Hopefully, politicians, representatives, officials, business owners, and municipalities around the Strait area will be successful in fighting against the loss of a valued service.
During the October 3 meeting of Port Hawkesbury Town Council, Russ Adams of Property Valuation Services Corporation (PVSC) said their office in the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre will close at the end of February.
Adams cited both fiscal and efficiency reasons for the decision. He 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. As a result of the office closure, he said staff will be “much closer” to the areas in which they assess properties.
Adams told council that following the closure, services can be accessed by contacting the Truro office and their 19 full-time staff will still be available to meet with property holders and municipal staff by appointment as needed.
Despite assurances that service delivery would remain intact, Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton expressed concern with the lack of consultation, saying that municipalities should have had more input in the decision because the PVSC receives funding through the municipalities it serves.
With this move, the mayor said there will be no office between Sydney and Truro, creating a gap in service delivery, especially for seniors and others who have difficulty accessing services on-line or by phone.
As a lease holder, the Civic Centre faces a loss of approximately $41,000 per year in revenue from the office closure. Chisholm-Beaton 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 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 of the Strait Area Mayors and Wardens Committee was held to discuss the decision.
Hopefully, municipal leaders will go beyond criticizing the decision and formulate a plan to keep the office open in the Strait area over the long-term.
At a time when the local economy has experienced a bounce back after the cut-backs and job losses of past decades, this is not the time to remove a valuable service.
The data upon which this decision is based is flawed. Cherry-picking office visits during an arbitrary time, without looking at peak times, provides unreliable and incomplete information.
The fact that no municipalities were warned about the office closure is also troubling. The region currently served by the office includes Pictou, Antigonish, Guysborough, and Cape Breton counties, encompassing more than a dozen municipalities and impacting thousands of people, organizations and businesses. Because of that reach, there should have been some consultation.
While the budgetary impact on the town will be noticeable, the gap in service delivery will be much larger. To force those with little or no access to computers, those with physical impairments, as well as the elderly, to visit a Web site or call a toll-free number and claim that is equal to providing them with face-to-face interactions is unreasonable. Automated messages and Web sites cannot replace human contact.
Faced with these facts, it is incumbent upon the PVSC to consult with the municipalities who fund them, analyze comprehensively who uses their services and which services they use, then determine which course of action is in the best interests of their clients and the municipalities which fund them.