Three Shelburne County municipalities have revived the idea of consolidation in light of similar moves across the province.
The Municipality of the District of Shelburne has hosted sessions on municipal reform over the past two years, and now the councils for the towns of Lockeport and Shelburne have voted to move ahead with the district.
"I look at this as being a win-win situation for all of us," said Warden Penny Smith of the Municipality of the District of Shelburne.
"Our objective is really to create a stronger local government, and to improve economic opportunities, and really the quality of life for everyone in Shelburne and the surrounding communities."
In a Dec. 20, 2023, letter to both towns, Smith said now seems like the right time "following the recent court ruling opening the way for the Antigonish consolidation."
The Nova Scotia Supreme Court has ruled the town and county of Antigonish have the legal right to ask the province for permission to amalgamate, after a group of residents argued the move was unlawful.
Both councils are holding votes to confirm whether they still want to move ahead with amalgamation on Tuesday evening. If those pass, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing John Lohr said the province will bring in special legislation to amalgamate them during the spring session starting in February.
"While understanding that all communities are unique, I would assume that if our communities decide that they wish to move forward with consolidation, that the minister's response should allow us to do so," Smith said.
Smith said she hopes the move could allow the municipalities to speak with "one strong voice," especially when dealing with the provincial and federal governments.
There are about 4,405 people in the district, which covers Shelburne County outside the boundaries of four other towns and municipalities.
A sign for the Town of Shelburne on the South Shore of Nova Scotia (Robert Short/CBC)
The Town of Shelburne, which has about 1,680 people, has been financially struggling for years. Its former mayor said in 2020 that dissolving the municipality would likely be the only way to keep delivering services without major tax hikes.
At a Jan.15 meeting, Shelburne Coun. Elizabeth Acker said moving ahead with consolidation is "the logical next step."
The Town of Lockeport, which has about 470 people, also voted to explore the concept during a Jan. 8 meeting. However, the minutes said Mayor Cory Nickerson "expressed opposition to going any further with exploring consolidation."
Nickerson did not respond to multiple interview requests.
Crescent Beach in Lockeport. The small town is exploring consolidation with the Municipality of Shelburne. (Michael Gorman/CBC)
A recent email from Dan Vincent, public works staff for the Municipality of the District of Shelburne, shared with Lockeport council said the town's wastewater treatment plant was built 50 years ago and needs "major upgrades."
"I am aware of the fact that the Town of Lockeport cannot afford on its own without major financial support from the other two levels of government," Vincent wrote.
Lockeport council voted on Jan. 22 to investigate the costs for evaluation and detailed design of those plant upgrades.
A mounting number of Nova Scotia municipalities are looking at consolidation as they struggle with rising costs.
The Town of Windsor and the Municipality of West Hants became the Region of West Hants in 2020, while in 2016 the Town of Parrsboro dissolved to become part of Cumberland County.
"We're the latest, but probably not the last, to explore consolidation," Smith said.
The municipalities are now considering next steps, Smith said, which will include public consultation.
The remaining two municipalities in Shelburne County, the Municipality of Barrington and Town of Clark's Harbour, are not taking part in the consolidation process.
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