PICTOU – County councillor Robert Parker said things have gotten off to a bad start in regards to local municipal units working together for change.
The long-time councillor said he was disappointed and shocked to hear through the media that the county had agreed to begin discussions on a possible memorandum of understanding in regards to a regional delivery of services and governance between Pictou, New Glasgow and the Municipality of Pictou County.
“To not know anything about something and then to have it announced by a mayor of one of our municipalities to me was way pre-mature and makes it that much more difficult to reach an agreement on things,” he said. “I think it was terribly wrong and an abuse of councillors here the way it was done. There was some wrong done somewhere and when you do things in that way, you make it much more difficult to bring people together. There were towns left out, there were assumptions made that we had come to agreements.”
Once a memorandum of understanding is developed, the Town of New Glasgow said it will share it with Westville, Stellarton and Trenton and give them a short period of time to decide if they want on board.
Mayor Barrie MacMillan said during the press conference that he expects the MOU to be signed by June and the governance and operations of the county to look different in a year’s time.
Parker said all municipal units should have been invited to be part of the March 28 conference and all municipal councilors should have been informed before hand that such an announcement was taking place.
“I guess if you are going to ask your girlfriend or boyfriend to marry you, don’t put it in the paper first. Make sure you ask first. As far as I am concerned, we weren’t asked,” he said.
On Tuesday, Deputy Warden Andy Thompson said he was invited to the press conference at New Glasgow town council chambers on March 28, but he didn’t know the full extent of the announcement.
He said the announcement was the Town of New Glasgow’s reaction to the provincial government pulling its funding from proposed governance study and he added there had been discussions between New Glasgow, Pictou and the county in past about regional services.
Thompson added the three CAOs from the municipalities at the March 28 announcement will go over the information needed to put a proposal in place.
“We (the county) wanted the study and now we are forced to do it by ourselves.
Parker said it is critical that the “elected people” be involved in any discussions or decision-making rather than letting “unelected” people determine the future of the county.
“If other people want to make the decisions than they should run for office,” he said. “The worst thing we can do here is have a group in this make decisions for the future of the county that are the unelected.”
Parker said he agrees with New Glasgow Mayor Barrie MacMillan in regard that things must be done in the best interest of the taxpayers, but he said many issues such as the debt, taxes and services need to be addressed before any kind of a formal agreement is signed.
“The county area, rural Pictou County, cannot be expected to shoulder the debt, or take on a whole lot of extra taxes to help out somewhere else unless they are going to get some services for that extra money and I don't see any sign of the services,” he said.
Coun. David Parker agreed with his brother and fellow councillor by saying it is unrealistic for the Town of New Glasgow to announce that a memorandum of understanding could be signed by June between local municipal units.
“There are significant issues that will take some real time to get some information on and realize how that might work and if there is a will there to do that,” he said.
He said each municipal unit has “enormous level of differences” in regards to issues that need to be worked through and the tax rate is the biggest one of all.
“Unless there are some real savings to be had, why would we do it?” he asked.
Coun. Leonard Fraser echoed his fellow councilors comments saying that people in Pictou County are scared of amalgamation because they don’t have all the answers.
“If we went in and amalgamated this county, some people’s tax rates would double. Maybe not this year or next year, but within 10 years it would double,” he said. “ I remember Coun. (Ed) MacMaster saying there is a lot of old people out there that can’t afford their taxes now so just imagine if their taxes double. Where do they go? They are on a fixed income.”
After discussing the issue many times during this 32 years on council, Fraser said he knows his constituents still don't look favorably upon amalgamation
“So whatever is done has to be done delicately and it will look after the residents because we don’t even know how the council district will be broke up. There are lots of questions without answers and it scares the hell out of the people out in the country,” he said.
Robert Parker added that in spite of the concerns expressed during the meeting, he wanted it made clear that the county isn’t against change.
“I just wanted to state as much as I was shocked and surprised by the announcement by the Town of New Glasgow, I think there was strategy here and I think we have to be careful,” he said. ”The strategy was to get out in front and announce that something had happened or that it was going to happen and anyone who comes in after that says, ‘wait now, we are aren’t part of this’, is seen to be the ones with their heads in the sand, protecting their own turf.”
He said he is pleased to see that it is taking a stand by leading the way to change.
“We are going to lead this process and not follow it and we are going to do it with elected people, not unelected people,” he said.