ST. MARY’S – The Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (NSUARB) has approved the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s bid to become a leaner, more streamlined local governing machine.
The move, announced late last month, reduces the number of polling districts, and councillors, in the municipality from seven to five and reflects “strong public support shown in survey results and comments” after extensive public consultation by the municipality.
In her decision, NSUARB member Jennifer L. Nicholson stated that the new configuration, in effect for the next municipal election in October 2024, satisfies the NSUARB’s mandate to ensure fair representation of electors in St Mary’s, based on “the relative parity of voting power, population density, community of interest and geographic size.”
Specifically, Nicholson said, “[St. Mary’s] Council recommended the option that keeps certain communities of interest together” after “the municipality [sought] public input about the size and style of municipal government, as well as the boundaries of [the new] polling districts... An online survey was prepared and available to the public from July 19 to Aug. 26, 2022, to gather feedback on council size and boundaries.”
She reported that the survey received 73 responses, of which approximately 70 per cent said there were too many polling districts in the municipality. While noting that 46 per cent actually wanted a three-member council, and only 25 per cent recommended a reduction to five, she said St. Mary’s council ruled out the former alternative for several reasons.
“The geographic size of the municipality is very large, and the population is small, so each councillor must travel extensively to meet with constituents. This travel would increase significantly with a decrease to three councillors.”
As well, she reported, “It would be difficult to get the diversity on council that the municipality would like” and “challenging to get council participation on the many committees that are currently required” with only three councillors.
Nicholson praised the municipality for its “extensive consultation and study process,” noting that three in-person meetings were held last Nov. 15, 16 and 17 to discuss the boundaries of the proposed new districts.
“Written submissions were also invited and about 20 people in total attended the three sessions. A notice of meetings was posted on the municipality’s website and published in a flyer to invite the community to participate in the process.”
Meanwhile, she said, a notice of hearing was advertised in the Guysborough Journal and The Casket (Antigonish), inviting the public to provide written comments to the NSUARB or speak.
“The board received one letter of comment and no requests to speak. The hearing was held at the municipal council chambers at Sherbrooke on April 23, 2023. Several municipal members, councillors and staff were present. There were no objections to the application.”