Bylaw Hearings Re-stir Cumberland Public Anger
Two public hearings, held online last night by Cumberland Council, offered a rehash of the anger and bitterness expressed by residents of Parrsboro over the cost of sewer improvements in the former town.
Unable to hold a traditional public hearing because of COVID-19, council called for public input by phone, mail, and email. The responses mirrored comments that were shouted at a wild and woolly council meeting in June of 2019.
Cumberland had completed improvements and an extension to the community waste water system but when residents received invoices for nearly a thousand dollars per household, the proverbial hit the fan.
People said they were blind-sided, accusing council of taking action without communicating effectively with the community.
It is a complex issue with criticism of the provincial government for not providing the kind of support that has been offered other communities, most notably Cape Breton Municipality where the province assumed 100% of a similar yet larger project.
People object to Cumberland’s proposed bylaws that call for local improvement charges and sewer services that are treated like property taxes, allowing the county to use tax collection policies for overdue bills.
Comments to the public hearing noted that improvements to community, like a sewer or water system, are enjoyed by the entire community and should not be paid only by those connected to the systems. The comparison to schools was noted where all tax payers contribute to school even if they do not have children attending.
The tension is not just about money. The backlash from Parrsboro also points to a weakness in communication. While the county can rightly point out that the public can find the information by following council, looking to their website or even Facebook, the people feel they should not have to go looking. Instead, they argue, the people should be consulted.
From the county’s perspective, the closure of newspapers now hinders the traditional way they communicate as the internet offers so much choice it is nearly impossible to find a platform that reaches the majority of ratepayers.
One new suggestion came out of last night’s meeting when Steve Johnson, who presented live on Zoom, said the bylaw decision should be put off till after next month’s municipal election because the new council will have to live with the consequences.
The idea struck a chord with out-going councillor Lynne Welton who agreed the matter should be referred to the new council because the process to date had been badly affected by COVID and other shortcomings in communication.
Council will decide next Wednesday when they plan final consideration of the proposed bylaws.
The photo shows an RCMP officer in the foyer just outside the county council chamber. The police were called when an angry crowd disrupted the council meeting in June, 2019.
Add your comments below.