Digby town council votes to reduce council size

Jonathan
Jonathan Riley, Digby Courier
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Digby town council held their regular monthly meeting at the Digby Firehall in February so as to include a public presentation of the results of the organizational review.

Digby town council has passed a resolution calling for a reduction of council size.

After months of discussion, and an earlier vote by council recommending the status quo, council voted 6-1 Monday, Dec. 1 to ask the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (UARB) to allow them to reduce council size from six councillors and a mayor to four councillors and a mayor.

[ Town council special meeting recommends no change for council size, Nov. 26, 2014]

Mayor Ben Cleveland, deputy mayor Jean Brittain and councillors Danny Harvieux, Peter Turnbull and Brian Manzer voted in support of the reduction; councillor Mike Bartlett voted for the status quo.

Brittain, Harvieux and Turnbull all changed their minds since last week’s special meeting and all three said they wanted to respect the results of the public engagement process.

The town mailed out 177 surveys to randomly selected residents in October and interested citizens picked up another 11. A total of 60 were completed and returned.

None of the surveys supported an increase in council size, 35 supported a reduction, 24 supported the status quo and one person indicated support for amalgamation on their survey.

In other words, 58 per cent of respondents wanted four councillors and a mayor and 40 per cent wanted six councillors and a mayor.

Brittain said she had neglected to take that into account when making her decision.

“A week ago I told you I struggled with this decision,” she said. “I did struggle before the meeting, during the meeting and after.

“I had my seven reasons for supporting the status quo but something just didn’t sit right with me and I couldn’t figure out what it was.”

Brittain said a town resident called her after the special meeting and asked simply why council hadn’t discussed the results of the public survey.

She said after the phone call it was clear to her what the right decision was.

“If we’re going to ask for public engagement, we have to do more than just talk about it, we have to walk the walk,” she said.

Harvieux said he had earlier thought the results of the survey were close.

“But when I was first elected, the numbers were close too and I was glad those numbers counted,” he said. “If I was filling out the survey, I’d still tick off six councillors and a mayor, because I personally believe it is better for the town, but I think it’s important we listen to the public.”

Mayor Ben Cleveland said last week that he wasn’t basing his decision on the possibility of saving $28,000 (pay for two councillors) but he too received a phone call which put that in a different light for him.

“When average income in town is $22,000, then looking at those savings, $28,000 is a lot of money,” he said. “We've asked staff to look internally and sharpen their pencils and do with less, so we have to look at ourselves too.”

The mayor said he has always believed four councillors would work with some small changes to how the town operates.

A few years ago they switched to a CAO or Chief Administrative Officer system, which gives more authority and decision-making power to staff and allows council to focus on policy and strategy.

They have also started, and plan to continue, a review of who sits on which committee, to reduce the number of meetings councillors are asked to attend.

As well he said, after the organizational review released this winter, council has approved a series of policies, which also enable staff to make more of the day-to-day decisions.

The final piece in the puzzle he said will be public engagement.

Council will be looking at a draft policy, which could include asking residents to comment on various policies or questions to help guide council decisions.

“If the UARB approves a reduction, then we will need the public’s help,” said the mayor.

The council size question came up because every municipal unit in Nova Scotia is required by provincial legislation to review their electoral boundaries and make up of council this year.

The Municipality of the District of Digby will be applying to continue with the status quo of four councillors and a warden.

The units must now submit an application to the UARB by the end of the year, the UARB will schedule and advertise a public hearing and then make a decision on the applications.

If the UARB approves a reduction to the size of town council, the reduction would not take effect until the next election in 2016.

jriley@digbycourier.ca

The resolution approved by town council Monday, Dec. 1, 2014

Application to NSURB under section 369 of the MGA – Resolution - December 2014

Whereas the Council of the Town of Digby is elected at large and the Town Council conducted public consultation by mailing out one hundred and seventy seven (177) boundary review surveys to randomly selected residents, and made the surveys available at the Town Hall where ten additional surveys were picked up, and advertised a Public Meeting to held on October 20, 2014 seeking public input from its citizens on the following: I believe Digby should have one mayor and morethan six councillors.  I believe the current number of one mayor and six councillors should remain (status quo). I believe Digby should have one mayor and fewer than six councillors;

And whereas the results of the survey indicated that 40 per cent of the respondents favoured the status quo and 58 per cent favoured one mayor and fewer than six councillors, and at the public meeting held on October 20, 2014 a copy of the boundary review survey was provided to the public so that if they wished to they could fill one out and place them in a box on their way out resulted in four members of the public were in attendance where no written or oral submissions were submitted; and one completed survey was received;

And whereas the results and the comments of the completed surveys, show a majority in favour of one mayor and fewer than six councillors;    

And whereas the 2011 Census shows the population of the Town of Digby as 2,152, a 2.9 per cent increase over the 2006 Census, and the geographic size of the town is unchanged.

And whereas a reduction in the number of councillors may translate into a reduction of costs.

And whereas a review of the level of participation currently required in committees/ boards/ agencies, with a view of reducing participation in non-Town business committees, and reviewing the appointments to committees to ensure an equitable distribution of time commitments and workloads amongst the Council members.

Be it therefore resolved that the Council of the Town of Digby make application to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board RE: Section 369 of the Municipal Government Act to reduce the number of Councillors to one Mayor and four Councillors.

Organizations: UARB, Council of the Town of Digby, Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board RE

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Digby

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