By Heather Killen The Spectator
BRIDGETOWN - The Community of Bridgetown has made the unanimous decision to dissolve its municipal borders and is ready to map its own way back.
Bridgetown councillors Grant Wright and Ted Agombar struggled with the decision to seek dissolution of town status for Bridgetown. Both believe it was the right choice. “What is right, what is just, and what is for the common good?” said Agombar. “There is no progress on the road we were on. Is this right? Yes. Is it just? Yes. Is it for the public good? Yes.”
Lawrence Powell photo
Following a brief debate during a special meeting called March 31, Bridgetown council unanimously voted to make an application to the Utility Review Board to dissolve the town. The audience of roughly 75 people silently accepted the decision.
Once the business was finished and the meeting adjourned, the crowd offered supportive applause. While there were different sentiments expressed during the debate, each councillor expressed a renewed sense of optimism that this decision will promise a better future than the outcome of maintaining the status quo.
Councillor Janice Gattie-Friend opened by saying the council had studied various documents and research papers before reaching the conclusion that changing the town’s governance is the best option available.
She said that last year it took council six attempts to bring forward a balanced budget. This was ultimately achieved through a tax hike and reduction in services. Because there was no room for unforeseen expenses, or emergencies, the town is over-budget for 2013. This deficit will carry over into this year’s budget.
Nothing More To Cut
“There’s nothing more to cut, everyone is feeling the pinch,” she said. “We’ve looked at the long term, in five years we’ll be $1 million in debt. We don’t have the tax base to support that.”
Councillor Grant Wright said this had been a very difficult decision, but one he’s been considering for some time. He added that his family has lived in Bridgetown for three generations, and the community will remain his hometown.
“It’s been said before that this decision must be made on facts, not emotions, but this is emotional. If this passes, we are the last council in the town’s history,” he said. “We can’t know the long-term consequences of this, but this is the best decision we can make, based on what we know.”
Whatever happens to the town municipal status, the community will continue to thrive because of its people and its spirit of volunteerism. Wright added that vibrancy of the community won’t change with its municipal status, it will only change its name and possibly its borders.
Councillor Jim Mann said for him it came down to basic math, that the town’s expenditures exceed its revenue. Faced with an aging infrastructure and no budget to rebuild, the town’s assets are ultimately facing further deterioration.
“A band aid budget year after year won’t enhance this community,” he said. “For me it comes down to sustainability.”
Councillor Ted Agombar said this decision has been weighing heavily on his mind for weeks. In recent weeks it became necessary for council to make a decision about the town’s future governance sooner rather than later.
In light of the auditor’s new report finding an unforeseen deficit in the town’s 2013 budget, it became clear that the town can’t sustain the ongoing financial burden. This deficit would be carried over into each new budget, accumulating year after year.
Borrowing more money was not an option and one of the reasons council brought forward this motion now, is to meet the March 31 deadline of the fiscal year-end. Councillor Agombar added they did a lot of research and found one of the mistakes that Canso made was to prolong the inevitable and resist the process. To delay the decision beyond the fiscal year-end will make the process unnecessarily complicated for everyone.
Believes In Bridgetown
“I’ve lived here for 31 years, I raised my four sons here. I love Bridgetown, I believe in Bridgetown. It’s a beautiful place to live and will continue to be a beautiful and safe place to raise a family,” he said. “That identity and sense of belonging, that feeling of home won’t change. Even the postal codes will probably stay the same.”
“The status quo was not an option. We’ve been living on borrowed time and borrowed money,” he said. “We can’t generate enough revenue in this governance model. We have to raise taxes just to exist.”
This decision will help stabilize the tax base for residents and businesses and it will help address the current and long-term upgrades that are needed to infrastructure, he said. The province supported Canso throughout its process in various ways, he said.
Applying for dissolution will hopefully help ease the debt burden now facing Bridgetown. It may help provide funding for its infrastructure renewal and cover the legal costs of the transition. He added that he has been debating this decision, worried whether it’s the right thing. No one likes change, but if you look at it optimistically it could be seen as progress, he added.
“What is right, what is just, and what is for the common good?” he said. “There is no progress on the road we were on. Is this right? Yes. Is it just? Yes. Is it for the public good? Yes.”