Mayor believes it is best option to save the facility
BIBLE HILL - A plan by Colchester County to assume ownership of the Nova Scotia Provincial Exhibition (NSPE) should not be the commission’s first choice for dealing with its financial woes, an official says.
Bob Taylor, left, and Bruce Kennedy.
“I never saw it as the answer to what the facility needed,” NSPE commission chairman Bruce Kennedy said, of a proposal in the works by the municipality to pay off the board’s debt to the Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board in exchange for assuming ownership of the facility and the exhibition grounds.
“This property wasn’t designed to be passing the deed around,” he said.
Last summer, a financial review of the NSPE’s accounts determined the commission to be $1 million in debt and in an insolvent state. More than $420,000 of that is owed to the Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board, which currently holds the deed to the NSPE property.
A plan spearheaded by Colchester County Mayor Bob Taylor, however, would see the municipality pay off the farm board debt and assume ownership of the deed.
However, Kennedy said that does not solve the issue of the remaining outstanding debt, much of which is owed to simulcast affiliates with the Truro Raceway.
“A few of us had a concern with that,” he said, of some of the NSPE board members. “And that’s why we’re saying, the debt is more than to the farm load board. So how do these other people ever get paid?”
The NSPE board contains 10 seats but following some recent resignations it is currently shy of two members.
A recent vote on the county’s proposal came in at 5-2 in favour of the plan (the chairperson only votes to break a tie), but Kennedy said he believes a decision should not be made until the two vacant seats have been filled.
“Some of us were still looking for information, we were looking for a more detailed presentation (from the county),” he said. “So it left us in a position of a divided board to look down the road to the future with.”
And after meeting last week with Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell on the issue, Kennedy said he has become more convinced that the county’s plan is not the way to go.
That meeting also resulted in a decision by the province to hire an auditing firm to conduct a financial review of the commission’s accounting procedures and how it handled its business affairs.
And Kennedy said Colwell made it clear that it is not acceptable to the province to only pay off the farm loan board debt.
“My interpretation was, the minister was willing to step up and help, only if we do it fairly. And the fairness was that we address all the debt not just the farm loan board. So, paying off the farm loan board and taking the deed in someone else’s hands, just because the county had a few extras dollars in their coffers, wasn’t the answer to anything,” he said.
“There’s a group of people in this town that offered to step up with some financial aid and they were at the meeting with the minister here and he was kind of intrigued that there was that kind of offer and assistance with no obligation or commitment, that we would have that opportunity to do that and assist and it wasn’t being entertained by the county.”
Taylor, however, said he believes the county proposal is the best way to remove a lot of pressure from the commission by not having the farm loan board debt hanging over its head, while also providing a solid structural base from which to operate in the future.
And given the vote already taken by the commission, Taylor said it should stand by those results.
“I feel the majority of the board have spoken,” he said. “We’ve debated this for a long time and its come to the point where we either do something or we lose it. And I don think the community can afford to lose it.”
The county plan would not only ensure continued live action at the Truro Raceway, he said, it would also guarantee the future for a host of community activities, including 4-H, gymnastics and cattle shows, among others because of the structure that would be put in place by the municipality.
“Because our thrust through this whole thing is, it’s a great community asset and we want to retain it for the community. There’s lot of opportunity for activities there.”
And Taylor said county ratepayers would not have to worry about their taxes going up to pay off the farm loan board because the money is already in place if required.
“I feel we’re well within our rights to make these decisions. We have the money in the bank, it was going to be used for another project, so it’s not going anywhere,” he said.
If the board ultimately rejects the county proposal, however, Taylor said there is nothing he can do.
“If that’s not acceptable, in my opinion we’ll have to walk away. We did everything we could to try and make this work.”
A meeting was scheduled by the NSPE board for Wednesday night to further discuss the situation.