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N.S. hits pause on Antigonish consolidation

Municipal Affairs Minister John Lohr has ordered a new analysis of the consolidation of the town and county of Antigonish. (David Laughlin/CBC - image credit)
Municipal Affairs Minister John Lohr has ordered a new analysis of the consolidation of the town and county of Antigonish. (David Laughlin/CBC - image credit)

The province has ordered a new analysis on whether consolidating Antigonish town and county is the right move, after months of public opposition.

On Monday, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing John Lohr said in a statement the government had heard from "a lot of voices" over proposed Bill 407. The special legislation would have dissolved the Town of Antigonish and joined it to the Municipality of the County of Antigonish in a new entity.

Both local councils voted in favour of consolidation twice, and Lohr said while municipal governments are a voice for the people, many residents raised reasonable concerns about the bill at the law amendments committee.

"These concerns also cannot be ignored," Lohr said in a release.

To address this, Lohr said several amendments will be made to the bill.

Because the most common feedback was that many residents didn't feel they had enough information about the financial impact of consolidation on their tax rate, the province will require the Utility and Review Board (UARB) to do an independent analysis and report back on whether consolidation is in the best interests of residents in both town and county.

The UARB must report back to the public no later than Aug.1, 2024.

"If the UARB does not find the consolidation to be in the financial best interests of residents, it will not go forward," Lohr said.

Another amendment will exclude local elected members from the transition committee set up to handle the consolidation if it eventually goes ahead, after residents brought up concerns that this would be a conflict of interest.

Instead, a UARB liaison and co-ordinator for transition will be appointed to oversee the process.

If it goes ahead, Michel Samson will take that role. Samson was former Liberal provincial cabinet minister and is currently a lawyer with Cox & Palmer in Halifax.

Both leaders for the town and county have said consolidation allows the municipalities to pool resources and better tackle issues like housing and infrastructure together.

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