study during its council meeting Monday.
White, who was a vocal supporter of amalgamation and a governance study before he was acclaimed to Westville council last fall, said he was pleasantly surprised to see that Stellarton, in contrast to a decision of the previous council, had agreed to fund the study. Now he plans to bring forward a motion to his own council on March 25 requesting they do the same.
“We’re the last remaining piece of the puzzle,” he said.
There has been little opposition in Westville to an actual study – they were the ones who proposed the idea to the province and the other municipalities in the first place. What the previous council had a problem with, though, and what some of their members still do, is the fact that they say the former minster of Municipal Services had agreed to fund the study in full, but now the province with a new minister is saying they’ll only fund half of the estimated $300,000 study. Each municipality has been asked to give $25,000 towards the study for a total of $150,000.
White said he’s seen the terms of reference for the proposed study and has no problems with it whatsoever.
“People need to realize there’s nothing to fear in this study,” he said.
It’s important for people to realize that nothing is written in stone and that the towns supporting this study will not automatically lead to amalgamation.
“It’s not about the big A word,” he said. “That’s one of the options, but there’s several options that could come from the study.”
He said in the end it boils down to having the facts needed to make an informed decision.
When he makes the motion to Westville council he’ll have the strong backing of Mayor Roger MacKay who has long been an advocate for a governance study.
“It has to be done,” MacKay said.
He said he too was surprised by Stellarton’s change of heart.
“It’s a new council and sometimes some new faces change things,” he said.
And that may prove true on his own council, which added two new faces during the last election.
Westville councillor Lynn MacDonald is a bit reluctant to put the town’s money behind the study because she believes the current government should stand by the agreement Minister Ramona Jennex made when she was in office.
“Why should it be allowed to be changed?” she said.
She said she would still vote that the province pay for the study.
“Whatever money we have should be put into infrastructure,” she said. “We need to upgrade our water and sewer systems. That’s all costly.”
She also questions whether there would be any real benefit to Westville under a different governance model.
“Where has it worked?” she questions.
She said in places where communities have been amalgamated she’s only heard complaints about how taxes have been raised.
“There has to be a good reason for doing it,” she said.
Coun. Charlie Sutherland has expressed his desire that the province honour the former commitment and pay for the full study. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Bernie Murphy, who was also elected to the Westville council last fall, remains an unknown and could determine whether or not the study goes forward, if council votes the way they have in the past. He said he will wait until the council meeting to discuss the issue.
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