Nova Scotia

Province won't be cutting a cheque to shore up CBRM's finances

The Nova Scotia government will help Cape Breton Regional Municipality find money for infrastructure grants, but Municipal Affairs Minister Chuck Porter says the province will not cut cheques to ensure CBRM's viability.

Nova Scotia government will help municipality with infrastructure money, but won't commit to higher grant

Nova Scotia Municipal Affairs Minister Chuck Porter was in Sydney to discuss Cape Breton Regional Municipality's viability study with CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke on Thursday. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The Nova Scotia government will help Cape Breton Regional Municipality find money for infrastructure grants, but Municipal Affairs Minister Chuck Porter says the province will not cut cheques to ensure CBRM's viability.

Porter met CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke in Sydney for more than two hours on Thursday to discuss the municipality's recent viability study.

That independent report says depopulation, shrinking revenues and increasing costs mean CBRM can't solve its own problems without some outside help.

Clarke has called on the province to take action soon, saying the status quo is not an option and the "brutal reality" is the municipality will not be viable in the long run if population decline is not reversed.

Marie Walsh, CBRM's chief administrative officer, has said the viability study will be a useful negotiating tool to get increased operating grants — or reduced mandatory costs — from the province.

Porter said he liked the contents of the viability study and said every municipality should consider getting one done.

'CBRM is viable'

Contrary to the results, though, Porter said CBRM is viable.

"I think every municipality is viable," he said.

"I think it's what does it take to remain viable, and I'm very positive that way."

Porter said he and the mayor were not negotiating, but were simply discussing ways to help the municipality access program funding.

"Were there commitments today to say that I'm going to write a cheque? No, there were not," he said.

"Let me be clear. We know that there are challenges. The mayor has been very good at outlining those.

"We've had great discussions about potential programs. We'll look at every option that does exist, and we'll see where that goes and there'll be more to follow in the future."

Mayor Cecil Clarke says the status quo is not an option as CBRM faces a declining population, shrinking revenues and increasing costs. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

The viability study points out that CBRM is required to send an increasing amount of local tax money to the province every year for housing, corrections and education, which are areas of provincial jurisdiction.

At the same time, the municipal operating grant — also known as the equalization grant — has remained frozen for the last five years.

Clarke said the minister is committed to working with CBRM to find money for a variety of infrastructure projects.

However, he said, the viability study wasn't just about getting more money from the province.

'Turn every stone'

"It's not just one cheque coming in that's going to solve our problems," said Clarke.

"I'm prepared to make sure that as a municipality we work across each budget area, turn every stone possible so that we can possibly get some other resources."

Clarke said the municipality needs to do more work on its infrastructure plans and its budgets.

He said infrastructure programs will not stem population decline, but better infrastructure will make CBRM a more attractive place to live.

"They all matter in terms of having communities that are stable and able to function in a cost-effective way," said Clarke.

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About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 16 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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