Provincial Issues--Fall 2016

Team Selected to Plan High-Speed Internet for More Rural Communities

On October 18, the Province selected a team to develop a strategy that will lead to better high-speed Internet service in more rural Nova Scotia communities.

Brightstar Canada and its partners will map assets, identify gaps and engineer a plan to connect the province's core Internet network to the community level.

Brightstar was selected through a competitive request for proposals which closed last month. The bid was worth $651,000. Brightstar is a Miami-based wireless distributor that offers wireless consulting services. They expanded into Canada last year with the aquisition of Ontario-based Wireless Works. The team is expected to deliver a strategy by March 2017.

While the strategy is being developed work continues to review 12 service-provider proposals that would provide more immediate improvements to Internet service. Those efforts will be coordinated and aligned with the strategy team's work to deliver the maximum benefit for Nova Scotians.


Province Giving Municipalities Tools to Help Residents Experiencing Dry Wells as a Result of Water Shortage

On November 3, amendments to the Municipal Government Act and the Halifax Regional Municipality Charter were introduced allowing municipalities to create a program that would pay the costs of drilling or expanding wells upfront. These costs would then be applied to a property's tax bill and repaid over a specific period of time.

This financing model is used throughout Canada and the United States to fund improvements on commercial or residential properties. It has also been used by some Nova Scotia municipalities to fund energy efficiency projects.

Under these amendments, municipalities that wish to participate would create a by-law that lays out the details of the program. The program would be voluntary, may cover up to 100 per cent of the project's costs, have financing terms of up to 20 years, and could be combined with other federal or provincial programs. If required, municipalities can secure funding from the Nova Scotia Municipal Finance Corporation.

The Province of Nova Scotia has been working with municipalities and community partners to help residents through this unprecedented water shortage by providing ongoing water delivery and direction to alternate shower facilities.


Province Opens up Provincial Pension Plan to Municipalities

Interested municipalities and other public sector authorities could soon be able to transfer their pension plans into the Public Service Superannuation Plan.

The Municipal and Other Authorities Pension Plan Transfer Act introduced on November 1, could help local governments and other public sector organizations make the pension benefits they provide to their members more sustainable over the long term.

In spring 2015 government enabled university pension plans to transfer into the Public Service Superannuation Plan. Government is now extending this option to municipalities and other authorities in the broader public sector.

The legislation could benefit all municipalities and eligible public sector organizations, but particularly those with defined benefit pension plans.

Any proposed transfer must be approved by the Public Service Superannuation Plan's independent trustee. The trustee will ensure that the plan and its current members are not negatively affected.


Halifax Charter Legislative Changes

The provincial legislature passed changes to the Halifax Charter to enable additional tools in setting the commercial tax rates. While the changes affect the Halifax Charter, the province has indicated it would consider similar changes in the Municipal Government Act.

The changes to the Halifax Charter enable the municipality to set different commercial tax rates in designated zones. In addition to setting commercial tax rates on the basis of property assessments, commercial rates may also be set on the square footage of the property. As well, tax rates may also be set at various amounts, for example the first $100,000 of assessment may be at one rate, while the next $100,000 could be a different rate.

There will be an opportunity through the Municipal Government Act Review process to provide feedback on whether these changes should also be available to all municipalities.