Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Roads outstanding issue with province for MODG, Mulgrave

Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

  • April 3 2024

GUYSBOROUGH — A new deal between the province and local governments may be laudable, but municipal leaders in Guysborough County still want the rubber to hit the road in the first major update of the service exchange agreement in 30 years, implemented March 28.

“We are pleased with the changes being made in the local service agreement, and we applaud the minister [John Lohr, Municipal Affairs and Housing], our MLA [Greg Morrow] and the provincial government for their work on a new deal for municipalities,” Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) Warden Vernon Pitts told The Journal last week.

Still, he added: “We are cognizant that not everything has been dealt with yet – in particular – the roads component. As a rural municipality [roads] are very important to us.”

Mulgrave Mayor Ron Chisholm agreed, telling The Journal: “We’re mostly looking at roads. That’s the biggest part for us. We’ve got over three kilometres of a highway that belongs to the Town of Mulgrave. In order to keep that infrastructure up, it’s going to be quite costly ... The amount of truck traffic on the road is unreal.”

Billed as the first significant update in how Nova Scotia’s 49 municipalities work with the provincial government since 1995, the new memorandum of understanding (MOU) – signed by Lohr and Carolyn Bolivar-Getson, president of the Nova Scotia Federation of Municipalities, in Halifax on March 28 – updates the Municipal Financial Capacity Grant, increasing its annual investment to $82 million, from $30 million, and making it more adaptable “to the changing needs of municipalities.”

It also removes the legislative requirements that municipalities contribute to the cost of corrections services or pay a portion of the net operating losses for public housing, and ensures that ownership of obsolete schools transfers to the province (though municipalities have the first right of offer to negotiate their purchase of these buildings).

Regarding roads, the MOU states, “The purpose ... is to recognize that towns and former towns currently have a responsibility for trunks and routes, which run through their municipal unit, that are a part of the provincial network system. It is recommended that a program be developed that would apply to all trunks, routes and collectors within towns and former towns that can be eligible for a 50-50 cost shared for repaving only.”

Specifically, it says: “There are 387.1 kilometers eligible for the program. There is an assumption that it would cost $475,000 per kilometre to repave the trunks, routes and collectors. It is suggested the life cycle is 15 years, leaving $12,258,000 to be allocated annually towards repaving trunks, routes and collectors at a 50-50 cost share with municipalities – $6,129,000. If the entire funds were used, it is estimated that 25 kilometres could be repaved in one year ... No town or former town could be approved for more than one project, per fiscal, unless there are an insufficient number of submissions.”

How this recommendation may affect the arrangement between the province and the MODG or Mulgrave, however, remains unclear.

In an interview with The Journal last October, MODG Chief Administrative Officer Barry Carroll said the original arrangement for road maintenance was a good deal for both parties.

“We currently have about 25 or 28 kilometers of roads that we currently pay a fee to the province to maintain,” he said. “We pay about $7,000 or $8,000 per kilometre a year [for these] ... Obviously, if the province increases that component in some way going forward, the [cost] benefit that we’re getting now would be [gone] in the future.”

For Mulgrave Mayor Chisholm, use of the three-kilometre stretch of provincial road (Highway 344) within his town’s borders is only likely to increase.

“It’s industrial, heavy equipment use,” he said. “We’re really behind the 8-ball because there’s no way we can afford to repave and [replace] any infrastructure there ... There is money for roads [in the new agreement], and we’re just trying to pick through it and see what benefits us.”

He added: “It doesn’t seem right to put the burden on a small town.”