Hantsport council votes to dissolve the town

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Ashley Thompson - TC•Media

Hantsport’s council will begin the dissolution process.

Council passed a motion to dissolve its township during a special meeting in the Hantsport Fire Hall Wednesday.

Coun. Paul Morton made the motion that they file an application for dissolution with the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (UARB) for the sake of the long-term viability of Hantsport.

“Nobody in this room wants to be here to make a decision like this, but somebody's got to step up and make it,” said Morton.

Coun. Rob Frederick seconded the motion, adding that council has been viewing the data for a year now and he was voting with his kids and their future in mind.

Morton and Coun. Shannon Cunningham said they believed Hantsport could become stronger by dissolving.

“If we put a new business in every empty lot in this town it's still not going to make up what we lost with Gypsum and with Minas Basin,” said Cunningham, who admitted that it was tough to make the decision based on dollars and cents as a lifelong resident of Hantsport.

Deputy Mayor Harold Bulger, who said he has lived in Hantsport for 39 years and built a life in the small town, stressed that the advantages and disadvantages of dissolution will become clear in negotiations.

“Negotiations can, and would, stop at any time throughout the process if council is not completely satisfied with the results,” he said.

He assured all in attendance that citizens would be updated as the process unfolds via public meetings and newsletters.

Emotions appeared to get the best of Bulger as he broke down while expressing his desire to make the best decision for citizens.

“I will work to the best of my ability to try to give back to this community some of what it has given my family,” he said, his voice cracking.

The crowd showed support for their struggling deputy mayor as he attempted to fight back tears by applauding Bulger.

“Hantsport will always be Hantsport to me," he said.

The motion passed 6-1, with Coun. Faye Hill opposing. The decision was applauded by a number of residents, but the crowd appeared to be divided.

Prior to the vote, Hill earned a round of applause from spectators by asking council to table the dissolution vote. She said that the "status quo has to go," but added that time would allow positive change to occur.

A newly-formed citizens' group asked the council on April 15 to delay the decision until September.

The Town of Hantsport, incorporated in 1895, must now request the UARB begin the dissolution process. Negotiations begin after a council votes in favour of dissolution.

Hantsport, a town with about 1,100 residents, has been hard hit by industry loss with the idling of Fundy Gypsum and closure of Minas Basin Pulp and Power. Measuring one square mile in size, it is the second smallest town in the province.

The lack of space for new houses or business developments make raising taxes the most immediately apparent way for council to generate new revenue.

According to a decision-making document prepared by the Town of Hantsport in March, the municipal unit is expecting to collect $635,015 in commercial tax revenue in the current fiscal year.

If the projections prove to be accurate, Hantsport will have lost one-third of the town’s budget, roughly $1 million in commercial revenue, in a five-year period.

“To put this in perspective, the town would have to add a tax rate of $1.46 per $100 of assessment, on both residential and commercial taxes, to cover the tax base lost to closure of industry,” the decision-making document reads.

Before the dissolution vote, Mayor Robbie Zwicker publicly stated that he hoped a change in Hantsport’s governance structure would result in lower taxes for the residents.

He reiterated this point prior to voting in favour of dissolving the town’s status, saying that his vote was based on the fact that he does not want to hike taxes.

“To me, this is a good first step,” said Zwicker, who stressed that council is showing leadership by choosing to dissolve before the tax rate is too high for its residents to manage.

Dissolution votes passed in Springhill and Bridgetown in March. The residential tax rate in Springhill is $2.25 per $100 of assessment and Bridgetown’s is $2.10.

Hantsport’s residential tax rate is $1.69 per $100 of assessment, while the commercial rate is $3.85.

A transition co-ordinator will be appointed to help with negotiations. Whether Hantsport will be joining the District of the Municipality of West Hants or Municipality of the County of Kings has yet to be determined.

Organizations: UARB, Hantsport council, Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board Municipality of West Hants

Geographic location: Hantsport, Springhill, Kings

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