Feedback to be submitted on or before December 15, 2015
1. Do you think the proposed process is reasonable? Why, or why not?
To arbitrarily conduct a review that will change the structure of Nova Scotia without including all interested parties is far from reasonable in any sense of the word. To even ask such a question is a further insult to the residents of Villages (and perhaps towns) of Nova Scotia. If the question on the reasonableness of the process was of any real interest, it is unlikely that Villages would have been excluded and denied a voice nor would the UNSM members have been sworn to secrecy. WHY? Because any reasonable working group interested in the arriving at an accurate conclusion, MUST be unbiased. Villages have been judged in a manner that is shocking by any standard of reasonableness.
a. Recognizing the review does not necessarily lead to amalgamation, do you support the use of the FCI as a method to trigger a constructive review? If not please suggest another alternative.
Recommendation # 14 clearly leads to forced amalgamation. That being said, the Fiscal Condition Indicators (FCI) could be an effective indicator for self-examination. It could be a useful tool for the Department of Municipal Affairs in offering assistance and direction. But in consideration of the manner that this review was conducted, Recommendation # 7, which would allow for targeted reviews by UNSM and DMA, should be given serious thought. Perhaps a standardized approach to the FCI would be the best way to avoid possible hidden agendas.
2. Is there anything you would change with respect to the review process?
The first change that must be made is that there are no exclusion of players. The problem is not with what was done but how it was done. Then to add insult to injury, what took years to debate and release has been given barely enough time to get over the shock and indignation to allow for a meaningful response. This lack of consideration for the Village Commissions speaks to the fact of the non-existence of any real understanding of the function of this local form of government. And the four sessions to provide information on the recommendations was a useless waste of time. Surely you would have known there would be concern expressed yet there was no real opportunity to be heard. The whole thing was done in a spirit of: “our mind is made up, we’re not interested in the facts.”
3. Do you support the recommendations regarding the village commissions? Why or why not?
In no way do we support recommendations that were drafted by those with no interest in the value that Village Commissions provide to the people who they represent. Services that are unique to individual Villages would simply not exist and it is the existences of these “little” things that improve the quality of life and make people want to live in Villages. Removing villages takes away a certain lifestyle.
a. What issues do you see arising if these recommendations are implemented?
The biggest issue will be one of principle. The name Canada comes from the Iroquoian word kanata, meaning “village.” It would be a huge issue if a country whose name is synonymous with the word “Village”, deliberately and with no good reason, does not provide for their existence. Additionally, it may well be an issue with electors; but could benefit voter turn-out. What may also be unfortunately at stake is the working relationship with Municipal Advisers. With their involvement with this flawed process they have put themselves in the narrow role of “Municipality Advisors”.
i. How would you like to see issues addressed?
There is another option for structure improvement. More urban areas should be encouraged to incorporate as villages, towns and cities. Rural municipalities should then exclude all official cities, towns, villages, and First Nations Indian reserves from their territory, leaving a strictly rural municipality that could easily be governed at the Provincial level.
1. Do the proposed recommendations create a more level playing field? If not, please provide information.
The roads in Nova Scotia are a major concern and should certainly be a part of Municipal discussion. The recommendations may offer some improvement to the playing field for Municipalities but they do not offer a permanent fix. The Provincial tax charged on gas that was originally targeted for road maintenance and construction but was not mentioned.
1. TCAP recommendation provides additional money for much needed capital projects. Do you think an application based process is appropriate? If no, please explain what you would recommend
Yes it is always appropriate that the recipient justify the expense and be accountable for the expenditures.
2. Using a provincial lens specific to your municipality, what challenges or opportunities do you see arising from the recommendations?
UNSM was established to protect the interests of municipal units in Nova Scotia. It is unquestionable that Villages are not seen as municipal units by their exclusion from a membership. The Association of NS Villages should be given a vote on the UNSM.
3. Using a municipal lens specific to your municipality, what challenges or opportunities do you see arising from the recommendations?
The biased position of Recommendation 13 which prohibits any new Villages forming in Nova Scotia puts a restraint on villages, towns or cities and it will create an additional challenge to present Villages. Concerning Recommendation 14, the dissolving of all Villages will, in all likelihood, mean the end of most of the services now provided to Villages through the Village tax rate and will eliminate hope for any new services.
4. The current NSPI grant-in-lieu to municipalities is through the operating grants formula, however, a shift to a rate* assessment formula places contributions from NSPI in line with other property taxpayers. Do you support this principle? Please explain why, or why not.
Why is NSPI treated differently from other ratepayers, especially from those who are forthcoming with an accurate financial standing of their operation. NSPI should be responsible to pay Grants In Lieu of taxes to Municipalities in which their properties lie.
1. What types of flexibility, or changes would you like to see with respect to Recommendations 27 and 28? This will be very helpful in guiding the MGA Review discussion.
Recommendation 27:- There is no argument against visiting a property tax and assessment recommendation in the effort to “establish FAIR and EFECTIVE property taxation and revenue regimes”. There should be caution about providing municipalities with broader authority but the MGA should allow for, in fact mandate, that municipalities have their own assessment personnel working in harmony with the provincial standard. There are constant changes in this function that need a more street level point of view.
Recommendation 28:-Assessment capping may have outlived its effectiveness and so should be reviewed. Much like Recommendation 27, having municipal staff involved with the assessment process will more accurately ensure that the properties that are assessed as exempt are deserving. Staff living within the municipal unit often have first-hand knowledge of the properties being assessed.
2. Until the province is in a fiscally sound position, municipalities will need to continue contributing to mandatory contributions. Recommendation 29 provides a compromise to this situation. Do you support this recommendation? If not, please explain why.
The comment stated earlier concerning structure in (3,a,i- rural municipalities) would provide the best compromise. Villages, towns and cities would tax their residents for all the services provided within their own boundaries . While there could be ample opportunity for cost sharing, this will take the burden off the province for many services covered under mandatory contributions.
1. Recommendation 30 calls for a better process for municipalities to work with the province in establishing regulations, how do you envision this process?
Technical Committees could be set up to review federal regulations that will eventually filter down to the development of provincial regulations that will eventually affect municipalities. These committees should include experts from every level of government.
2. Are there areas in your municipality where you could benefit from Municipal Affairs assistance? If so, please explain.
Municipal Affairs should continue to support the UNSM and AMANS organizations. Village Commissions are equal paying members of AMANS, as are their Village administrators, and must be given equal consideration. This is not always the case, and Municipal Affairs should work on Villages’ behalf to ensure equality.
Municipal Affairs must also work more closely to recognize and support the Association of Nova Scotia Villages.
The Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities excludes Villages from voting membership on the premise that Villages already have a ‘vote” through their municipal council. This is often not the case all of the time and Villages should have a voting voice through the ANSV. DMA could offer support to Villages in this battle.
MA needs to re-direct its focus from assisting municipalities initiating a process to dissolve/consolidate municipalities to become stable and viable. Assisting municipalities in a consolidation process is important if it is absolutely the last resort. In accordance with the recommendations in the review. DMA’s approach is aggressive and takes some municipalities to the point of no return (ie BINDING) A better approach would be for DMA to help municipalities recognize when a problem is first starting (with the FCI trackers possibly) and , rather than assisting municipalities financially to consolidate or dissolve, it would make more sense to municipalities, their rate payers and electors, to be encouraged to aim towards being viable and put some of those funds towards helping in the early stages of the process.
There are a number of areas where provincial staff could assist municipal staff administratively. (ie. The Gas Tax or BCF Grant application forms). Some smaller towns and villages do not apply for some of the grants because the initial process Is just too difficult for the staff to handle. Letting municipalities know that DMA would assist them with one or two of these grant applications may help an otherwise struggling town to be more viable while improving their infrastructure value.
Assisting municipal staff to understand the financial status of their organization could also be beneficial. A good example of this is with a small town that recently made an application to dissolve. It was reported at a public meeting (facilitated by provincial representatives) that part of the reason for the decision was because the town was facing a huge deficit for that current year, when in fact, the town actually realized a $300,000 surplus. Whether the decision to dissolve was based on the erroneous information or not, the information to rate payers was incorrect and misleading
The role of municipal advisors has been an important one over the years. DMA should continue to provide support and ensure that the advisors are credible and knowledgeable. Recommendation 41 implies that the working group has doubts about the efficiency and ability of the Municipal Advisors. Municipal administrators often rely on these individuals, and if it is felt that there is a better way to provide advice, the recommendations should be heard.
From the perspective of villages, over the past number of years there seems to have been an attitude of “if you want to be treated like a Town, then become a Town – otherwise, suck it up.” This is a direct quote from a former Advisor to a Village administrator. This speaks to the obvious inappropriate attitude of villages at the DMA level.
DMA should negotiate with the Federal government to allow Villages to collect and manage their own Gas Tax allotments. Some villages are denied their share of the Gas Tax with an arrogant wave of the hand. This is wrong and goes against the federal political expectations.
OVERALL QUESTIONS ON RECOMMENDATIONS
What recommendations do you think would be most beneficial to your municipality in the long-term?
Feedback on the 43 Recommendations is attached and those recommendations would be most beneficial to our municipality – known as villages.
What recommendations do you think would be the most challenging for your municipality? Please comment on how your concerns could be addressed. Is there a compromise you could suggest?
Challenges for villages are stated in the attached feedback of the complete Fiscal Review. Some of these concerns should be discussed and perhaps find compromises.
It is obvious that for Villages in Nova Scotia, Recommendation 13 and 14, if implemented, will have a fatal impact, both on Villages. Municipalities encompassing Villages, whether they are willing to admit it or not, will face challenges that will cause service-provision hardships for the rate payers in the dissolved village area.
Villages have survived, many very well, over the years without there being any issues that affected provincial or municipal folks. Some encompassing municipalities are unable or unwilling to work with their Villages. The compromise is to allow villages to be accountable through provincial reporting, similar to other municipalities. This requirement will serve two purposes: 1) Villages who will no longer have a reason to exist will be provided with assistance to properly go through the process of dissolution(and admittedly there may be some in this category), and 2) provide essential information to those people who have agreed to make the radical Recommendation 13 and 14, so they are aware of the services provided by villages, the impact on the ratepayers if Villages no longer provide the services, and very simply the role and value of the villages.
The Village of Chester
***because of our absolute agreement, some parts of this submission have been copied from other villages.