PORT HAWKESBURY: An announcement at the October 3 town council meeting by Russ Adams of Property Valuation Services Corporation (PVSC) drew concern from the mayor and members of council.

“The office that we have at the Civic Centre here in Port Hawkesbury will be wrapping up following the assessment notification period at the end of next February,” Adams told council on Tuesday.

Adams cited both fiscal and efficiency reasons for the decision to close the office. The region currently served by the office includes Pictou, Antigonish, Guysborough, and Cape Breton counties. He told councillors that as part of its budget planning process, the PVSC reviews leases as they come due before making decisions on renewals.

Adams said that between April 1 and September 1, the PVSC had approximately 24 walk-ins at the Port Hawkesbury office. Reasons for these visits included changes of address, seeking information or speaking with an assessor. Adams told council that, in recent years, more and more people have chosen to access these services by phone, e-mail, or through the PVSC’s Web site, rather than by visiting the office.

“With our technology, a lot of our staff are able to work from home and therefore are much closer located to their areas of responsibility where they assess properties,” said Adams.

Adams told council that following the closure, services could be accessed by contacting the Truro office but that staff would be available to come and meet with property holders and municipal staff by appointment as needed.

“We have 19 full-time staff members working throughout the region, and we will continue to have that. There is no change in the number of staff,” said Adams. “We will continue to conducts sites for inspections, for permits, appeals, etc.”

Despite assurances that service delivery would remain intact, Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton told the Reporter last Wednesday that she was very concerned with the lack of consultation prior to the announcement. She feels that municipalities should have had more input in the decision, and pointed out that PVSC receives funding through the municipalities that it serves.

“There’s going to be a wide open gap in service delivery,” said Chisholm-Beaton.  “To go and speak to a person face-to-face manner, the closest location will now be in CBRM in Sydney, or Truro. There’s nothing between those two points once the Port Hawkesbury office is closed.”

The mayor said that for many residents of the Strait region, the lack of a physical office presence will impact the availability of service. Seniors, in particular, may experience difficulty accessing services on-line or by phone.

“It’s not ideal for our seniors living in our communities. It’s also not ideal for our municipal staff that uses the service quite heavily, sometimes on a daily basis,” said Chisholm-Beaton.

As a lease holder, the Civic Centre faces a loss of approximately $41,000 per year in revenue from the PVSC office closure. Although the mayor’s primary concern is with service delivery and lack of consultation, she says the loss of revenue will have an impact since a budget was approved in June with no knowledge of the closure.

Chisholm-Beaton said she would like more information on how PVSC came to the decision. She is concerned that the sample statistic presented by Adams regarding the number of office visits between April and September did not take into account the office’s peak times, when staff are most active with assessments and appeals.

The mayor has reached out to other municipal leaders in the Strait area and a meeting is in the works to discuss what can be done about the decision.

“I know that our surrounding municipalities would like to see the data that led to the decision to close this office, because as funding partners we deserve to know that.”