Nova Scotia

Instead of dissolution, Baddeck residents to hear growth plan

Faced with pandemic uncertainty, village commissioners in Baddeck had been considering amalgamation with Victoria County. But the village's top administrator says the financial picture is looking much better.

Chief administrative officer says the village's financial picture looks brighter now than it did in summer

Faced with uncertainties due to the pandemic, the village of Baddeck, N.S., had been considering amalgamation with Victoria County. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Baddeck's financial future is looking brighter than it did this summer, when uncertainty around the pandemic had commissioners in the Nova Scotia village considering dissolving and amalgamating with Victoria County.

Megan Cooper, the village's chief administrative officer, said there was fear that people could be out of work because of COVID-19, and might have difficulty paying property taxes as well as sewer and water fees.

However, she said, the utility bills went out in September and the majority of them have already been paid.

"Things have been pretty good, and same with the property taxes," Cooper said.

"We didn't know what to expect, but now that I am able to analyze the numbers and see what's coming in and see the consistent payments, I don't think there's going to be much need for concern moving forward."

During a summer meeting between the village commission, Victoria County council and the Department of Municipal Affairs, village chairman Brian Morrison said Baddeck was "one disaster away" from not being able to pay its bills. 

Financials sound on paper

Mark Peck, executive director of policy, planning and advisory services with Municipal Affairs, said at the time a provincial analysis of the village found it was not equipped to deal with potential financial risks.

Baddeck now looks fiscally sound, at least on paper, said Mark Gilbert, a retired finance expert with the department and former local government professor at Dalhousie University.

The latest figures from 2019 show the village has a $9-million accumulated surplus and net assets of $1.6 million.

"When you look at the snapshot from the financial statement, there are no red flags," Gilbert said. "But what we don't know is what future liabilities they may be facing."

Cooper said an engineer's report is being prepared now on the village's infrastructure, but she said the "general consensus" is that the systems are not in any danger of failing any time soon.

Residents need to hear 'the optimism' surrounding Baddeck's future, says chief administrative officer Megan Cooper. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

A risk management profile done by the province earlier this year cited four potential problems for Baddeck:

  • Water treatment failure.
  • Sidewalk clearing failure.
  • Financial reporting failure.
  • Wharf erosion.

In each case, the profile suggested possible causes and consequences.

The department said in an email village commissioners were advised in the summer "to examine how they would deal with any future potential risk." 

"It is up to the village commission to make appropriate decisions and make a plan to ensure they remain viable," the email said.

Cooper said the profile is being used to develop a risk management policy and standard operating procedures, along with a general policy provided by the village's insurance agent. It will be presented to the commission along with an infrastructure assessment.

Risks 'not insurmountable'

"Although the risks are outlined, they are not insurmountable for the village," said Cooper. 

"Some were already identified and addressed on our own accord to ensure we are being as diligent and prepared as possible for our residents."

The village could save more than $20,000 a year if it collected its own taxes instead of contracting that out to the county. It could also expand taxation to 226 properties outside Baddeck that are benefiting from village services, potentially bringing in another $138,000 in tax revenue, Cooper said.

The commission's annual general meeting is scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. at the courthouse on Chebucto Street, with the new financial picture and possible governance options on the agenda.

"If [residents] can see how we can make it sustainable as a village, I think that's what they need to hear is the optimism," said Cooper.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 36 years. He has spent half of them covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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