Nova Scotia

N.S. council quits en masse over money woes

The entire council and mayor of a town in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley has resigned over the town's ongoing financial problems, but there was little explanation beyond a terse statement on the town's website.
The six-member town council in Bridgetown, N.S., has resigned en masse. (CBC)

The entire council and mayor of a town in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley has resigned over the town's ongoing financial problems, but there was little explanation beyond a terse statement on the town's website.

The mayor and five councillors of Bridgetown announced Tuesday they were stepping down because of the "magnitude and complexity" of the money woes and the lack of financial and human resources to manage them.

"Acting on the advice of professional accounting and legal consultants, town council of the Town of Bridgetown agreed to resign to make way for a quicker resolution of the town's present difficulties," council said in a statement.

RCMP spokeswoman Brigdit Leger said the Mounties received a complaint from the Town of Bridgetown on May 16 about a potential theft. She declined to release details, saying the investigation is in its preliminary stages.

"In the event this investigation results in the laying of criminal charges, only at that time would we confirm the nature of the charges and the names of any individuals involved," she said.

Art Marshall, the mayor of Bridgetown, declined an interview with CBC News but said council was simply overwhelmed with its problems.

With the council's resignation, town solicitor John Cameron has been given the authority to represent the town until a new council is put in place. Cameron told CBC News on Tuesday that Bridgetown's council resigned before it passed a budget and before it set a tax rate.

He also said the council had no real idea of the town's deficit, the extent of the financial problem or how long it had been going on.

Province to step in

The Nova Scotia government, which has been offering advice and funding for consultants, said it will step in for the short term.

"We're sending staff down to help with administration there and actually, we had someone there earlier in the week but that's really about all we know right now," said John MacDonell, Minister of Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations.

MacDonell said he was unaware of what led to the RCMP investigation.

The Annapolis Valley town — which is about 137 kilometres west of Halifax — has a population of about 970. It has been struggling for years as it loses people and businesses.

The town borrowed $1 million to build a new water treatment system needed to meet new Nova Scotia drinking water standards. It wanted to double water rates this year.

In an interview with CBC News this spring, Marshall said the town was owed about $300,000 in back taxes going back seven years.

Town reacts

Marion Tanner, manager at the Bridgetown Motor Inn, said she was surprised by the resignations and she is concerned about who will be appointed to run the town in the council's absence.

"It puts us in a predicament as a small town," she said. "There's a lot of projects underway and hopefully they will continue on."

She said townsfolk were aware there were problems with finances for about a year, but details were murky.

"There's a lot of questions that people have. The main thing is who is going to take over the finances and run the town until a new council is formed … but there's really no answers right now."

Kris Humphreys, a businesswoman in the area, said the council resignations aren't necessarily a bad thing.

"Perhaps a change of socks is what the town needs," she said.

"It's a huge opportunity, perhaps some new ideas, some new ways of doing things."

The community, which describes itself as the "prettiest little town in Nova Scotia," was once an important shipbuilding and commercial centre on the banks of the Annapolis River.

With files from The Canadian Press