UARB considers Cumberland County council chop

Cumberland County representatives have asked the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board to cut the number of seats around its council table from 13 to 8, based on a dwindling population.

Cumberland has the largest council of any of the rural municipalities and has absorbed communities of Parrsboro and Springhill since 2015. Even so, the population of the municipality is in rapid decline.

Between 1996 and 2016, the number of people has decreased by about 3,400 to 19,401. Public consultations indicate that a significant majority of residents prefer a council of 10 or less.

Cumberland's application for eight districts, heard Thursday before the UARB, would mean the number of voters in each one would range from about 1,800 to 2,100.

"I think it will be quite workable," said Warden Allison Gillis in an interview.

"There may be some glitches, there usually is when changes are made, but they will be dealt with as they come along."

Current councillors file objections

No one from the public made a presentation to the board, although there were two written submissions from current councillors who object to the proposal.

Donald Fletcher wrote that "10 would have been the right number going forward" and that he would not be reoffering this fall because "the new district will set a councillor up for failure due to the size of the district."

Deputy Warden Ernest Gilbert also wrote "eight councillors are too few and the districts too large," and suggested that Cumberland remain with 13 seats for the next four years and then reduce to 10.

"I agree, some of the districts will be larger and it will mean a fair bit more travel for whoever is the councillor," said Gillis.

"But in this day and age, we get around easily with our vehicles unless there's a storm."

A decision on the size of council and the boundaries of the districts has to be made in time for the municipal elections across Nova Scotia in October.

The board usually rules within 60 days of a hearing.

Cumberland County council has already voted to switch from a system with a warden, who is chosen from elected councillors, to one with a mayor, who is elected at large by the voters.

Surveys done within the municipality showed a clear preference for this change, even though only five of the 21 rural municipalities have made such a switch.

The board does not have to rule on this issue.