ANTIGONISH: The Town of Antigonish and the Municipality of the County of Antigonish are exploring consolidation.
At two separate special council meetings held on Sept. 13, the two municipal units passed motions to investigate and gather the information needed to consider amalgamating the two municipalities into one regional government.
“Over the last few years, the both of us had many of the constituents ask us about getting together and becoming one unit and if it was ever going to happen, or if it should happen,” Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher told reporters in a joint-press conference. “Owen and I have talked about it a few times as well, and we discovered, we are getting along very well, we’ve accomplished quite a bit, so this is probably the best time to look at it.”
Warden Owen McCarron suggested the relationship between the two municipal units has been resilient and building on those strengths, the natural thought of looking at consolidation was one he felt was important to explore.
“We’ve had some discussions with other areas, and both the mayor and I and our CAOs looked into some of the information around that and as a result, brought us to this meeting tonight,” McCarron said. “I’m pretty pleased with the support of at least looking at the possibilities.”
He said as two strong municipalities it’s best to look at this now, before a crisis occurs and forces their hands.
“We feel that we can build on that strength by looking at this possibility and I think that’s what this discussion tonight was really centred around, the future and what our community will look like going forward,” McCarron said. “And this is a transformational piece for our municipalities for sure.”
Boucher highlighted this is a process that will not be rushed, and everybody’s voice will be heard during the exploration period, over the next few months.
“Staff, along with council will do a lot of exploring, a lot of questions will be asked, we want to make sure we have the questions for the public for when we do engage them,” she said. “I want the public to understand, this is not an exercise of reduction, this is an exercise in efficiency and providing a better municipal service to our community.”
This phase involves assessing if residents, businesses, and communities would be better served by combining efforts on all municipal services such as recreation programs and facilities, events attraction, tourism, land use planning, solid waste management, infrastructure planning and community economic development.
McCarron said in discussions with Windsor-West Hants, which consolidated a little over a year ago, they’re already seeing a lot of benefits from coming together.
“And we don’t see any difference in our community,” he said. “It’s like-sized and like-minded communities and we’re looking forward to the possibilities, but it’s very early days at this point.”
The first piece will be getting information out and getting feedback from the community, which will then set the timeline that will work for not only for the councils, but for the communities they serve.
In 2006, the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board rejected a proposal from the county to amalgamate, noting that there wasn’t enough community support and it could lead to more fighting.
The issue dated back to 2001, when the town of Antigonish applied to annex 1,600 hectares from the municipality. The municipality responded that the annexation would hurt its tax base, and instead applied for a total merger.
A plebiscite was eventually held and voters in both the town and county were asked if they supported the amalgamation; 84 per cent of voters in the county were in support of the merger, while in the town, 74 per cent of voters were against.
Boucher explained this is a better time for a consolidation to occur.
“This is a fantastic time, not only because we’re both financially independent, and nobody is forcing us to do it, but also because the environment and the culture is really good,” she said. “I can’t think of a better time to venture down this path than now.”
Going forward, the warden indicated they have an opportunity to create something really great that’ll serve not only their residents of today, but for future generations to come.
“The opportunity to do something like this doesn’t come along all too often,” McCarron said. “I think we’ve shown over the last number of years in our ability to work together on significant projects; lots of things to show our community the value of working together and how it can actually lift the overall spirit of the community.”