Colchester council discusses municipal boundary changes
Repeat offences of dangerous, unsightly property also addressed
BRENDYN CREAMER TRURO NEWS brendyn.creamer @saltwire.com
A review of the municipal district boundaries dominated the discussion at the Colchester council committee meeting earlier this month. The municipal boundary review is a necessity enforced by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (NSUARB) to ensure that each district retains around the same number of voters. It must be conducted every eight years. The Municipality of Colchester conducted its last review in 2014. While most districts fell within the parameters set out by the NSUARB (a population of 2,706 per district with a variance of 10 per cent), Coun. Eric Boutillier’s district was significantly lacking in population compared to others, leading to a variance of -16.41 per cent. Councillors Karen Mackenzie, Lisa Patton and Marie Benoit had voting populations slightly over the recommended variance. This led to staff devising several different strategies to remediate this issue. One strategy suggested by staff was to make a small alteration to the borders of districts nine and 10, shifting 77 voters in the Debert area from Coun. Benoit to Coun. Victoria Lomond. This would change Benoit's variance from 13.05 to 10.9 per cent, raising Lomond's from -0.3 to 2.55 per cent. Another strategy was to adjust boundaries in Mackenzie and Wade Parker’s districts (six and 11 respectively) to give Boutillier a higher voting population. This would impact properties northwest of Pictou Road, from 327 Pictou Road in district 11 to 709 Pictou Road in district six. It was also suggested that the borders of district eight, represented by Coun. Patton, change as well. This would result in a portion of Upper Brookside shifting over to Boutillier’s district. If coupled with the proposed changes to districts six and 11, this would increase Boutillier’s variance to -0.55 per cent and decrease Patton’s from 12.45 to 4.29 per cent. Coun. Parker said while some populations (such as Debert) will grow over the next eight years due to developments, those targeted for the redistricting are not projected to experience the same growth. “It’s all based on population growth,” said Parker. “In my area, I’m probably not going to see a lot of growth for the simple reason that there is not a lot of land left, but there (is) going to be some growth that’s going to happen in spurts along district one.” Parker noted that during the last review, part of Pictou Road in Bible Hill that had originally been assigned to his district was transferred over to district one. Now, one part of Pictou Road is represented by Parker, while the other part is represented by Boutillier. “It makes sense to move the last portion of my district into district one. When I was campaigning last time, some of the residents were very confused why the neighbours on the other side of them were voting in district one and not 11.” Council decided unanimously to direct staff to proceed with community consultations on the proposed changes. This requires an extension from the NSUARB since the municipal boundary review process was delayed due to Fiona. Mayor Christine Blair stated that if the municipality fails to meet the criteria established by the NSUARB, then the board has the authority to redistrict it themselves. “I’d like to be the master of our own fate, and not have a group step in that only know the numbers without knowing the area, and the people who represent that area,” said Blair. DANGEROUS AND UNSIGHTLY At the request of council, the municipality’s solicitor Dennis James drafted a memo that details the current process of dealing with dangerous and unsightly property, and what the municipality may do to deal with repeat offenders. Mayor Blair explained the issue the municipality has been facing. “What we’re finding with just a very few, you can probably count them on the fingers of one hand, but some have been very disturbing in that they will repeat,” said Blair. “A couple months will go by, and in comes another complaint. Same property. Same issue, or worse.” The document notes the municipality does not have a bylaw that “provides for additional remedy,” and is instead reliant upon the Municipal Governments Act (MGA) to deal with derelict property. It also states only one other municipality, the Town of Antigonish, has its own bylaw to deal with dangerous and unsightly property — others have imposed bylaws regarding grass height and derelict buildings. For Colchester County, however, the solicitor found that a minimum standards bylaw or a derelict building bylaw would not adequately deal with repeated unsightly property issues. Introducing any bylaw could negatively impact the rural communities by requiring them to abide by urban standards, the document read. Instead, the memo recommended three options. The first was to set shorter deadlines for clean-up. Property owners are currently given 30 days to clean up their property after being issued a notice by an inspector. While the solicitor states the municipality can shorten this period as long as they allow for the seven-day appeal period required by the MGA, they also note this could put a heavier burden on municipal staff. The second was to institute harsher fines. While the MGA allows for a range of $100 to $10,000, the municipality would have to introduce a bylaw that sets a lower minimum standard. Blair mentioned that in the case of summary offences, the fines are so small they aren’t worth chasing. “If you want to pursue it, you aren’t looking at $100 for a summary offence ticket — you’re looking at thousands, if you take it to court,” Blair explained. “What value is that if you have someone who can’t pay a summary offence ticket?” The third option was to recover costs in a timelier manner. As of now, the costs of dealing with dangerous and unsightly property fall upon the owner and are included in regular tax collection. The solicitor suggested the municipality move to sell a property if fines remain unpaid for over one year. The municipality could also collect enforcement costs through an expedited tax process, according to the document. A discussion was had about devising a bylaw to help maintain a standard throughout the municipality, potentially through a derelict building by-law or minimum standards by-law. However, some councillors pointed out that these bylaws may adversely affect those living in rural areas, just as the solicitor suggested. Coun. Patton explained during the meeting while she is uncomfortable walking the line between urban and rural standards, the council needs the teeth to deal with repeat offences. Coun. Tim Johnson argued that while he supports the idea of giving the municipality more power to deal with repeat offenders, it all comes down to what language they use, stating they have to hammer out a meaning of what is unsightly. A motion was passed for staff and the solicitor to explore the issue further, including the possibility of drafting a derelict building or minimum standards bylaw.