The Municipality of the County of Antigonish wrapped up another year of growth in 2017.
“It has been a busy year,” Warden Owen McCarron said.
He also described it as a “challenging one,” with the sudden death of Warden Russell Boucher in May.
After providing support to the long-time councillor’s family, which continues, McCarron said council and staff moved forward with its work for the county residents.
He added that is what Boucher would have wanted.
As for highlights of the past 12 months, McCarron reflected on the county’s developing relationship with Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation, including the signing of a three-year community economic development initiative.
“It has worked out very well,” McCarron said, noting councils recently met for a third working session, which included a blanket exercise and the drafting of an agreement that will guide the partnership.
Late in 2017, McCarron said, councillors and senior staff gathered for a priority setting session, one focussed on “looking forward” to the next three to five years for the municipality.
“It is critically important – for residents and the county, as a whole,” McCarron said of taking such an approach.
In the area of planning and development, he noted, the county is one of the few in Nova Scotia to experience “positive growth.”
“We continue to have a nice sprinkling of activity,” McCarron said.
At the end of November, municipal officials estimated construction projects for 2017 carried an approximately $24-million price tag.
The growth along interchanges of the twinned Highway 104 through the county also continues.
“We are seeing the benefits of our infrastructure investments,” McCarron noted.
A county advisory committee continues its review of the Eastern Antigonish municipal planning strategy, while work moves forward on an access management strategy for Trunk 4 (old Highway 104).
The feasibility of a new business park, or another alternative to support business development, is also under consideration.
On the financial side, the county is working with a $14.3 million budget, which includes expenses such as $3.1 million for protective services – like policing and fire departments – along with approximately $450,000 for community-based grants.
McCarron described providing financial support to community groups and organizations as “critically important.”
“They work tirelessly and we want to support those volunteers and the work they do for our communities,” he said.
In its last budget, the county also maintained its residential ($.88 per $100 assessment) and commercial ($1.46) tax rates.
Council also increased low-income tax rebate for residents to $125.
McCarron noted the municipality completed a variety of capital projects in 2017, including a waterline extension at Somers Road, repaving of Heritage and Ponderosa drives and construction of a demolition debris site at the Beech Hill Solid Waste Facility.
The county also purchased one recycling truck and re-shingled the roof of the Municipal Administration Building.
McCarron said the municipality is looking at water and sewer line extensions, with go-ahead from residents in the respective communities a big part of that decision-making process.
“We are in the midst of that,” he added.
Last year, the municipality created an asset management committee, one that will constantly assess that infrastructure.
“Basically, getting a handle on what we have and it’s life expectancy,” McCarron said of the committee’s role.
It will make recommendations to council on decisions about the use and care of infrastructure – now and moving forward.
McCarron also talked about the great pride the county takes in its accessibility equipment loan program, including the availability of a hippocampe – an all-terrain wheelchair that can be adapted for winter use.
In 2017, the county also established an active transportation advisory committee. It has made recommendations for enhancing opportunities in this field, which council will consider in 2018.
Although not municipal responsibilities, McCarron said council will also continue its push for improved broadband and cell coverage, describing those as “key pieces,” on a number of levels, including for business and safety reasons.
He also noted the county’s constant contact with provincial transportation and infrastructure renewal officials, whatever the season, regarding road maintenance and improvements.