9 N.S. municipalities receive bleak financial rating

·2 min read

Nine municipalities in Nova Scotia have a "high risk of financial instability," according to the province.

The latest financial condition index was done prior to the pandemic and is based on financial information from fiscal 2018-19.

Municipalities were assessed in 13 different categories, including the size of their debts, the amount of savings set aside and their reliance on other government transfers. The municipalities were given an evaluation of low, moderate or high risk for each category.

Each of Nova Scotia's 50 municipalities were then given an overall rating.

The nine municipalities that fell into the high-risk category are:

  • Bridgewater.

  • Clarks Harbour.

  • Cumberland County.

  • Lockeport.

  • New Glasgow.

  • Oxford.

  • Trenton.

  • Westville.

Oxford and Trenton had the most categories flagged as high risk.

Wayne Teasdale, CAO of Trenton, said in an email he was hopeful the financial information for 2020 would show "a major shift" in both cash flow and profitability.

Oxford CAO Rachel Jones said her town plans to work on reducing its debt and increasing its reserves by focusing on core municipal services.

"We have a very streamlined budget," said Jones. "We don't have a lot of money to put into reserves, so we will need to find areas to reduce, at least in the short term."

The financial assessment of Clarks Harbour included comments from town officials, who blamed the high-risk indicators on an unexpected bill from the province.

Clarks Harbour had budgeted $30,000 for social housing units located in the town, but the province carried out extensive renovations during the 2018-19 fiscal year and unexpectedly sent a bill of $87,749, said town officials. The money had to come from the town's reserves to cover the deficit.

The only county on the list — Cumberland — placed some blame for its budget deficit on a merger with the Town of Springhill in 2015. In a response sent to the province, county officials said they believe Cumberland would have been assessed as having moderate financial risks if it hadn't been for the merger.

CBC
CBC

A spokesperson for the Department of Municipal Affairs told CBC News in an email that staff support high-risk municipalities by "providing advice and guidance and helping them prepare actions."

Krista Higdon also wrote that the province has created a $380-million, low-cost loan program to "help municipalities with pressures created by COVID-19."

The department has no plans to make any adjustments to the financial assessment of 2020 because of the pandemic.

More than half — 60 per cent — of Nova Scotia's municipalities were assessed as low risk for financial instability, including Halifax.

The Region of Queens and Inverness County were the only two that scored low-risk assessments in all 13 categories.

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