Stacks of file folders

In August 2019, Nova Scotia taxpayers coughed up $240,000 for the CBRM Viability Study – a 69 page report authored by Grant Thornton LLP that spells out the stark economic and social reality facing the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

I’ve never been good at chit chat so I’ll be blunt: Cape Breton as it stands is “unsustainable”.

Sadly, we’ve gotten so used to hearing the “u” word that it has lost all meaning. So let me put it another way:

The Cape Breton Regional Municipality is so efficient and forward thinking that it has devised a plan to effectively cut operating costs in half over the next twenty years.

An extraordinary feat, to be sure. How is it possible?

It is, in fact, surprisingly easy: First, our elected officials create social and economic disincentives, prompting one-third of the population to seek gainful employment and personal fulfillment elsewhere. Then we condemn those who remain to live in poverty, with sub-standard infrastructure and dwindling municipal services.

It’s a completely effortless plan, summed up in just two words:

Do Nothing.

Okay, so maybe you don’t appreciate sarcasm – but I think I made my point.

In 2019 we paid some highly qualified professionals to make reasonable projections about the future of Cape Breton – our home – and we asked them to provide recommendations as to how we can stave off its demise.

They delivered the 69-page Cape Breton Regional Municipality Viability Study Recommendations Report.

Now it’s up to us. We can either follow through on the report’s recommendations, or we can do nothing.

Some of the issues discussed in the report are now being at least partially mitigated through new developments and initiatives (e.g. new NSCC campus, recently announced expansions to NS Health facilities, etc.), but for the most part the report has not received the attention it deserves from CBRM mayor and council.

The chart below illustrates the projected fiscal state of CBRM:

Bar chart showing projected declining revenues and increasing expenditures for CBRM
Table 8, from the CBRM Viability Study. /Grant Thornton, Aug.6, 2019

These projections clearly show that as CBRM’s population shrinks, the municipality will become less sustainable. Keep in mind – the report was authored before COVID-19, so it’s reasonable to conclude that these projections are now on an accelerated path and demand our urgent attention.

The list below summarizes the eighteen key recommendations made in the August 2019 CBRM Viability Study. Some of these recommendations can be easily and quickly addressed, while others will require the concerted efforts of successive CBRM mayors and councils over a longer period of time.

  1. Continue in the development of a five-year economic plan with industry specific objectives.
  2. The development of a marketing strategy with tailored value propositions for distinct target groups.
  3. Rural residential development plan: The natural assets of the region continue to attract rural development – must be utilized effectively and responsibly.
  4. Expand seniors purpose built housing and care facilities: There is a lack of accessible seniors housing, which will continue to cause a strain on municipal services.
  5. Improve accessibility to the region: The inability to easily and affordably access the region is a barrier for both tourism and investment.
  6. The decline of traditional industries means we must utilize the Regional Enterprise Network to support skills training, align job seekers with available positions, improve collaboration with higher education institutions, and focus resources on industry specific research and development.
  7. Consolidate and amend how fire services are funded, delivered and managed.
  8. Conduct a deeper analysis of police services to assess potential options for improving efficiencies.
  9. Explore the potential benefits of partnerships with external organizations.
  10. Explore the benefits of transitioning to a municipal structure consisting of three districts.
  11. Explore potential solutions to expedite the processing of delinquent and abandoned properties.
  12. Develop a business case process for requesting additional funding from external levels of government.
  13. Implement property tax incentives for urban residential development.
  14. Increase international migration.
  15. Continue exploring alternative revenue sources.
  16. Prioritize capital spending on projects that align with long-term strategic objectives.
  17. Explore the feasibility of multiple commercial tax categories or lowering commercial tax rates.
  18. Change the residential property tax structure

The complete Cape Breton Regional Municipality Viability Study Recommendations Report can be downloaded here …

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