SPRINGHILL – It hasn’t been an easy pill for many to swallow after Springhill’s town council announced it’s dissolving its municipal government and dropping its township title.
Mayor and council tried to clear the air Wednesday and give citizens a sense of what happened and what will happen in the coming months as it approaches becoming part of the Municipality of Cumberland County. From that meeting we’ve compiled some answers to some common questions.
Question: Is Springhill a village now?
Answer: No. Springhill is still a town until April 2015, when it hopes to become a part of the Municipality of Cumberland County.
Springhill is applying to become part of the Municipality of Cumberland County, meaning in the future it will elect a single representative to sit as a councilor on the municipal council.
[FYI – a village is another form of municipal government, with elected commissioners instead of councilors, and empowered with creating its own tax rate and policies, just like a town council.]
Q: What happens now?
A: With the motion to dissolve that the town made, council will make an application to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board requesting it become part of the county. During this application process, the county and Springhill will enter negotiations and discuss everything from policing to road paving, snow removal, geothermal, the fire department – everything. Reports will be made, questions will be answered and, hopefully, the level of services the people of Springhill have been receiving will be maintained.
Q: Do I still have to pay my taxes?
A: You still have to pay your taxes. You could take the gamble of not paying your taxes this year, but when the new government takes over, you will still owe those taxes and you can bet the next government will want to collect. As Amherst chief administrative officer Greg Herrett said, “There are provisions in the Municipal Government Act that should be incentive enough to pay your taxes.”
Those provisions include putting your home up for tax sale if you’re in arrears.
Q: What will happen to the town staff?
A: The town offers a number of services to its community, including public works, water treatment, leisure services and building services. According to Mayor Maxwell Snow and Deputy Mayor Darrell White, there will be no job losses between now and April 2015, but they don’t anticipate jobs will be refilled if there are any retirements during that time.
Like services though, it was well noted by members of the public that after April 2015, mayor and council don’t have the authority to make those promises.
Q: Who is going to police Springhill?
A: Until April 2015, according to Deputy Mayor Darrell White it will be the Springhill Police Service.
Springhill was reviewing policing services in the community and had called for proposals from the RCMP and other communities to determine if there was a cheaper alternative. A decision was expected soon, but council’s decision to dissolve the town changes that. Now, policing in Springhill will be part of the discussions the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board and the Municipality of Cumberland County have with Springhill over the next year.
Q: Will my taxes go up or down because of this?
A: The expectation is taxes will go down. The Municipality of Cumberland County has a scale to determine tax rates. If you have street lights, water and sewage services, etc., all are factors toward what your tax rate will be and in the coming months the new tax rate for residents and businesses in Springhill will be determined, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that what your aunt pays for living in a bungalo with well water and a septic system on a dirt road out in the county is what you will end up paying for living in Springhill.
Q: So, how much trouble was the town in?
A: A lot.
The town is $5.1 million in debt and didn’t have enough money coming in to pay its annual operating costs, which was $6.9 million in 2013. Loss of tax payers, a dwindling economy, too many roads needing repair, hundred year-old water and sewer lines needing repair only make things worse. To just maintain the town – without any paving or repairs – the mayor and council say they would have needed to raise taxes by 50-cents per $100 of assessment. At $2.25 per $100, Springhill was already the second-highest tax rate in the province.