The two candidates running for the Sackville mayoralty have similar positions on a number of issues, including their concerns about provincial plans to overhaul local government.
Both Virgil Hammock and John Higham say if they’re elected mayor on May 9th, they’ll start lobbying immediately for changes that would benefit the town before the province introduces its new Municipalities Act, probably in the fall.
“We need to be in their face in Fredericton,” Hammock says. “If I were there as mayor, I would make sure I was in Fredericton talking to the government directly.”
Higham makes a similar pledge.
“I have warned them that if I’m elected, they’re getting calls the next day,” he says, adding he’d be pushing federal and provincial politicians for more money for the town’s infrastructure.
As for changes in local government, Higham suggests the town needs to make its voice heard.
“We’re relying on unnamed bureaucrats in Fredericton to make some of these things up, to make some of the details up. That’s not how it should happen.”
Neither Hammock nor Higham knows exactly what the province has in mind, although Brian Kenny, the provincial minister responsible for local government, has been quoted as saying the new Act could grant municipalities greater powers.
While the two mayoralty candidates welcome the idea, they worry about the province giving the town greater responsibilities without the money to carry them out.
“We need a way to raise more revenue to run the community,” Hammock says, “(rather) than just raising property taxes.”
He mentions other levies such as hotel and hospitality taxes, but adds that the province should also increase its grants to the town, including what it pays in lieu of property taxes for Mount Allison University.
“If we got the money we should get, based on the real estate at the university, then we would be in a far better situation financially,” Hammock adds.
Higham recalls recommendations from the Finn Commission in 2008 that called for a drastic reduction in the number of municipalities. He says that as mayor, he would get discussions going with Port Elgin and Dorchester about a common position on any proposed changes.
“We’ve got to be prepared,” Higham says. “If things all go to regional commissions, these little towns are going to die, and (while) we are not as small as the others, we’ll be gutted out with some of the services they’re going to take away.”
He adds it’s important to push “for the right changes to be made, not the wrong ones.”
The two Sackville mayoralty candidates have similar positions on other key issues, such as enhancing, not cutting services at the town’s hospital.
“We have operating rooms we’re not using,” Hammock says. “We have beds we’re not using. We need to maintain it as a full service, an increased full service (hospital), and put much pressure on the provincial government to do so.”
Both Higham and Hammock are also promising to push other levels of government for money and action to fix flooding issues, not just in Sackville, but in the areas surrounding the town as well.
Higham says he would argue that all of Canada depends on the highway and rail links that are at risk.
“I recall five or six years ago when I was on council hearing the fire department talk about how close the water had come on a regular tide to the bottom of the railway tracks,” he says.
“That wasn’t even a storm, that was a regular tide, one of the high tides of the year, but holy cow if we’d had a storm, everything would have been gone.”