City of Antigonish and county to vote on consolidation this fall
The proposed amalgamation of the city and county of Antigonish will be presented to the councilors of each municipality for a vote this fall without a plebiscite.
“Instead, we decided to do a more extensive public engagement and that’s why we went out and talked to people and we heard,” said city mayor Laurie Boucher.
“Rather than boiling down a complicated question to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question, we wanted to hear from residents, businesses and community organizations and that’s what we did. We had thousands of interactions that told us exactly what residents’ concerns were and most things were the same as we had as a council before we sat down at the start of this process.
There was a campaign against the consolidation project by some residents and protests outside of council meetings. A Facebook group called Antigonish Town and County Residents Against the Rushed Consolidation Process has 1,200 followers.
The city and county held 21 public engagement sessions, set up a phone line for people to comment (received 26 messages), and collected 170 emails from residents expressing their views.
The answers collected can be found in the What We Heard Report produced by Brighter Community Planning and Consulting and published this week.
“Generally, many of the comments received showed a lack of confidence in the process, municipal leaders, and the city-county relationship,” the report read.
“Some expressed distrust of the city’s motives, reflected in comments that ‘the city needs our tax dollars’ and ‘this is just a land grab’. Others spoke of the county’s takeover by the city, which meant the county would lose its voice. For some, the distrust between the city and the county is deep and long-standing. This was evident in multiple conversations across the different parts of the community.
Antigonish City Council recently rejected a motion to send consolidation to a plebiscite.
A 2006 merger plebiscite saw 84% of county residents vote in favor and 74% of city residents vote against, resulting in the issue being defeated with 45% turnout.
The What We Heard report noted that only two of 11 recent mergers have gone to a plebiscite, and the process has often resulted in community division with a small percentage of eligible people actually voting.
He also noted that there was a lot of misinformation circulating about the city and county’s financial situation and how consolidation would affect municipal finances.
The What We Heard report, dubbed “misconceptions,” raised concerns that the city needed the county to get it out of debt, that taxes would go up, that rural areas would pay the same rates of taxation that the inhabitants of the city and that the infrastructure of the city is in poor condition. repair.
“Although the city and county are in a positive financial position, it has often been stated that the city needs county taxes to repair roads or meet other infrastructure needs,” reads the statement. report.
“Even when briefed on the city’s overall financial indicators and recent revenue-generating initiatives, such as investments in alternative energy through the (Alternative Energy Resources Authority), some attendees remained skeptical. .”
Another sticking point was the RCMP service contract – after Windsor and West Hants merged, they negotiated a police contract under which the new combined municipality was responsible for 90 per cent of the cost and the federal government responsible by 10 percent (previously it had been 70 to 30).
According to Mayor Boucher and Reeve Owen McCarron, they will be able to keep the same contract with the same cost split of 70-30% as long as the new municipality retains the name of the county – the County Municipality of Antigonish – rather than becoming a “regional government”.
Under existing contracts, the city is limited to a population of 10,000 while the county contract has no population limit.
Boucher encouraged residents to read the What We Heard report and provide a response by September 29.
If any views were omitted, she said they will be included in an addendum to the report that will be presented to the board.
A date has not yet been set for city and county councils to vote on the consolidation bill, but Boucher said she expects that to happen this fall.
If passed, McCarron and Boucher previously said they would aim to complete the consolidation of the two municipalities before the next municipal elections.