At Thursday’s regular council meeting, a unanimous motion was passed to move to the next step in the process
Wednesday, February 19th, 2020 - Yarmouth, N.S. – At last week’s regular council meeting, the important topic of consolidation was discussed around the table. Mayor Mood and five councillors present all offered their thoughts on the topic and how consolidating with one or both of the other two municipalities in Yarmouth County could provide for greater efficiencies in delivering services and a more effective decision-making process for residents. At the end of the discussion, a unanimous motion was passed to take the next step. The Town of Yarmouth will submit a request to the province to begin the process of developing legislation for the purpose of consolidation between the Town of Yarmouth and one or more of its neighboring municipalities. Councillor Jim MacLeod was absent from the meeting.
The three Municipalities of Yarmouth County participated in a discussion regarding municipal government and possible consolidation on February 4th at Mariners Centre. The session was led and supported by the Department of Municipal Affairs and Housing with Allister Surette serving as an independent facilitator. Thursday’s council meeting was the first opportunity for Town of Yarmouth Councillors to speak their minds on the topic, and they had much to say.
“The three (municipal) units have, over the years, seen some stress in getting all three to work together,” said Councillor Don Berry. “It's great that you work together on some of these major things in providing for the town and county and outside areas. But it's very hard when you start looking at policies and trying to make them work for everybody and to come to a major consensus. I think with consolidation it would fix the process or would help us come to a quicker consensus rather than taking forever to get something done. We are hopefully moving in the right direction.”
Deputy Mayor Phil Mooney spoke to the fact that consolidation could make the region stronger by creating one true voice for all residents of Yarmouth County. “When we have one or more units coming together, we do speak with one true municipal voice. When it comes to funding from the provincial and federal governments, they will listen to us, especially when you have close to 16000 people (Town and Yarmouth Municipality) and with Argyle it would be close to 25000 people. We have a lot of clout, especially with the French community. We could really work well being one voice.”
Councillor Wade Cleveland agreed with Mooney’s sentiment that a single strong voice is needed, but also noted his frustration as a councillor in terms of getting things done. “There's an enormous amount of frustration that comes with trying to get things done together and it's because of the separate governments” said Cleveland. “It's no knock on anyone or any government entity, it's just a much more difficult proposition and together we are strong, it's that simple. Together we are strong, divided we are not as strong…so we need to do this.”
Cleveland added “ultimately the writing's on the wall and consolidation in some way shape or form in the next 10 years or maybe even a little more is inevitable and to me it's a much safer and easier process when we're in the driver’s seat. Here is our opportunity to be in the driver’s seat, all of us not just the town of Yarmouth but all of the municipalities.”
“There really is nothing to lose when you look at it through a wide view,” said Councillor Steve Berry. “I think that's what we need to do. If you look at it with your blinders on it's easy to say, well we don’t want this for this reason, or that reason. But at the end of the day the wide view says this is the best choice. We can either go on our own terms now or as Councillor Cleveland just alluded to, or be forced there.”
Councillor Cliff Hood spoke to a number of issues including the struggle involved with creating fair and equitable sharing agreements on joint municipal projects and responsibilities such as Mariners Centre, and how the Town of Yarmouth has been unable to establish cost sharing formulas for joint projects that are fair and equitable for all parties. He also used the Yarmouth Airport as an example of how the separation of powers in the area makes it difficult to arrive at agreements and move projects forward.
“I don't think anybody expects the airport can be supported, maintained, and operated on behalf of the citizens of this county without all three municipal units participating’”, said Hood. “The funding agreement, and the agreement amongst the municipal use, ran out March 31st, 2019, and has been extended and extended and extended to where agreements were almost reached, and then backed out OF at the last minute. This is what goes on in many other areas. We have to bring it to an end.”
“We don’t need the number of councillors we have collectively,” added Hood. “Our citizens deserve better. Everyone in this county deserves better than what we are giving them now. We are stuck on all kinds of projects.”
Mayor Pam Mood spoke last and spoke passionately on the topic. While she covered a variety of important reasons for moving forward with consolidation, like other councillors she drove home the point that residents deserve a unified local government that is efficient in delivering services, capable of making quicker decisions, and that provides a strong, singular voice to help advance big projects that are needed by the entire county.
“We have an amazing opportunity before us. It may even be considered an obligation,” said Mood. “When we mention words like consolidation or amalgamation, the first thing most people think of is financial savings. I want to be very clear. The Town of Yarmouth does not need to do this for financial reasons. As a town we continue to be in great financial condition. The reasons we are willing to take next steps towards consolidation are many. They certainly include greater efficiencies and better political representation through governance changes, to name two.”
Mood added “there are many large projects that involve all of us in Yarmouth County. That includes Mariners Centre, our airport, wharves, the ferry terminal and many others. As governance stands right now, four decisions must be made to see anything done on any of these files, large or small. We gather as three municipalities, we make a decision that we hope is our agreed-upon way forward, then we go back to our individual councils where we each have to make an official decision to ratify before we can go forward. What we agreed upon together should be the final decision, but more often now than ever, it is not. We go back to our individual councils and different decisions are made. While it is absolutely the right of each council to make its own decisions, it puts us right back to square one, no decision, no moving forward, projects dead in the water. Under one council, the decision is made and we start moving. It’s really that simple.”
Finally, Mood pointed to the fact that consolidation does not translate into the town taking over or becoming stronger than either of its partnering municipalities.
“The Town of Yarmouth is 26% of the population of Yarmouth County. If any one municipal unit is going to get swallowed up, or lose any perceived power, it’s us. And yet, we know it’s the right thing to do. We’re fine on our own. We’re much better together.”
Both the Municipalities of Argyle and Yarmouth have yet to make the decision to move forward and also make the request to the province to be part of legislation. While an ideal situation would see all three units pass the same motion to begin drafting legislation, the Town of Yarmouth is committed to going ahead with one or both partners.