A determined group of Nova Scotia taxpayers is working to hold municipal officials and staff accountable for how they are spending, and in some cases covering up their spending, of our tax dollars.

Although we have a Municipal Government Act, it seems that our Municipal Affairs Department cannot enforce that act. This means that municipal affairs cannot police the individual municipalities and it seems obvious on so many levels that when left unattended, our municipal representatives/staff make decisions that seem to suit themselves with no regard for their taxpayers.

Yes, believe it or not, we have been told that municipal affairs cannot force our elected officials to abide by the act and that the act is just a guideline. We are told that if we, as taxpayers, have a problem with how our councils conduct business or themselves, that we have the democratic right to vote them out every four years. Not much comfort in those words, is there?

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It was shocking to learn that there are no standards set across municipalities when it comes to how they set their travel expense rates, stipends, salaries, benefits, etc. Most recently, we learned that one of our Nova Scotia municipalities decided, on their own, to adopt the federal mileage rates and the meal per diems of our MPs in Ottawa. I can only imagine that it is because the mileage rates and per diems of our provincial representatives are much lower than the federals?

It seems some of our municipal representatives spend thousands of dollars on trips, golfing, eating, and drinking in high end restaurants and nightclubs. Because some of us taxpayers have been complacent and sitting back thinking our elected officials were being responsible with our tax dollars, we left some officials to think that we are not watching and don’t care, hence allowing them to feel entitled.

We have not only been seeing a sense of entitlement in some of our elected officials but we are seeing a lack of ethics and morals for some, the latter being very troublesome. Because of this sense of entitlement, for some, they now seem threatened and publicly maligned when their taxpayers dare to question their actions.

We have been told that municipal affairs is reviewing the act for possible changes, however, what difference does it really make if municipal affairs cannot enforce the act? They say they want to “standardize” practices across the province which sounds really good, however, if they cannot enforce those standard practices, what difference does it make?

Many requests to meet with the minister have not been granted so we assume that his department does not want to hear how taxpayers feel about municipalities wasting their hard-earned tax dollars. It seems like when governing bodies are questioned, the wagons get circled to protect themselves and taxpayer concerns are the last thing on their minds.

Again, in large part, taxpayers are to blame because for some reason we have become so complacent it allows the careless spending of our money to continue. Inaction, on our part, fosters this behavior, and at some point, we have to wake up and remember that elected officials work for us, not the other way around.

Given the publicity around the struggles that we know about – in Guysborough and Richmond counties – I encourage all municipal taxpayers in our province to start asking questions of their municipal elected officials and municipal affairs.

Based on what I’ve seen in the last few years, there is no way that our declining population can sustain the tax rates that we are forced to pay due to the lack of responsibility on the part of our elected officials and/or their staff.

To view the struggles of just two municipalities that are currently undergoing, or have resulted in, investigations into their spending by the Nova Scotia Ombudsman’s Office and a current RCMP investigation, please visit the Facebook groups:“No More Secrets, Holding Municipal Governments Accountable” and “Taxpayers of Richmond County, NS.”

Suzanne Roy