Mayor Sees Brighter Future in Oxford
Oxford Mayor Greg Henley is feeling rather optimistic about the town’s financial prospects.
Speaking with Six Rivers Radio host Bill Martin on the mayor’s weekly morning interview today, Henley pointed to new measures coming into force that change the financial responsibilities shared by the Town —indeed, all municipalities in Nova Scotia — and the Provincial government.
Bill 340 — the Municipal Reform (2023) Act — passed on November 9th, though not with all-party support. The opposition parties agreed that for most municipalities in the province, it represents progress, but there is considerable controversy around the Province’s engagement with the Cape Breton Regional Municipality around some aspect of the Act.
Cumberland County Mayor Murray Scott called Bill 340 “the most fair” piece of legislation to come forward in a long time.
Still, for a small town like Oxford, Mayor Henley sees considerable savings for the municipality.
Henley says in reviewing the matter with CAO Linda Cloney and Senior Accountant RuthAnn Brookins, Oxford should see a savings of some $62-thousand in the annual budget, as public housing – such as the “Meadow Vista” seniors and public housing unit on Main Street — will now be the responsibility of the provincial Department of Housing and Municipal Affairs.
Henley says he’s happy to see any changes that will reduce costs and help the town’s “bottom line”.
Another benefit of the Act will see the province change the funding formula in its support to small towns where provincial highways run through the town limits. These routes are often heavily used by large transport vehicles, taking an excessive toll on the infrastructure that small towns have had to pay to maintain. Bill 340 changes the Service Agreement, and will allow Oxford and other municipalities to qualify for more funding to fix those streets sooner.
That’s a big plus for Oxford, where road conditions have been a longstanding point of contention. The Town has been socking away funds in its capital reserves for a planned water main replacement project, which would need to be completed before any paving work is done.
The Mayor says there are two major infrastructure projects in the pipeline — the Foundry Street water line replacement and paving in South Oxford, and the Main St. project as soon as possible afterward, reserve funds permitting.
Municipal governments can match reserve funds at a “50-50” ratio with provincial and sometimes federal funding, enabling expensive infrastructure projects to be completed that might overwhelm a small municipal budget.
As Mayor Henley began his on-air chat with Bill Martin, the Public Works crew was hard at work repairing — yet again — a water main break in the downtown core, affecting service to businesses and residents. Stark evidence of the very real need to move forward quickly on infrastructure renewal.
Martin observed that the Mayor has presided over a significant improvement in the town’s financial prospects in his first term in office. Henley said, “I picked a good time to run. We’ve had a good team, and everyone participated in building up the reserves. It’s hard not to look good when the economy has jumped into high gear, so far as housing goes. There are new builds everywhere. The government is throwing money around.”
Henley also credits the sale of landfill assets owned jointly by the Municipality of Cumberland and the Town of Amherst, which saw a bit of a windfall give town coffers a boost.
Martin mentioned the federal government’s “quickly conceived” funding plan to help municipalities meet the demand for more housing, seen by some as a pre-election initiative to influence voters. He wondered why the minister responsible — Central Nova MP Sean Fraser — hadn’t included Oxford in his meetings with NS mayors.
Henley said Oxford is a small town, and the area is represented by a Conservative MP, something he believes comes into play when the party in power is “looking at where they’ll put their cash.”
Still, Henley is pleased with the town’s progress on housing over the past few years, all of which helps push Oxford’s finances into a better position, with property sales, deed transfer taxes, building and development permits, and more residents on the municipal tax roll.
Asked by Martin whether Oxford still had land available for more housing, Henley replied that some land that was previously thought to be “of no value” is being reassessed for possible housing sites. He says Oxford has more building lots than first thought. Then joking that if they run out of room, “we’ll put up a 20-storey high rise.”
Henley reiterated, his primary concern at this point is not new housing development, but rather addressing the infrastructure upgrades necessary to service the existing population.
He noted that some parts of the town aren’t yet connected to the municipal waste treatment system, including his own neighbourhood of Lower Main Street, where existing residents — and anyone planning to build in the area — must employ in-ground septic systems.
He noted that expanding the sewer system is particularly expensive, given the necessity of installing “lift stations” to ensure waste moves through the system efficiently.
Mayor Henley can be heard every Wednesday morning about 10:45 am on Six Rivers Radio.
Join Six Rivers Radio this Friday morning, as Oxford’s Municipal Physical Activity Leader, Jimmy Ward, will talk with Bill Martin about the community’s annual Christmas parade, scheduled for Friday, November 24th.
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