Three of the six municipalities in Pictou County are officially part of a memorandum of understanding that could see the communities become more unified.
© ADAM MACINNIS – THE NEWS
From left: Pictou County Warden Ron Baillie, New Glasgow Mayor Barrie MacMillan and Pictou Mayor Joe Hawes sign the MOU.
The memorandum was signed this morning at the Pictou County Wellness Centre, with representatives of the town of New Glasgow, Pictou and Municipality of Pictou County all present.
Westville, Trenton and Stellarton all will have a chance to participate if they choose.
According to the technical briefing provided at the press conference, the objective of the MOU is to advance the common views on municipal reform held by the municipalities. Under the framework the municipalities will establish a work plan that includes a study on governance and administration as well as the capital and operational requirements of regional government.
If the preconditions are met, then the MOU will serve as a blueprint for the implementation of a regional government.
Warden Ron Baillie said the timeline they’ve set for that at the moment is 2016 when the next municipal elections will be held, but that may change once the study gets underway and they have a better understanding what they have to deal with.
It would mean that many council positions would be eliminated.
“We know we’re putting ourselves out of business, but we’re doing it for the right reason,” Pictou Mayor Joe Hawes said.
New Glasgow Mayor Barrie MacMillan called the event monumental.
“Our region needs a hard, hard reset as we work towards building a vibrant and prosperous future for our citizens and business as well as ensuring we have a strong quality of place in attracting new citizens and investment to our region,” he said.
He said that Pictou County needs to think and act as a region in order to achieve success and provide the residents here the services they expect.
“Everybody knows there is only one taxpayer, no matter which order of government is providing services,” he said.
The three units that signed up account for 75 per cent of the region’s population and 82 per cent of the tax assessment base and it was clear that they would be going ahead with the MOU even if the other municipalities decline to take part.
“Our hope is that all the other municipalities will recognize this need for transformational change and consider joining the MOU,” MacMillan said.
Warden Baillie said the issue of regional governance is complex and admitted they don’t have all the answers right now, but did offer some insight into what some of the components would be. All of which would have to be approved by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.
One of the key components is a user pay model of taxation.
“Citizens should pay taxes that reflect the services provided to them or used in the geographic area in which they live,” he said.
One of the conditions the Municipality set was that there would be no material change to the current general residential tax rate for property owners.
Another stipulation in the agreement is that there will be no decrease in the service levels.
All pre-existing debts and deficits will be maintained as a financial burden of the former municipal unit and pre existing reserves at the time of implementation of regional government will be maintained or utilized for the benefit of the former municipal unit.
A regional council would be based on equal polling districts representing communities of interest.