Residents of the Municipality of the County of Annapolis have told the province's review board they want a smaller council because a public survey supports the move and it could save money.
The Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (UARB) held a public hearing Wednesday on the municipality's boundary review application in which the county is asking to keep its 11 districts.
Bridgetown resident Steve Raftery has been following the issue since January, when the county council decided to apply for 11 districts and keep the warden system — despite an online survey that showed most respondents wanted six district representatives and a mayor.
"Why bother going through all that process if you're not really interested in hearing what people have to say," Raftery said in an interview.
The UARB does not have jurisdiction over the warden versus mayor debate, so that will not be changed through the boundary review process.
Steve Raftery lives in Bridgetown, which is part of the Municipality of the County of Annapolis. (Steve Raftery)
The county's UARB application details how the survey, done last year, saw a turnout of about 400 responses, which municipal staff said was one of their highest engagements ever.
The winning choice with about 29 per cent (114 votes) was six districts and a mayor, with the second-highest votes (67) coming in for a mayor system with eight districts.
But councillors have raised concerns about the validity of that survey both during county meetings and within the UARB application. They said there was a low voter turnout with 400 responses registered, or about two per cent of the county's roughly 18,800 population. And some IP addresses, used to identify individual computers, entered multiple responses.
Raftery said it's unclear whether those responses could have come from computers in a public library, but with only 19 responses at most from one IP address it does not seem like a deliberate hacking attempt.
Every municipality has been going through this review process which is done every eight years to ensure the number of electors eligible to vote in each district is balanced.
Maria Hagen was one of the three residents, including Raftery, who urged the UARB to order Annapolis County to reduce its districts on Wednesday.
"If the survey was faulty, if it was not well-advertised — which in my opinion I don't think it was — then take the time to do it again," Hagen told the hearing.
She and Raftery pointed out the neighbouring Municipality of the County of Kings only has nine councillors and a mayor while serving a population of about 48,700 — more than double Annapolis County.
The UARB decision for Kings County's review said each of its nine councillors is responsible for 4,264 electors. In Annapolis, the 11 councillors each have an average of 1,383 electors.
Comparing counties is not helpful: warden
Currently, Annapolis councillors make just under $34,000 a year for a role that is considered part-time, with the warden making about double that. Hagen said even cutting back to nine councillors would save the municipality tens of thousands of dollars.
But Warden of Annapolis County, Alex Morrison, said it's possible that there wouldn't be much savings with increased expenses from councillors keeping up with committee work or having to burn more gas driving across larger districts.
"Sometimes ... local conditions are different and it's hard to compare one county to another because various criteria change," Morrison said Thursday.
He pointed out that since the former Town of Bridgetown and its five-person council were dissolved in 2015 and absorbed into the county, there are now fewer councillors for Annapolis overall.
Alex Morrison is warden of the Municipality of the County of Annapolis. (CBC)
When it comes to the survey, Morrison said the opinions of the people who voted "do matter" and were taken into consideration, but the council members made what they felt was the best decision for the entire county.
But earlier this year, Coun. Mike Gunn voted against the county's decision to keep the status quo.
"I know the turnout may be low, but I believe that's the will of the people," Gunn said Thursday.
As the councillor for Upper Clements, Gunn said it's the largest district in the county and takes him an hour to cross —but said adding more residents to his area wouldn't make his job unbearable.
Gunn said since the province has taken up many responsibilities rural municipalities used to handle, like schools and waste, the job is "much less than it used to be."
Richard Melanson, the UARB member leading the hearing, said he hopes to deliver a decision on the county's application before the end of the month.
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