E-News Bulletin--March-April 2013

President's Message

russell-walker

Councillor Russell Walker

 

The 2013 federal budget released on March 21 provided great news for municipalities across the country, particularly the new infrastructure program announcement. Moreover, the indexing of the federal gas tax will generate an additional $9 billion in new funding nationally over the next 20 years. The requests of many municipalities to expand the eligibility criteria was heard, and virtually all municipal assets will be included in the new gas tax agreement. The Building Canada Fund is being renewed for 10 years, and a review will be done in 5 years to assess the success of the fund in meeting infrastructure needs. These gains came, in large part, as a result of the work of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. I would like to thank the FCM for their efforts. Your Nova Scotia FCM board members−Warden Lloyd Hines (District of Guysborough), Mayor Don Downe (District of Lunenburg), and Councillor Bill Karsten (HRM)− worked hard on your behalf, and will continue to ensure Nova Scotia municipal needs are addressed under the new programs. I would also like to thank the UNSM membership as well. UNSM had suggested municipalities take up the infrastructure banner, and many Councils answered the call by passing resolutions in support of FCM's requests, and talking to their MPs and stakeholders. Together we have accomplished a great deal. The UNSM will continue to work with FCM in assisting with program design as the infrastructure program is fleshed out.

UNSM received the twelve- month notice letter from the Minister of SNSMR, March 28th, and this is available on our website.  In response to the provincial budget released April 4, I sent out a media release indicating mixed views in terms of its impact on municipalities. Overall the budget did not provide any new funding for municipalities while municipal contributions to education increased. We were pleased that the Province will contribute to the new infrastructure program; however, we want to ensure that majority of this funding remains with municipal projects. The UNSM was pleased that the Province will maintain funding for "Boots on the Street" Program which ensures additional police officers. The Province also committed to assist municipalities in funding community development projects through the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage. For a copy of the media release, click here.                 

The UNSM Spring Workshop will take place May 8-10 at the Mariners Centre and Rodd Grand Hotel in Yarmouth. For a copy of the program or to register click here.

A session titled "Sustainability 101" for municipal elected officials will be held on May 8 in Yarmouth prior to the Spring Workshop. This session will discuss the many programs, strategies, regulations and funding opportunities related to sustainability. To register for this separate event please contact UNSM Sustainability Coordinator Debbie Nielsen via email at or by phone at 902-423-8312.

Just a reminder that Municipal Awareness Week is taking place from April 22-28. The purpose of this initiative is to promote the importance of municipal government in peoples' daily lives to citizens and school-aged children, and to encourage citizens to participate in municipal government−including attending council meetings, public hearings or joining an advisory committee. I encourage all municipalities to get involved by choosing a day (or days) during this week to launch a public event or activity. The UNSM will be issuing a media release on April 15 to promote Municipal Awareness Week.

On April 4 a UNSM opinion piece on municipal property taxation ran in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, and also appeared in other community papers.  This piece was in response to a number of articles on property taxation written by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Nova Scotia Chamber of Commerce. My main argument was that before we can look at any serious alternatives to the property tax system as a municipal revenue source, we need to have a frank discussion on the clear roles and responsibilities of municipalities. I also indicated that residents receive good value for their property taxes as they only pay municipalities 8 cents of every tax dollar with the remainder going to federal and provincial governments. For a copy of the full article, click here:

On April 3 the UNSM and AMA co-hosted a session on LED streetlights. The purpose of this session was to review the spreadsheet tool developed to assist municipalities in costing out the conversion to the new technology. The session was well received and a number of excellent issues raised. The spreadsheet tool will help municipalities determine whether to continue leasing streetlights or to purchase them outright.

Please mark your calendars for a one-day municipal law workshop taking place on June 7 at the Westin Nova Scotian Hotel in Halifax. Titled “Legal Boot Camp”: An Overview of Key Areas of Municipal Law for Municipal Elected Officials", it will be conducted by UNSM Solicitor Mr. Kevin Latimer, Partner with Cox & Palmer.  Areas covered during the workshop include roles, responsibilities and the relationships between municipal elected officials and administrators; ethical responsibilities, legal duties and liabilities of municipal elected officials; potential liability of municipalities; access to information and protection of privacy; key provisions of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act; conduct of council meetings; and council’s authority to enact bylaws and policies.  Click here for more information.

The UNSM is still working diligently on the Municipal Auditor General file.  The MAG Oversight Committee has identified a number of issues that are currently being negotiated with the Province. The biggest issue relates to how the office should be funded.

The UNSM is looking for municipalities to host upcoming regional meetings by the end of June. The meeting can be hosted by an individual municipality or two municipalities in close geographic proximity. The UNSM began reinstituting regional meetings last year as a way to bring back together rurals, towns, and regional municipalities within a geographic area to discuss issues of mutual interest. If interested in hosting a regional meeting, please contact the UNSM office by phone (423-8331) or via email ().

Economic and Rural Development and Tourism (ERDT) held a workshop March 26 with Mayors/Wardens and CAO's to outline their responses to the comments and concerns raised at the information sessions held in the various proposed REN areas.  A copy of their presentation, and the presentation on a proposed governance model by Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, is available on our website.  Emilie de Rosenroll has been hired on contract to work with municipalities and the province towards the development of the RENs. 

The UNSM recently conducted a survey among municipal elected officials regarding issues identified in the recent municipal election and the timing of the UNSM Annual Conference in an election year. Because we only received 28 responses, the Board is not in a position to make a decision regarding timing of the conference. We did receive a number of excellent comments on election issues which will be brought forward to the Province when a committee is formed to address this issue. We are going to hand out the same survey at the Spring Workshop to encourage more of our elected officials to participate.

As part of our strategy to improve the resolutions process, I wrote to Minister MacDonell requesting that a senior staff person from the Municipal Relations Division of SNSMR be appointed to coordinate all provincial resolutions on behalf of UNSM. This appointed person would ensure each resolution is sent to the appropriate provincial department with a timeline of two months to respond. They would also be tasked with preparing all responses in a single package to be sent to the UNSM President from the SNSMR Minister. Minister MacDonell responded favourably to this request and UNSM staff will be meeting with SNSMR staff in the near future to further discuss this initiative.

In response to several requests from the membership, the PVSC will be conducting a series of five regional workshops to present on how various properties are assessed. Sessions will be held in September on the following dates: 12, 19, 20, 26, and 27. Locations to be determined.

Until next month!