Parrsboro Town Councillors say residents won’t get to vote on whether the town seeks to join the Municipality of Cumberland County.
“It’s council’s decision to make,” Mayor Lois Smith told an audience of about 150 last night at the Parrsboro Fire Hall.
“There’s no vote,” the mayor said. “However, through the process of public hearings, this is where we can hear your concerns.”
The audience listened to more than an hour-and-a-half of presentations including one from Ray Hickey, Parrsboro’s Chief Administrative Officer, who said that according to the last census, the town’s population is down to 1,305.
“We’re losing about 10 per cent of our population, or more, every 10 years,” Hickey said adding that even though Parrsboro is in good financial shape, a declining population makes it harder to maintain municipal services at reasonable tax rates.
Councillors Lisa Ward and David Harrison joined the mayor in speaking positively about the potential benefits of amalgamating with the county, although all emphasized that no decision has been made.
“Council wants to hear from you,” the mayor said. “Based on what we hear this evening, council will meet again on August the 18th to consider the next steps.”
Maryann Jackson, who represents Springhill on Cumberland County Council, said amalgamation has brought many benefits to the former town including a drop of $450 a year in taxes for most households.
“A lot of people were saying taxes are never going to go down, that’s just not going to happen and it did happen,” Jackson said. “So we were thrilled and most of the community were very, very happy about that.”
Cumberland County Warden Keith Hunter said a merger with Parrsboro would bring many benefits to both municipalities. For one thing, he said, there would be a larger tax pool for public works projects.
“We would be very happy to have the residents of Parrsboro in our county because you have a great and rich history and heritage and you have a great volunteer spirit.”
David Beattie, President of the Parrsboro and District Board of Trade, congratulated Town Council for starting the conversation.
“As business owners, boundaries have been invisible to us anyway. We buy and sell our goods and services throughout the county,” Beattie said adding that many members of the Board of Trade are open to joining the county.
“What’s important to us is having a community where we can successfully operate our businesses, where we can live with good governance and afford to stay here and that’s what’s important from my perspective and many of our members feel the same way.”
But the meeting also heard from some people skeptical about amalgamation including chiropractor Mary-Irene Parker who lives in the county.
“Those of you who live in town and appreciate your curbside service in the winter time with snow removal and the condition of your roads here, I invite you to drive out to where I live and find out what the county road is like and has been for a number of years,” Parker said.
“We have to weigh the pros and cons and I’m afraid that tonight was rather sloped,” she said adding that although the presentations stressed positive aspects of merging with the county, some negative things were being overlooked.
“We need to be informed as a group of people living in this area much more than we have (been) tonight,” she said.
Provincial official Chris McNeill told the meeting that if the town does decide to join the county, it would need to seek approval from the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.
He said many studies would have to be conducted, but the province would pick up all costs. He estimated that the bill would be between $400,000 and $600,000. At the same time, he stressed that the government is not pushing amalgamation.
“The province isn’t forcing anybody to do anything,” McNeill said. “They’re not pressuring anybody.”
For a copy of Ray Hickey’s presentation, Parrsboro Governance 2015, click here.
To read a question and answer sheet on Springhill’s dissolution, click here.