Category Archives: Provincial

Rezoning fails

Sent in by David Daniels.

March 23, 2011 12:12 PM


Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations Minister John MacDonell, today, March 23, announced his decision to turn down an application to re-zone agricultural land in Greenwich to allow development.
The application was rejected because the Municipality of the County of Kings did not demonstrate the need for the additional land.
“While I am satisfied by the municipality’s explanation that they would do all that was necessary to protect the Town of Wolfville’s drinking water supply, there was no demonstrated pressing need for development of this protected agricultural land,” said Mr. MacDonell.
The municipality applied to have 153 hectares of land, which lies between Greenwich and Wolfville, re-zoned from agricultural to residential and commercial.
The Statement of Provincial Interest about agricultural land requires municipalities to preserve valuable farm land where reasonable. The statement is intended to serve as a guiding principle to help government departments, municipalities and people make decisions about land use.
When a municipality wants to change its planning documents, a provincial review is required under the Municipal Government Act.
In 2010, the province allowed 24 hectares of agricultural land in nearby Port Williams to be re-zoned to allow for development.
The minister said that the province will consider any future applications from municipalities for re-zoning as long as the application clearly demonstrates the need for the additional land.

Convention centre – Hot topic

The proposal to build a new convention centre is a matter much in the news and a hot topic of debate. We don’t keep up to date much with HRM politics but we get roused when we see money wasted — on show not substance.  Do you think there will be any consideration, dare we say consultation, with us, the tax cows in the hinterland? It will also be our hard earned dollars poured into this project.

The province has reportedly asked the federal government to contribute $47 million. That would leave roughly $112 million to be split equally between the province and the municipality.

Federal and provincial money is not grown on trees!! All of us who pay Federal AND Provincial tax will pay, and pay, and pay for this if it goes ahead. Having a healthy and thriving capital city does serve the whole province, and to some extent the whole country, but waste and debt also affects us all. And can NS live on the Federal teat forever?

Municipal taxpayers in HRM out of Halifax proper also don’t feel the benefits are worth the cost. They feel there are more important things to spend municipal dollars on. If the developers want to take the risk, and be accountable for failure, let them. Leave us out of it.

As we were writing this post a comment came in from Brian S. in response to our “Complacency Caucus” post which touches on this same topic. We must be psychic. We copy part of it here:

So there you have it, the Town borrows to leverage further Federal and Provincial debt. Yes, Towns actively compete in the Borrowing Olympics with the expressed goal of driving the other levels of government (really you and me) further into debt. It’s a farce! Never mind, when Mr Brison becomes PM, he will certainly put an end to such nonsense, right?

This business whereby “projects” are funded by multiple levels of government is a perfect way to waste a wad of cash. Invariably, any requirement for merit becomes irrelevant as accountability is diffused and political triumphalism takes centre stage…

Perhaps Mr Stead can convince Mr Brison to convince Mr Dexter to build us a Convention Centre here in Wolfville — just like that whack-job-deal they’re trying to swing for Halifax.

Meanwhile and  meanwhile

Is it time to break out the pitchforks?

Ciao CAO

They are saying good bye to another CAO in HRM. And the severance is $300,00 according to reports.

English was making $190,000 it says.  [Consider that Wolfville’s CAO makes more than half of that for our little town of 4,000!] The payout is staggering. But it is easy to spend other people’s money – ours.

Sue Uteck told a radio talk show that English’s “standard employee contract” provides the former chief administrative officer with a going-away lump of cash.

Question 1: What is a”standard employee contract”  for a CAO? Each municipality is different. It is a one person, stand alone position, which should be negotiated every time. Is the “standard” contract line just to avoid answering questions  about how much he is getting paid, how much his benefits are and how much is negotiated for severance?

Question 2: Is is “standard” to let a CAO go for over reaching his position? It was reported earlier that Mr. English chastised Council in public for not giving him and his staff enough respect. We said to ourselves at the time – By golly, gosh, here’s another CAO forgetting that he works for the elected officials and the electorate, however difficult that may be.  The CAO does not chair meetings of Council. He is there at Council’s pleasure to answer questions. He is an employee. He is supposed to be professional.  It is not professional to make such statements in public. You will remember that our CAO, at a Council meeting, chastised residents, who bothered to take the time to come out, for smirking.

Question 3: Why is Council so evasive and secretive? The mayor didn’t want to say in public what they were spending to let English go and his contract is under wraps too. If it is standard, why not?

Marilla Stephenson points out.

The CAO contract has never been made public, for no good reason, as the CAO is the only person employed directly by council itself. All the other employees come under the management of the CAO. [emph ours]

It is required by the Municipal Government Act that decisions of Council be public, not made behind closed doors.

At an in-camera meeting of council this week, the decision-making process bordered on the absurd and questions should be asked about whether council’s actions on voting not to renew English’s contract are even legal. [emph ours]

Does this lapse sound  a little familiar?  Should it take FOIPOP or a court case to find out ? We suppose HRM Council will say – “It’s in the budget” . In any case, as we have said before, every public servant whose salary is over a certain amount should be disclosed as it is in other provinces.

Question 4: Marilla asks this one –

So another important question should be asked. So is the problem with the CAOs, or with the leadership at city hall?

Could be both Marilla, could be both. But there seems to be some confusion in everyone’s mind who the leaders are supposed to be.

“We’re heading into a budget year looking to cut another $10 million, and we’re absolutely (leaderless), once again, at city hall,” said Uteck.

No, the Council is supposed to lead;  the CAO can advise but he is an employee. He follows policy and directions, or should.

The authority that is supposed to come with the CAO’s job is constantly being undermined by micro-management and divide-and-conquer politics.

That seems to be the line. Residents have heard it here too. Don’t investigate too much, leave it to the CAO. This is supposed to be reassuring. It is not.

The authority does NOT lie with the CAO. It lies with our representatives. Councils are not there to be by-passed. If they are not “herdable” that is understandable. It means they are reflecting the varied interests and opinions of the townspeople. Taking the politics out of the municipality is removing democracy from the municipality. Councillors who aren’t doing a good job can be voted out. That’s is how it is supposed to work.  It is not so easy for the electorate to fire a CAO pulling strings in the back room.

We would prefer to be run by “unherdable seagulls” in the open than one “expert” behind a closed door somewhere.

So, our message to HRM Council. You are quite within your rights to let Mr. English go. But when you hire a new CAO negotiate the individual contract and be frugal in the terms. Be open about those terms with the electorate. And remember that you are in control so you had better get your act together or you too will be looking for another job come election time.

When will they ever learn?

If the mayors don’t know how it works what chance have we got? Here it is again in print in today’s CH, supposedly informing our residents how things work.

The growth in the value of Lunenburg County homes has slowed, according to numbers released this week, and the mayor says that’s reason for concern.

“It’s a huge issue,” said Don Downe, the mayor for the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg. “It’s all about revenue. It’s all about cash flow.”

That’s because assessments determine how much money people pay to municipalities in taxes.

NO! NO! NO!! Come on folks [and journalists!!!!!!] ,please, think about this. It is important. We will repeat it again. Assessments do not determine the cash flow to a Town or County’s budget. It is the RATE that determines what the “cash flow is”. If assessments go down the rate goes up to cover what the Council decides should be spent.. NO problem. The Council is in control and accountable. They are not at the mercy of anyone but the voters.

The assessment only determines WHO pays what part of it. You don’t need a PHD degree to understand this although we know many over-educated people who can’t grasp this,  perhaps because they listen to our mayors and councillors, and read our newspapers,  and believe them.

The real issue is that Councils will not be able to HIDE their spending if rates go up . THAT is what they fear. And we say, GOOD,  perhaps it is time they had to account for their spending.

The Property Valuation Services Corp isn’t helping IF they perpetuate the myth that lower assessments and assessment caps  mean lower cash flow in their presentations. This only encourages Town or other political interference in assessment work. But all they are doing is stating facts.

Property Valuation Services Corp., which assesses properties across the province, made a presentation to municipal council Thursday morning.

“Definitely, the number of sales has gone down and we’re watching that very closely,” said Debi Karrel, who works with the company.

The market has slowed, she said, and it is taking properties longer to sell. …

So? The PVSC knows very well how it works but they perhaps aren’t trying hard enough to get through to the likes of mayor Don Downe who thinks also that caps affect the municipality’s budget.

Mr. Downe said the lower revenue resulting from capped assessments has a big impact on the municipality’s budget.

“That’s a huge differential.”

No, and again no.

It isn’t very encouraging to know that idiots are running our municipalities. Just get your budget in order, determine what you need, set the rate and defend it honestly. Is that so difficult to understand?

PS – CH journalists [specifically in this case – but not the only case – Beverly Ware] you should be ashamed of yourselves.

Quote to note

We all pay the same amount, and we feel that is a heck of a lot fairer than what your house is assessed for.

That’s a reported quote from Kentville’s mayor referring to the County’s attempt to change the funding formula for area schools from a per student formula to one based completely (or partially) on assessment.

Given what we know about the “fairness” – or not- of assessments we have a certain sympathy with Mayor Corkum’s remark.

We’ve discussed the school funding issue before in this post – it’s the elephant in the schoolroom. If the application goes against the municipalities it will mean much higher costs for most of the municipalities involved. It would add, for example, $608,000 to the expense side of Wolfville’s budget!

It is not much discussed in open sessions nor has there been much attempt to get public support for the Municipalities’ position.

“I think it is important the mayor and you as councillors are in the community able to discuss it publicly,” Kentville chief administrative officer Keith Robicheau told the Council Advisory Committee January 11.

Mayor David Corkum was quick to respond.

“We’re in court over this and we have to negotiate a lot of the stuff in camera, unfortunately….

But there are lots of questions residents, and especially parents, might want to ask.  The reality is if we want decent schools, and schools which are funded fairly, perhaps the whole system should be changed. Education is a provincial responsibility. Perhaps it is time it came off of Municipal and County budgets entirely.

Meanwhile taxpayers somewhere are paying legal costs for both sides to go to court ;  Kentville CAO, Keith Robicheau,  is right –

“… this is not the way governments resolve agreements with each other.”

Ramona’s world

Ramona Jennex held an open house at her constituency office a week or so ago. Apparently LOTS and LOTS of people were there. Just not the right people. It was a hug in.

This video interview is enlightening. Kirk Staratt indicates a number of issues in Kings South which he thought were of concern including the future of Wolfville school,  the layoffs at ACA, and farm land use issues which attendees at the open house might have brought up. But apparently those many people who attended didn’t have any issues.

Most of issues I am hearing are celebratory issues..

She mentions the funding for the farm market and how happy everyone was with that. That tells us exactly who was there, that there weren’t any real farmers at the open house.  And it tells us that perhaps Ramona didn’t see all the negative comments about this expenditure of taxpayer money, how it doesn’t really help farmers or other businesses, scathing remarks which appeared following the online article in the CH (link has expired sadly)

And the concerns about the school? People were “very assured” that the issue would be taken care of by the school board.

“I’m not hearing any concerns at this point… I’m hearing optimism… people knowing there is a process in place and this process is being applied.

And it appears there weren’t any ACA workers at the open house either or they were mute.

I didn’t hear anyone talk today about ACA …

Today, I didn’t hear any really big concerns,” she said. “It was actually more of a celebration today, and I was really glad to hear that.

Kirk insists on talking about real issues – so what about agricultural land issues and development pressures. Her thoughts? She refers to a Committee. She couldn’t remember the names but Kirk must have looked them up to put in the text article accompanying the video.

...the new Agricultural Land Review Committee …. Jennex said she was happy to be able to name two members to the committee, which includes Rick Williams of Salt Springs, Pictou County; and John Van de Reit of Shubenacadie, Hants County; Bill Swetnam of Centreville, Kings County; Patricia Bishop of Port Williams, Kings County; and Lise LeBlanc of Newport, Hants County. …

“They’re meeting with people across Nova Scotia looking at the issue of land,” she said. “When they come back with their recommendations, the Department of Agriculture and myself will be looking at those recommendations.”

What is the most challenging issue, Kirk asks.

time …I don’t want to use the words issues. I want to use the word projects…. The forward thinking of people in Kings South is unbelievable …  I brag about this all the time…. for example in Wolfville, the town just gave away land for Habitat for Humanity. …”

There you go. Bring forward your favorite charity and the taxpayer will shell out for it.

“They are very progressive here in Kings South.”

Town builders obviously. The rest aren’t heard from.

Berwick’s “embarrassing” language

We often notice what is happening in municipalities around even if we don’t always comment but a recent bit in the Advertiser is of interest, and may have ramifications here. This is the headline that caught our eye:

Old language not illegal, just embarrassing

We wondered what kind of embarrassment that could be, but as we read on we learned that it was about more than merely language. Apparently municipal zoning can no longer be counted on and not only that but forget about being notified about development proposals in your vicinity.

Cleaning up ‘conflict of language’ is behind a new piece of business before Berwick Council. Following a contentious public hearing and successful second reading approving two duplexes in a R1 neighbourhood [emph ours – Yes, you read that right! Ww] earlier in November, councillors reacted to public comments property owners weren’t specifically notified of the proposed changes. They almost didn’t pass the development, but felt in the end it was an acceptable project and the process had been fair.

So there it is. If it’s an “acceptable project” zoning is out the window! Odd, we always thought that what was deemed “acceptable” depended on the zoning not the other way round!!!!

And what about the fair process bit? It seems things have changed. They don’t have to let homeowners know – at least not the same way they used to. The CAO Bob Ashley and the town planner Chris Miller put it this way:

We haven’t notified neighbouring property owners since 2000″ Ashley said, when the province replaced municipality specific land use bylaws with upgraded Municipal Government Act public participation programs … the intent was public participation would be guided by the MGA.

Emph ours. Bylaws replaced? Didn’t we just spend plenty to produce a new MPS and LUB? Is this just bad reporting? Do they mean just notification bylaws? Even then. Who knew? And what is this not so new process?

In the application process for the project behind this concern, Miller followed the newer program for public notification: newspaper [who reads them anymore?]and posting in the town hall [because residents go there every week?] And they call this an “upgrade“?  [????????????????]

Now we get to that “embarrassing” language that shows everyone that what you had before was better than the “upgrade”:

Ashley and Miller advised council to remove the section that says the town “shall” send letters to property owners within 500 feet of the development.

We used to think that “shall” had the force of law in a bylaw – and maybe it still has. We think the R1 residents of Berwick should not let this go unchallenged. It is not just a change of language – it is a change of process and a change in responsibility.

Councillor Anthony Morse asked whether this change in policy language would change the town’s position should there be an appeal of its decision on the recent project at a higher level.

“No”, said Ashley “but [sic] citing the LUB wouldn’t be concrete grounds to overturn council’s decisions. We did follow the public participation program.”

This is not what we would call open government, Mr. Ashley.

Councillor Don Clarke suggested adding other means of public notification to the town’s public process – through its website, a town bulletin board, letters to property owners if desired. “We shouldn’t over react, but we should make our public participation as good as it should be.”*

That would upgrade the “upgrade” to what it was before!!! And why not? The MGA doesn’t limit this we don’t suppose.

*This article is not online that we could see but you can read the rest in the Advertiser of Dec. 8th page 5 – “news on the go.”