UPPER NAPPAN – The man responsible for transitioning Springhill into the Municipality of Cumberland County met with representative for both parties Monday morning, officially making the start of the process, which will end in April 2015.
© Christopher Gooding photo
Day One of transitioning Springhill into the Municipality of Cumberland County started Monday morning, and with it a lot of reading material from the Town of Springhill for transition co-ordinator John Leefe.
“We have until exactly March 31, 2015, to get things done,” John Leefe said at the Municipality of Cumberland County office on Monday.
This isn’t Leefe’s first crack at transitioning a town into a county – Leefe also helped steer a merger between the former town of Liverpool and Queens County – so a lot of the questions taxpayers in Springhill and the county, Leefe can offer broad strokes to paint a picture for people, but cautions the finer details will come over the next 12 months.
Moving forward, the decisions the town and county will have to decide on will not be his to make, Leefe explained. Instead, it will be made by representatives for Springhill and the municipality.
“I am anticipating two voting members from each council and of those I hope at least two of them are the mayor and warden,” Leefe said. “It’s important the decisions being made are made by the people elected to make them.”
In the event of a tie, Leefe would cast the deciding vote, but in his own experience there were only one to two times he had to step up like that when negotiating the transition between Liverpool and Queens County. Nonetheless, one of the first issues the transition team is looking at is one that could draw that tie-breaking vote.
“It’s no secret Cumberland County polices with RCMP and Springhill has its own police force,” Leefe said. “That’s a question that has to be answered. In the case of HRM [Halifax Regional Municipality] they decided to retain both but, it is a decision that needs to be made early.”
All services in Springhill will be on the table for discussion, Leefe said, because the level of services taxpayers receive in Springhill will determine its tax rate. The intention is for the rate to be less than the current $2.25 per $100 of assessed property residents pay right now and, while less of that tax could be spent towards general government, a portion will go towards paying off the $5.1 million debt that lead to the town’s dissolution. That debt is Springhill’s to bear, Leefe said.
“It would be unfair for people who did not incur the debt to pay off some or all of that debt,” Leef said.
In the case of Liverpool, its rate was able to retire the former town’s debt within five years of joining Queens County. Presently, 60 cents of Springhill’s $2.25 tax rate go towards the debt and the remainder goes towards government and services.
A comparison of Springhill and Cumberland County bylaws will also be part of the discussion, and this is where county residents could see a change, Leefe said. The best practices need to be adopted and with two municipal governments having their own pool of polices to choose from, sometimes Springhill could see some changes and other times it could be the municipality.
As the process develops, communication with the taxpayers is going to be a crucial component of the transition, Leefe said. Many were caught off guard and felt left in the dark about the decision to dissolve Springhill. Leefe hopes the transition will be the opposite.
“We’re developing a communication strategy. We know a lot of questions on peoples minds because we’ve went through this before,” Leefe said. “We have some of the answers, but not all of them yet. As soon as we have them we will get them out, but we want to have the right information – good information. We certainly hope that will be achieved and every effort is being made.”