Reports on Nova Scotia municipal finances will alert public to trouble: minister

HALIFAX – Report cards on the state of municipality finances in Nova Scotia will alert the public to financial difficulties their towns and cities face, the province’s municipal services minister said Thursday.

Mark Furey was joined by Kentville Mayor David Corkum, the president of the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities, at the launch of a new website that posts online report cards that contain 15 indicators showing each municipality’s score in areas such as revenues, budget deficits and capital assets.

The grading system is broken down in three ways: if a municipality falls below a benchmark, it receives a red flag; meeting that threshold but not the provincial average merits a yellow flag; and a green flag is earned when a municipality meets both the threshold and the provincial average.

Furey said he wants the public to become well-informed on some of the challenges facing local governments as rural areas are depopulating due to outmigration and industry decline.

“We believe the public have a role,” he said. “(The online report card) provides municipalities with that additional input in making their decisions.”

The latest information on the site is from the fiscal year 2011-12, but the provincial government says it is aiming to provide updated information for the last two years by February.

Financial difficulties have already caused town councils in Springhill, Hantsport and Bridgetown to vote to dissolve and seek amalgamation with neighbouring municipalities.

Furey has said as many as 12 municipalities are facing financial problems similar to Springhill and some are now willing to discuss solutions that include amalgamation.

Corkum said municipal leaders can use the website to educate the public about challenges local governments face and it will improve accountability.

“We will be put on the spot a little bit to explain,” he said, referring to a red flag on Kentville’s rankings.

“I personally believe we should be able to explain it and if we can’t … then we should be prepared to look at how we can change it.”

A spokeswoman for the provincial government said the highest number of red flags for a single municipality in the province was eight out of the 15 indicators. That distinction belongs to the town of Westville in Pictou County.

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality has six red flags and Halifax has the best overall showing, with 15 green flags.