The UNSM is currently addressing several policy issues. These include the following:
Capped Assessment Program (CAP)
In 2005, the Province introduced the CAP in an effort to protect property tax payers from sudden and dramatic increases in assessment. After seven years of experience with this system, Nova Scotia municipalities and their citizens are being seriously impacted by the program in the following ways:
- The existing Capped Assessment Program increasingly disadvantages those building homes and those buying properties as these properties are not capped in the first year. Economic development can be stifled by making new home purchases less attractive.
- With the Cap currently set at CPI, the program has moved away from addressing sudden and dramatic assessment increases and instead results in arbitrary tax redistribution among and between capped and uncapped properties. These unintended effects are often misunderstood by taxpayers and difficult to explain or defend.
- The Cap Program severely distorts the market value system which is regarded as the least regressive form of municipal tax allocation. Capping makes the overall municipal tax system more regressive, complex and inconsistent.
- The Cap Program does not effectively assist residents on low or fixed incomes who are challenged to pay their property taxes. In fact, the current program transfers the property tax burden to home owners with lower assessed properties. This demographic often represents those on lower or fixed incomes. Other programs are available to better help this group of home owners.
- The Cap system takes away from the core market value assessment work of the Property Valuation Services Corporation.
The UNSM urges the Provincial Government to eliminate the Assessment Cap Program in a phased manner, replacing it with other programs that offer assistance to taxpayers who are truly challenged to pay their property taxes.
In June 2012, ACOA and ECBC announced that it will no longer directly fund Nova Scotia's Regional Development Agencies (RDA's), effective 2013. This represents approximately $160,000 revenue loss per agency. The Province has written the UNSM indicating it will not make up the difference. As a result, the UNSM will be working with the Province to review the current model and recommend changes for improvement.
The Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities (UNSM) and the Association of Municipal Administrators on Nova Scotia (AMANS) are partnering to undertake a review of fire services from the municipal perspective in Nova Scotia. A study had been conducted by the province (included below), without input from municipalities.
UNSM and AMANS, with the support of the Department of Municipal Affairs and the Fire Marshall's Office, have engaged Pomax Consulting to lead an impartial review. The consultant will prioritize issues, concerns and opportunities for municipalities as it relates to fire services. The consultant has been asked to facilitate an open and frank discussion with representative stakeholders to ascertain and prioritize key issues at the local level, to consider opportunities to address these issues, and to facilitate the sharing of best practices, lessons learned, and possible areas for collaboration.
The consultant's report is expected late October/November, 2016, and will be made public. Feedback will be encouraged.
The Fiscal Review Committee was established in 2012 to provide a comprehensive review of the current provincial-municipal fiscal arrangement including all provincial-municipal programs. The Committee's research will encompass:
- the current financial condition of municipalities in NS
- the existing grants and other funding programs that exist for municipalities in NS
- Municipal contributions to the Province
- Non financial supports currently offered to municipalities in NS
- Emerging issues in municipal structure across Canada.
A Steering Committee has been established consisting of representatives from the UNSM, various Deputy Ministers from the Province, and the co-chairs of the Working Committee. The Working Committee is comprised of the UNSM Executive Director, AMA Executive Director, other members of AMA and SNSMR staff.
Municipal Alcohol Project
The Municipal Alcohol Project is a partnership between municipalities, district health authorities, Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness and the UNSM. The purpose is to determine ways in which municipalities and its partnering organizations can bring change to the context of alcohol use and its related harms.
Municipal Awareness Week
Municipal Awareness Week is a public awareness campaign aimed at:
- promoting the importance of municipal government in peoples' daily lives;
- encouraging citizens to participate in municipal government−including attending council meetings, public hearings or joining an advisory committee−in a way that is inclusive to all Nova Scotians; and
- increasing voter turnout rates during the October 20, 2012 Municipal Elections.
Towns Task Force
The Towns Task Force was established by the UNSM and Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations in conjunction with the Association of Municipal Administrators, Nova Scotia. Its purpose is to make recommendations that will address the myriad of challenges facing Nova Scotia towns. A draft report has been circulated to all 54 municipalities with the final recommendations presented at the UNSM Fall Conference in September 2012.
The Task Force consists of ten members−six representatives from the UNSM, three from the Province and one from AMANS. UNSM members shall include the Town Caucus Chair (who shall serve as Task Force Chair), Rural Caucus Chair, Regional Caucus Chair, and three additional members (two from towns and one from a rural municipality) selected by the UNSM Board of Directors from the general membership. A working group comprised of municipal and provincial staff provides advice to the Task Force.
The Women in Local Government Project's goals are to:
- identify the opportunities to better involve women as citizens and as politicians in municipal government;
- recommend measures to involve women in all their diversity in consultation and engagement activities of municipal government;
- recommend measures for recruiting and retaining women in municipal electoral politics; and
- have women represent at least 30 per cent of municipal elected officials across Nova Scotia.
A steering committee comprised of UNSM, Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, NS Advisory Council on the Status of Women and the Association of Municipal Administrators oversees the work of the project.
To accomplish these goals, the steering committee has developed the following programs: a mentoring program for newly elected women councillors, a bursary program for women municipal administrators, and municipal campaign schools for women.
Municipal Auditor General (MAG)
Part of the MOU signed between the UNSM and the Province in 2007 indicated that the UNSM and municipalities would work with the Province towards the establishment of a Municipal Auditor General (MAG), in whatever form may be most appropriate, in order to enhance government accountability to citizens.