Sackville to province: Leave our boundaries alone

Mayor Shawn Mesheau at yesterday’s special council session

Sackville Town Council is urging the Higgs government to abandon its plan to amalgamate the town with the Village of Dorchester and their surrounding local service districts (LSDs).

In a letter sent to Local Government Minister Daniel Allain, Sackville Mayor Shawn Mesheau writes:

“We are recommending that the boundaries for the Town of Sackville remain as is. Under the present geographical boundary, the Town would continue to have a population of 5,331 and a tax base of $662,069,250.”

Mesheau’s letter, formally approved yesterday by Sackville Town Council, says those tax base and population numbers meet the criteria first outlined in the 2008 Finn Report which suggested municipalities need a minimum of 4,000 people or a $200 million tax base.

The letter goes on to recommend that the province create a second municipality in the Tantramar region consisting of the Villages of Port Elgin and Dorchester with surrounding LSDs that include places such as Westcock, Wood Point, Pointe de Bute, Baie-Verte, Cape Tormentine and Murray Corner.

The letter says that second municipality would have a population of 4,824 and a tax base of $423,776,700.

Sackville’s letter to the minister contains this map showing the Town of Sackville (municipal entity 40 in dark green) and the second municipality (municipal entity 39) in a lighter shade

Sackville’s letter says the creation of that second municipality would give the town “a partner to co-ordinate with on regional projects or developments.”

It reiterates town council’s opposition to the forced amalgamation of Sackville with other communities.

It also says the province would need to consult with the communities that would be merged in that second, Tantramar municipality.

In a passing reference, the letter does seem to acknowledge the possibility of Sackville merging with nearby LSDs.

“It is important to note,” the letter says, “that the Town is not opposed to regional collaboration or expanding our boundaries where it makes sense fiscally, and we are open to further discussions with your department and regional stakeholders as you embark on the restructuring process.”

Special closed-door meeting

The letter outlining Sackville’s proposals was discussed during an hour-long meeting on Wednesday afternoon that was closed to the public.

Town council formally voted to authorize Mayor Mesheau to sign and submit the letter to the minister afterwards during a public session that lasted about 90 seconds.

Councillor Matt Estabrooks, who favours the province’s plan to amalgamate Sackville with Dorchester and their surrounding LSDs, was not present.

Councillors Allison Butcher and Bruce Phinney were also absent.

When it became known on Monday that council was planning to discuss its alternative proposal in a closed-door session later in the week, CHMA reporter Erica Butler wondered why the meeting would not be held in public and she raised the matter during council’s public question period.

CAO Jamie Burke explaining why meeting would be held behind closed doors

“Quite frankly, the discussion is going to be very informal,” CAO Jamie Burke answered.

“We’re kind of looking down the barrel of an unknown gun,” he said.

“We’re going to be talking about things and saying things that are going to impact our legal, HR, land, all of those issues allow us to go in-camera,” Burke added.

“It’s just an opportunity for us as a group to go into the meeting informally and kind of hash this out.”

For her part, Butler remained unconvinced.

“It doesn’t sound to me like there’s justification for going in camera,” she said.

“Being able to feel that you can speak informally is not a justification for going in-camera and really that should be on the public record, that meeting,” she added.

“It’s a very important discussion…it should be a public meeting.”

To read the town’s letter to Minister Allain, click here.

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10 Responses to Sackville to province: Leave our boundaries alone

  1. Les Hicks says:

    Yet again our town council, which promised more transparency and accountability, has held a meeting in camera that, as CHMA reporter Erica Butler stated, should have been open to the public because of its importance and the potential impact that the forced amalgamation would have on all of the residents of Sackville and the surrounding areas. The obvious question is whether town council consulted with the villages of Dorchester and Port Elgin, or the residents of the other communities that would be affected by the town’s proposal, before voting to send the letter, or was this done without consultation with these communities?

  2. Christian Corbet says:

    The proposed amalgamation is posing a potentially problematic threat for town council and CAO in that they will likely have to run in an election again to get re-elected; this too for the CAO who may very well not get re-hired. They are seemingly worried more about their own backs than that of the tax payers. Typical politicians? What has the town done to build business in the community? Nothing. This is in part why we cannot get nurses or young families to move here. It’s a dying town and town council is standing on the oxygen tube watching us slowly lose life.

  3. Michael Gallant says:

    How convenient that all Opposition MLAs didn’t have their legislature vote recorded on this issue.

  4. Sharon Hicks says:

    While at first glance the letter which our ‘Town’ sent to the Province appears to be logical and well-written, upon second and third readings the common-sense portion of my brain kicks in and says … “umm … wait a minute …”

    First, the whole tone of the letter, where it is basically telling the Province to ‘go ahead and make changes to everyone else around us, but leave Sackville out of it.’, comes off sounding like a spoiled child saying “Oh Please don’t put me in the same class as THOSE kids!! I want my OWN class and I want absolutely nothing to change!!”

    Then, it’s shocking to realize that not only were the mayors of Dorchester & Port Elgin not consulted on the suggestions in this letter from Sackville’s mayor, they were not even given the courtesy of a carbon copy of the letter.

    In addition, there appears to have been no consultation with anyone from the other outlying areas who will be majorly affected by whatever plan the Province decides to follow.

    This is definitely not an example of the “collaboration” which our Mayor and Council frequently refer to, instead it is nothing short of “exclusion”, for ‘Sackville’ to unilaterally suggest such major restructuring for the outlying areas while leaving ‘us’ intact and unchanged.

    This exclusionary attitude can potentially lead to future tensions among all of these ‘areas’, if the province’s current plan proceeds as expected. Why would those other areas even ‘want’ to be associated in the same Entity with Sackville, after this display of such self-centredness! This is definitely not a good way to forge future positive working relationships with those outlying areas which we may well end up having to collaborate with.

    Next, as Erica Butler pointed out at Monday night’s meeting, and which Les Hicks referred to in his comment as well, this topic and circumstance does not really meet the criteria for holding the discussion meeting on Wednesday afternoon ‘behind closed doors’, especially when the other mayors involved, from Dorchester and Port Elgin, were not able to even watch or participate via Teams or any other means.

    Sackville’s CAO (who appears to be calling all the shots these days, instead of the Mayor and Council) appeared to be really ‘reaching’ when he tried to come up with a good reason why such a meeting should be held in-camera, in response to Erica’s direct and pointed question.

    Mr Burke basically said that the discussion ‘could’ involve such things as “legal, HR, land”, adding that all of those categories “allow us to go in-camera”. However, he appeared to be just grasping at straws, and had no real justification upon which to base that decision.

    That very same sort of reasoning has been argued against here and elsewhere in the province over the past few years, with the point being that too many times a meeting goes in-camera simply because there are so many grey areas in the list of criteria set for doing so.

    Finally, having said all this, we just now read on the news that Bill 82 was passed in Legislature this afternoon, Thursday, and will officially become law tomorrow, Friday December 17. It will take effect on January 1.

    So all this discussion and letter-writing now becomes a moot point. The deed is done. Happy New Year!

  5. Jim Throop says:

    I wonder would our tax rate drop to the same as Dorchester or Port Elgin ? If that is the case why not bring the region together, it’s not like we didn’t all go to school together and pretty much know one another in the area.

    • Geoff Martin says:

      Sorry Jim, based on past precedents there will almost certainly be three tax rates — a town rate, a village rate and a former LSD rate. LSD residents *will* pay more, villagers *may* pay more, and maybe the Sackville rate will not go up.

  6. Geoff Martin says:

    I agree with Erica Butler and those commentators who say that holding the meeting to discuss the letter in secret was unjustified. Here is the NB law on reasons for closed meetings:

    NB Local Governance Act
    ” Closed meetings
    68(1) A council meeting or a committee of council meeting may be closed to the public for the duration of the discussion if it is necessary to discuss
    (a) information of which the confidentiality is protected by law,
    (b) personal information as defined in the Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act,
    (c) information that could cause financial loss or gain to a person or the local government or could
    jeopardize negotiations leading to an agreement or contract,
    d) the proposed or pending acquisition or disposition of land,
    (e) information that could violate the confidentiality of information obtained from the Government of Canada or from the government of a province or territory,
    (f) information concerning legal opinions or advice provided to the local government by its solicitor or
    privileged communications between solicitor and client in a matter of local government business,
    (g) litigation or potential litigation affecting the local government or any corporation referred to in subsection 8(1), the local government’s agencies, boards or commissions including a matter before an administrative tribunal,
    (h) the access to or security of buildings and other structures occupied or used by the local government or access to or security of systems of the local government, including computer or communication systems,
    (i) information gathered by the police, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in the course of investigating any illegal activity or suspected illegal activity, or the source of that information,
    (j) labour and employment matters, including the negotiation of collective agreements. ”

    Everything else must be discussed in public. These reasons are all quite specific and it is a stretch to say that any of them come into play in this case. In fact, you could say that you can only discuss something in secret if it would be irresponsible to discuss it in public, because it would hurt the town financially, or hurt someone the town was negotiating with, or would reveal collective bargaining or other negotiating strategy, or jeopardize public safety or town security, release truly confidential information, etc. Problem in NB is that no one will enforce the Act….

  7. Mike Gallant says:

    Funny how everyone’s loosing their mind that Council went “in camera” to discuss. But no one is concerned that legislators including our MLA intentionally ensured their VOTE was not recorded in the legislature on this bill. Any media in Sackville want to ask hard questions? Probably not.

  8. Ron Shaw says:

    In reading this press release, I for one was against amalgamation in the Town of Parrsboro as was going to refrain from attending such meetings, on thinking it through I did attend such meetings, your opinions need to be heard one way or another.

  9. W says:

    If our woke council is against it the amalgamation must be a good thing.

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