The Municipality of the County of Annapolis will keep its council size for the next municipal election, but has been ordered to consult with residents again after its survey showed a “clear preference” for fewer districts.
In October, the province’s Utility and Review Board (UARB) approved the municipality’s application to keep 11 districts but adjust some boundaries.
“I was a little disappointed, but not surprised,” said Bridgetown resident Steve Raftery.
Raftery was among the citizens who spoke to the board during a September hearing.
He and others said a survey showing most respondents wanted a smaller council under a mayor system was ignored. Current council members told the UARB there were issues with the survey itself, and 400 respondents were not enough to warrant such a change.
The board rejected the idea that the survey should carry little weight because respondents were a small proportion of the municipality’s roughly 18,800 population.
“The opinions of engaged electors should not be discounted because others are less engaged,” the board said.
But the board said the results were not entirely clear because the survey offered six different options with a mix of district sizes under either a warden or mayor system. Annapolis county currently uses a warden.
Board says it heard ‘strong’ public response
A mayor is elected at large by voters in a municipality. A warden has a similar position to a mayor, but is elected by fellow councillors instead of voters.
The board said it had to approve the current 11-district model because there was no “acceptable alternative” to the status quo. It ordered the county to consult the public again, and come back with a new application before Dec. 31, 2025.
“There was too strong a public response favouring a reduction in the size of council to not seek further input before two election cycles have gone by,” the board said.
Calls for council size to go on ballot
Usually, N.S. municipalities hold consultations on their boundaries every eight years to ensure the number of electors eligible to vote in each district is balanced.
Raftery said next October’s municipal election would be the perfect opportunity to put clear plebiscite questions on the ballot about council size and whether to have a mayor or warden.
“It may get more people interested in the election and involved in the election, and you may see a higher voter turnout,” Raftery said.
Warden Alex Morrison said he accepted the board’s order to go to the public again.
When asked about adding questions to next year’s ballot, Morrison said council would have to act quickly.
“I don’t think that’s the course that council would take,” Morrison said.
Raftery said 11 months seemed like plenty of time, and “how sincere you are about getting input from the people, I think, is the question.”
Morrison said council will soon decide whether they will launch another consultation or allow the next council to handle the process in 2024.