Nova Scotia

Bridgetown gets 3-person council

A retired deputy minister and two former municipal politicians are now running the financially troubled Town of Bridgetown.

Province also appoints new CAO

Some mayors say their towns are in trouble too. (CBC)

A retired deputy minister and two former municipal politicians are now running the financially troubled Town of Bridgetown.

Robert Fowler, Anna Allen and Jim Thurber were appointed to the job on Wednesday. The province says they will remain on council until the town's financial status is determined.

"Bob, Anna and Jim have the experience and skills Bridgetown needs during this time of transition," Municipal Relations Minister John MacDonell said in a statement.

Fowler was deputy minister to the premier at one time.

"We will do what it takes to bring stability to Bridgetown, to honour its proud heritage and to help you — the residents of Bridgetown — plot your future," said Fowler.

Allen was mayor of Windsor until 2008. Thurber was warden of the Municipality of the District of Digby until last year.

Darrell Hiltz, another former deputy minister, is the new chief administrative officer.

The appointed council replaces Bridgetown's former mayor and five councillors, who resigned May 31 over the Annapolis Valley town's financial mess.

They said they were overwhelmed by the "magnitude and complexity" of the town's money problems and lacked the financial and human resources to manage them.

MacDonell ordered a forensic audit after department staff uncovered a confusing web of financial statements and bills. In some cases, residents got water or tax bills even though they had already paid them.

MacDonell has set aside $100,000 for the salaries and expenses of the new council while it works to iron out the town's financial trouble, and another $100,000 for the forensic audit.

RCMP are investigating a complaint from the town about a possible theft.

Mayors watching closely

Several municipalities are watching the developments in Bridgetown closely. They say they're in financial trouble too and need help.

Westville Mayor Roger MacKay says municipalities in Pictou County are struggling to keep taxes reasonable despite mounting bills.

He wants the province to fund a study to look at how Westville and its neighbouring municipalities can be restructured to save money.

If nothing drastic happens, he doubts his community and others can survive.

"With the province downloading and when you don't have other sources of revenue coming in and when you're trying to survive on residential tax rate, it's just writing on the wall," MacKay said.

Annapolis Royal Mayor Phil Roberts agrees that drastic measures are needed.

"Whether it's looking at amalgamation or annexation or something that would make the situation more viable and more realistic," he said.

Roberts says his town has already pared down programs and services, and it's still not enough. He says once the town's chief administrative officer retires next May, council will leave the job vacant.

Last week, MacDonell said he  doesn't know of any other towns on the brink like Bridgetown.

Former town councillor John Smith said Wednesday he wonders why it took a mass resignation to get the province to agree to fund a forensic audit of Bridgetown's books.

"That was essentially the straw that broke the camel's back ... the cost of what it was going to take to get to the bottom of everything and that was not fair to pass on to the taxpayer of the town of Bridgetown."

Smith said he and the others on council wouldn't have resigned if they knew financial help was on the way.