Lunenburg Town Council approves 23/24 operating budget to disapproving gallery, addresses Friends of Blockhouse Hill



Lunenburg Town Hall was beyond capacity for the second time in a month at a meeting of Town Council on Tuesday.

As Council gathered to address an agenda including approval of the town’s 23/24 operational budget and a presentation by Friends of Blockhouse Hill, a majority of the audience who attended in person made their disapproval of Town’s handling of these issues outwardly apparent.

The town unanimously passed the operational budget for 2023/24 after multiple presenters, including former councillors and former Mayor Rachel Bailey, advised against the budget being passed as-is, to booing and disgruntled comments from multiple people in the room.

The group Friends of Blockhouse Hill gave a presentation. Group representative and former councillor Thom Barclay spoke on why their group believes the Town should stop pursuing designs for residential development on Blockhouse Hill, and group members showed up in support – most people in the gallery stood in applause.

Public interest was evident from the start. A lineup to attend the meeting in person formed an hour before the meeting was scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. and the 60 seats reserved for the public’s attendance were full within minutes of the doors opening at 5:30 p.m., with multiple people watching proceedings from the hallway.

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Friends of Blockhouse Hill presentation receives standing ovation from meeting attendees, questions on residence of presenter and unity of group from councillors

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Thom Barclay, a former councillor, started the meeting with a public presentation on behalf of the group Friends of Blockhouse Hill.

Friends of Blockhouse Hill is a citizen’s group that organised in March as a response to the town’s release of an RFP inviting developers to propose residential development designs for Lunenburg’s Blockhouse Hill.

The lands highlighted in green are outlined for possible divestiture in the RFP. Sylvia Park, highlighted in yellow in the bottom left, is a Town-owned park and not included in the RFP. (Image: Town of Lunenburg)

The Town of Lunenburg is currently reviewing seven proposals for the RFP they received before the deadline of March 31.

The Town has not yet formally committed to divesting the land, and the RFP outlines how there must be a public consultation component before the town could divest the land, but there is currently no provision for Town residents to actually vote on whether the land should be divested – this decision falls entirely to Council.

Michael Best, Communications Manager with the Town of Lunenburg, responded to emailed questions from The Barnacle saying there is no prescribed timeline for the town to make decisions on the RFP, “However, staff are working diligently to review the submissions and bring recommendations forward to Council.”

“Additionally, we know there here has been concern about informing UNESCO about these projects. Parks Canada (who is our liaison to UNESCO) will be regularly updated on potential design scenarios as the project lies within the World Heritage Buffer Zone. We will welcome any feedback they may have,” writes Best.

Friends of Blockhouse Hill is circulating two petitions. One is being brought door-to-door within the Town of Lunenburg, and a separate petition is being circulated virtually for supporters not residing in town. The petitions ask the Town to hold a vote on whether they should proceed with development, and halt plans to divest the land unless a majority of town residents ask for it.

Matt Risser, the former Mayor of the Town of Lunenburg whose resignation took effect upon the meeting’s start as he prematurely resigned his position for a new career opportunity, previously said he would not consider holding such a plebiscite at any amount of signatures because he believes this is an important project for adding housing inventory to the Town. 

As of this meeting of council, the new Acting Mayor is Peter Mosher. By-election dates have not yet been publicly announced.

Barclay’s presentation to Council outlined the reasons the group is asking for this vote. His prepared comments, which extended beyond the allotted ten minutes at the discretion of Mosher, were included in the meeting agenda and circulated to councillors and the public more than a week in advance.

Barclay’s presentation levelled concerns that certain procedures required to make the lands on Blockhouse Hill listed on an RFP may not have been followed, and a “lack of transparency around the process by which the Council is deeming its assets as surplus.”

Requests of Friends of Blockhouse Hill outlined

Barclay made these requests for the Town:

  • “We are requesting a pause in the RFP process for both the Blockhouse Hill and King St. developments.” (The petitions being circulated do not mention the Town’s plans for a development on King St., and only mention Blockhouse Hill.)
  • Outline “a clear communication and engagement plan, as discussed in the CCP.”
  • “We would like some answers as to why, despite being required under the [Municipal Governance Act], the divestiture policy was drafted only in December 2022, after the sale of public properties, after Council stated privately its intent to sell the Academy, and after the issuance of the RFP for the King Street Extension.”
  • “We contend that Council’s attempt to divest within the buffer zones attached at both ends of Old Town constitutes a grave risk to our UNESCO designation. We would like to know what action has been and is being taken to mitigate that risk, aside from attempting to change boundaries under the draft Heritage Conservation District Plan and By-law.”

Friends of Blockhouse Hill asks for more figures on financial reasoning for exploring sale of Blockhouse Hill land

Barclay remarked on the town’s proposed operating budget.

“Lunenburg is experiencing a huge increase in annual revenue going forward via massive increases in deed transfer and property taxes,” said Barclay. “Lunenburg has never sold more town-owned structures than it is now divesting, yet this Council is telling us we need to double our population using medium- and high-density housing and develop housing in the UNESCO buffer zone or we risk amalgamation.”

“Again, this is a political theory and has not been presented to the public in the form of facts and figures. Videos posted on a private Facebook group do not an argument make.”

The Town has not published any analysis, or any preliminary information on any analysis in progress, on the anticipated increase in tax base they expect from any possible housing development that would be permitted on Blockhouse Hill.

The town’s latest FAQ published on this issue does not reference any anticipated increase in property taxes that could be garnered from the sale of Blockhouse Hill, only that the town would benefit from profit of selling the land.

As an answer to the question “Why Sell Land?”, the FAQ states, “Selling surplus assets (land) ensures revenue for the Town. […] A Building Condition Assessment report for Town Hall was recently completed which suggested without spending $3.8M to extend the lifecycle of Town Hall it will fall further into disrepair. The same results are expected for all Town-owned buildings.”

(Regarding a “private Facebook group,” Barclay was ostensibly referring to the Facebook group People for Housing in Lunenburg. This is a private Facebook group created by someone not affiliated with the municipal government on March 22. 

Matt Risser, former Mayor of the Town of Lunenburg; and councillor Melissa Duggan have published minor comments regarding their perspectives on housing and municipal affairs in the group that they have not published to public-facing social media or official Town channels.

While the group is not exclusive in who is invited or approved to join – The Barnacle editors who requested membership were approved within minutes of requesting to join, and members of Friends of Blockhouse Hill engage in conversations in this group along with people who are expressing their desire to see the town continue its current RFP process for Blockhouse Hill – discovering the group is a challenge unless someone who is already a member invites you.)

Following the conclusion of Barclay’s speech, most attendees clapped in applause for several seconds and gave a standing ovation.

(Video by Jesse Ward)

Councillor Sanford asks Friends of Blockhouse Hill representative where he lives, whether members of the group reside in Lunenburg

Councillor Susan Sanford addressed Barclay, saying, “Thank you Mr. Barclay. That was a very good presentation. Mr. Barclay, it’s been past practice in council, when folks come up to present to council, that they state their name and state where they live. And I noticed tonight that you came up and you stated your name, but you stated what property you own. Could you maybe, for council’s benefit, tell us where you live?”

Barclay replied that he lives in a Town of Lunenburg address part of the year, and an address on First Peninsula Road, within the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg and minutes from the Town of Lunenburg, part of the year.

Sanford said thank you, then asked, “So Mr. Barclay, not being familiar with all of your friends, I’m just wondering if you could help me to understand who the Friends of Blockhouse Hill are. So, are they residents of Lunenburg, or are they folks that live outside of Lunenburg, or other places?”

At this point, groaning and exclamations from the audience had Acting Mayor Mosher speak out.

“Okay, now this is an opportunity for Council to question the presenter, so let’s have some respect for Council and the presenter, and you can sit there and listen, please,” said Mosher.

Barclay replied, “The Friends of Blockhouse Hill are a core group of individuals that was set up after we discovered the RFP notification. The Friends of Blockhouse Hill would like to point out that what we are dealing with here are legal and procedural problems in the rollout of this, and who our friends are is kind of irrelevant.”

Sanford pressed further, saying, “I apologize, maybe my question wasn’t clear. Mr. Barclay, I’m asking, are the folks that make up the Friends of Blockhouse Hill, are they residents of Lunenburg, are they folks that live outside of town, live outside of the province, live outside of the country? Are they a mix of people or are they all residents that live in Lunenburg?”

Barclay said he would venture that not all members are residents, that there are over 1000 and he hasn’t been paying attention to where they are from. 

Sanford said, “I just noticed in your presentation that you were talking about the Comprehensive Community Plan and you mentioned that it was particularly relevant around the meetings that were heavily attended by non-residents. So, I find it ironic that you’re standing there giving a critique of non-residents, and yet your friends are non-residents,” as groans from the audience had Mosher again interrupt to ask the audience to be respectful.

Barclay had mentioned that the town has said that pursuing divestment of Blockhouse Hill was a goal in the town’s Comprehensive Community Plan that was partially developed off of public input, but people outside of the Town of Lunenburg were permitted to have input in those sessions.

In terms of who the group is and how many local residents support slowing down or pausing the potential divestment of Blockhouse Hill, some indicators exist.

The Barnacle spoke with Paula Rennie, one of the organisers of Friends of Blockhouse Hill, on May 11. Rennie said at least 600 people residing in the Town of Lunenburg have signed their petition, which is still gaining signatures while the group has multiple petitions still out in circulation and continues outreach. The 2020 election for Lunenburg saw 1,939 eligible electors.

Rennie said more people residing outside of town have signed their petition for out-of-towners.

Additionally, Friends of Blockhouse Hill has been distributing posters reading “It’s More Than A Hill: Town Council, We Need To Talk”. The posters are hard to miss on a walk through Old Town. 

On May 6, The Barnacle walked the entire grid of Old Town Lunenburg and photographed this poster on 65 out of approximately 400 buildings. 

(Photos by Jesse Ward)

Posters are prominently displayed in the windows of homes and businesses like Adams & Knickle and The Laughing Whale Cafe. One poster is in the window of a resident’s room at the Harbour View Haven long-term care home.

Additionally, Jamie Myra, President of the Lunenburg Board of Trade, spoke with The Barnacle outside of Town Hall following the meeting.

The Board of Trade’s primary source of income is the campground and RV park they operate on Blockhouse Hill. The campground land is leased to the Board of Trade at one dollar, but the Town has said they will not renew the Board’s lease in 2024 because of the plans for Blockhouse Hill development. The Town has said they will cooperate with the Board of Trade to find a new campground space, while the Board has said that no space is comparable to what they have now.

The Board of Trade lists 110 local businesses and non-profits as members. Myra told The Barnacle a recent survey circulated among membership had 52 respondents and showed members are “overwhelmingly opposed” against plans for Blockhouse Hill as they have been presented.

Councillor Duggan says it seems disingenuous Friends of Blockhouse Hill speaker represents the group

Councillor Melissa Duggan said, “So there’s a lot that we can discuss about your presentation. The presentation does strike me as an attempt to present a number of different grievances about the Town, and not necessarily about the development on Blockhouse Hill.”

“My question is, was this an approved message by the group you’re here representing tonight, or are these issues that are being raised above and beyond what they are supporting? It seems disingenuous to me to say you are representing the Friends of Blockhouse Hill while also bringing forward the additional issues that you have.”

Barclay said the presentation was fully sanctioned by the Friends of Blockhouse Hill.

Councillor Halverson says communication from the Town has been “a failing,” says he is accessible

Halverson thanked Barclay for the presentation and noted Council had received the presentation before the meeting.

“I’ve been through it, and I’ve got lists of questions, and it’s more time than we could get into tonight,” said Halverson. “But I would like to address a couple of things.”

“You mentioned a communications plan. So, we have a communications professional we’ve hired for that specific reason. The communications plan, as I understand it from our CAO, he can correct me if I’m wrong, but there is a plan being worked on as part of the CCP.”

Jamie Doyle, CAO, confirmed this is correct.

Barclay responded that he said the group hasn’t seen a communications plan, not that it isn’t being worked on.

“The communications, we understand that’s been a failing, absolutely,” said Halverson. “I don’t think anyone in this room would disagree with that. So it’s something we’re working on, that’s why we hired those positions.”

“There’s so much to get into here,” said Halverson.

“I’m troubled by the thought that people feel like we’re not available.”

“I’ve received requests for communications. Every time I’ve had a question, I’ve answered it. When I’ve been faced with demands for public meetings, that I as a councillor cannot provide, I’ve not been able to do that, right? Because it’s beyond my purview.”

Halverson addressed Barclay, saying that he has been responsive to Barclay’s questions in the past, and asked him if he feels like he has not been communicated enough by himself or the rest of the council.

“Yes, absolutely,” said Barclay. “Because in that correspondence, I had asked at the time about issues related to the RFP and issues related to staffing, and expense-related issues, and you came back with – ‘I was just obfuscating, I was just exaggerating’ – but you didn’t respond with the actual numbers we were looking for.”

Halverson replied, “To my recollection, I let you know that we would get you the numbers when we had the numbers, and we’ve been gathering the numbers, if I’m not mistaken.”

Barclay said he has been waiting three months for historical budget data, and after not getting it, he declared Halverson not willing to pass the information along. 

Halverson replied, “When we’ve had the information, we’ve passed it along. Unfortunately, a lot of the information you’re looking for isn’t available at the push of a button. It’s buried in budgets – as you’ve seen, I’ve heard a lot of people complain about the way municipal financing is done, it’s not easy to pull numbers away.”

Halverson addressed the room, saying he always attempts to engage. 

“My door is always open, my email is available, my phone is on, I live in the town, I am welcome to talk to anyone at anytime. And I feel like the rest of council is probably on the same page on that.”

Halverson concluded his response saying it was a hefty presentation to address, “but I feel like we’re taking steps out of order. Because there’s a lot in here that needs to be addressed, and it will be addressed. But there are steps that need to happen first. We’ve talked about why he want to develop Blockhouse Hill is to deal with –”

Barclay interrupted Halverson, asking, “Do you have a question for me, or are you just chatting with me,” and Mosher cut Barclay off, calling for decorum.

Halverson ended by asking Doyle to explain where the Town is in the process, and whether there would be more opportunity for public engagement.

Doyle said the town is reviewing vendors’ applications for the RFP. 

“What that doesn’t preclude is that once that vendor is chosen, it’s a done deal,” said Doyle. “What, in fact, it does, is it asks a professional designer of land use what is possible on those sites. It doesn’t set in stone, what it shows is a couple of options for us to poke holes in, collectively, not just council, not just staff, but the public as well.”

“It doesn’t mean we run out once we have those designs and sell it, and away we go. That’s council’s decision once we’ve had a chance to engage properly, to figure out what works and what doesn’t. So that’s currently where we are, and to the Parks Canada selection, they need to see something before they can weigh in on anything. I think there’s an excitement about damaging the UNESCO designation, and we’re not. In fact, the first step, as you would have seen, was us reaching out to Parks Canada to understand that.”

Acting Mayor Mosher addresses Blockhouse Hill

Mosher shared his thoughts on the presentation, starting by noting he probably has more institutional knowledge than most due to his multiple terms on council.

Mosher said in the 2012 election, the hot topic was the inventory of buildings the town owned.

“It seemed that at the time the public was pushing to get rid of a lot of this inventory because of the fact that it’s costing the town a lot of money,” said Mosher.

He mentioned that some town-owned properties like the Angus Walters house were donated to the town “but came with a heavy cost, so the public recognized that, and that was sort of the mandate of that council.”

Mosher continued to address the Blockhouse Hill issue, and his concern on comments that plans towards divestment of this property “were done under the cloak of darkness.”

“This originally came up in our first council, 2012 to 16, and the reason that Blockhouse Hill came to light to that council – it was discussed at council before, we had a plan from Peter Knowles that was quite extensive and council of the day decided not to do that.”

“It came to our attention in this council because the dog park, that was their preferred site,” said Mosher.

“They had a preferred site that was going to be on the back of Blockhouse Hill, and the Council of the day denied them that site because it was earmarked for residential development, and I believe that was a unanimous vote at the time.”

“And then, you know, also our CAO of the time [Bea Renton] was a stickler, she was a lawyer, and she was a stickler on legal details. So those went through, I’m sure, with all the confidence in the world, that they were done all legally and above board. And then the Private Members Bill came to the next Council as a result of that. So things don’t move very fast and Blockhouse Hill, as we can see, this is probably a 20-year process from when it started.”

(Rachel Bailey, who was Mayor of the Town of Lunenburg from 2012 to 2020, recently told news outlet The MacDonald Notebook that it was always thought that some land on the Back Harbour could have an opportunity for residential development, but it was never her experience that the full piece of property listed in the RFP would be offered.)

“And it was supported well by the Comprehensive Community Plan, and everyone before you here was elected, based on that support, so that’s why we are pursuing this at this point.”

Mosher noted there will be opportunity to allow people to speak publicly about whether they are for or against divestment of the property.

He also addressed misconceptions he thinks are in the community – he said he has heard concerns that Sylvia Park will be covered with housing with this development, and that the walking trail behind Blockhouse Hill will disappear, and that neither of these are true.

Friends of Blockhouse Hill has brought concerns over Common Lands legislation to MLA – documents shared with The Barnacle by councillor say Town’s perspective is they have been able to sell Common Land since 1897

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Barclay outlined how the Friends of Blockhouse Hill are concerned about procedures followed to pass legislation in 2017 that the group believes enabled the Town to pursue the path toward a sale of the land – but according to internal communication within Town of Lunenburg, the Town’s perspective is that the Town has been able to sell its Common Land like the parcels that comprise Blockhouse Hill since 1897.

“We are concerned that certain procedures required to make this land even available for an RFP may have not been followed,” said Barclay in his presentation. “Accordingly, we have asked our MLA to look into the circumstances surrounding the 2017 legislative changes, and her reply is pending.”

Barclay was referring to the Lunenburg Common Lands (2017) Act, also known as Bill 36. This is provincial legislation introduced by former Lunenburg MLA Suzanne Lohnes-Croft.

“We contend that the original spirit and intent of designating common land to be held by citizens have been broken by a breach of trust,” said Barclay.

“That breach of trust occurred when the private member’s bill was tabled in 2017. The intent of this bill, as I recall, was only to be able to provide a lease term of longer than 5 years for the use of the lands at the site of the dog park.”

“Unless there were ulterior motives at the time, this change in legislation has exceeded its original intent and deviated from the spirit of the previous legislation, which secured ownership, in perpetuity, by the citizens of the town. Not simply common lands, but all lands that are or were discovered to be held in the name of the Town of Lunenburg.”

The bill removed provisions from the original 1785 Crown grant that held certain lands in the Town in trust as common lands, and vested these common lands entirely with the Town of Lunenburg.

Lohnes-Croft sponsored the 2017 bill on behalf of the Town of Lunenburg after the Town committed to a significant amount of legal work that started with the Lunenburg Dog Park Society’s request to lease land from the Town in 2013.

In March 2023, Lunenburg town councillor Ed Halverson contacted The Barnacle via email with a message saying town staff “researched the timeline of the Lunenburg Common Lands Act from its inception to today,” and shared a PDF prepared by the Town with relevant documents. Halverson wrote the PDF “will be made available to anyone in the public who wants it.”

Additionally, Michael Best, Communications Manager with the Town of Lunenburg, prepared a summary of this research and shared it with councillors. Best’s summary of the Town’s research says the town’s opinion is that they have legally been able to sell Common Land since 1897.

 “The long and short of it is – The Town has been able to sell Common Land since 1897 (and trustees since 1862 – by public auction).  And has,” wrote Best. “Harbourview Haven would be on former Common Land.  Malagash Terrace.  A great swath of New Town, the eastern end of Pelham Street, the houses across Blockhouse Hill Road from the campground etc.  (See maps in agenda package 05 09 17 highlighted pages 175-217  and attached map from Nova Scotia Archives.”

The documents selected by the Town show on May 16, 2013, Patrick A. Burke Q.C., legal counsel to the Town, submitted a letter to Bea Renton, then CAO, outlining options the town could pursue for making land available to the Dog Park Society seeking to construct the dog park that now exists on Starr Street.

Town Council, which at the time included Barclay and Acting Mayor Peter Mosher, had tentatively agreed to lease lands along Starr Street to the Dog Park Society for ten years.

Burke’s letter to Renton described how a lease for ten years may not be possible based on the discovery that some of the property may be on Common Lands, and that if it was, it would be land that is subject to 1887 amendments of The Acts of 1862 indicating “the Council could ‘rent, lease for a term not exceeding five years, or sell’.” 

“Presumably, a ‘rental’ would be a shorter term arrangement. Accordingly, if the property is part of what is referred to in Section 8 of Chapter 5 of the Acts of 1862, then we are restricted to a 5 year lease,” wrote Burke.

At the following May 28, 2013 meeting of Council, an in camera motion was passed unanimously to have, “[…] the NS Legislature to be asked to amend and [sic] Town Common Lands legislation that may restrict the term of lease to five (5) years.”

Later, in August 2013, Burke wrote another letter to Renton.

“As a result of the consideration of a Lease to the Lunenburg Dog Park Society, we became aware that certain lands in the Town of Lunenburg are Common Lands,” wrote Burke.

Burke wrote that he had a title searcher review records at the Land Registry to determine how much of the Town would consist of Common Lands, and shared their findings.

“Given the foregoing, there are likely substantial lands in the Town of Lunenburg which are owned by the Town and may be subject to certain restrictions,” wrote Burke.

“It is therefore my recommendation that the Town consider having a Private Members Bill passed by the legislature of the Province of Nova Scotia to ensure that the Town holds the Common Lands within the Town of Lunenburg in the same manner as any other Town lands without restriction on the use or alienation thereof.”

Burke went on to represent the town in pursuing the legislation brought to the province by Lohnes-Croft in 2017. 

Additionally, Barclay wrote in his letter to Town Council, “During the passing of Bill 36 in 2017 it also appears that procedural requirements relating to a duty to inform the townspeople were not met. Our MLA has also been asked to have this investigated at the legislative level.” 

The Town’s research showed this legal duty appears to have been met through the publication of an ad on the bottom-right corner of page 10 of the October 18, 2017 issue of the LighthouseNow newspaper.

Town passes operating budget to groans from audience after public input

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The Town proactively advertised through their website and social media in the week preceding the meeting that residents could provide their input on the town’s operating budget at this meeting.

Eight members of the public spoke including three former councillors and former Mayor Rachel Bailey.

(For more context on the budget, read our story: Town of Lunenburg increases spending on planning and development, new staff in 2023/24 budget)

Barclay speaks again, asking Town to not pass budget

Thom Barclay, who already presented for the Friends of Blockhouse Hill, was first to speak to the budget.

Barclay asked for transparency in the Town’s level of spending on staffing and planning. He shared his opinion that the budget for planning salaries and studies is too high because housing is a provincial responsibility.

Barclay also said the town was “putting the cart before the horse” by passing their operating budget before next week’s Special Meeting of Council on May 16 where the Town has said they will present a long-term financial outlook for the Town. He asked Council to not pass the budget.

Board of Trade president urges Town to slow spending, hold town hall meeting to address Blockhouse Hill

Jamie Myra, President of the Lunenburg Board of Trade and who was formerly a Councillor for twelve years, presented next.

Myra said he runs a business in Lunenburg that has operated for 67 years, and that “looking at the budget, [he is] concerned it may not be here in 67 years.”

Myra echoed Barclay’s comments that he is concerned by the amounts budgeted for studies and staff hiring, especially after research comparing Lunenburg’s population and number of staff to other Nova Scotia municipalities.

“I look at all this, and I say, why do we need all this staff. If we’re that dire financially, and we’re that close to dissolving or amalgamating, maybe that’s where we have to slow down the horse a bit, and not keep hiring, hiring, hiring. And if the staff can’t do what the CCP demands at this point, put it off for a year or two. That’s what we used to do, because we always were struggling for money.”

“What really amazed me when I looked through the budget is despite all the pushback, the uncertainty in the community, we have $175,000 in the budget for the next phase of  Blockhouse Hill. Sometimes the best thing a politician can do […] is read the room.”

“I don’t think if I was sitting at that table I would approve a budget of $175,000 to spend on Blockhouse Hill at this point until you have some public engagement sessions, talk to the people, and see what they want.”

Myra urged Council to hold a town hall meeting on the issue. “I think until that happens, this community is divided, and I’ve never seen it like this.”

Former councillor says budget shouldn’t pass until staff pay scales are released

The next presenter was Robert Young, another previous councillor.

Young said that every year council brings out the budget, they used to list staff classifications and pay scales, and this was the first year it wasn’t available.

“That should be brought back. Don’t pass [the budget] until we make all that information available to the public,” he said.

Former Mayor Bailey urges council to not pass budget unless qualifications are provided

The next presenter was Rachel Bailey, who was Mayor from 2012 to 2020 when she chose to not run for election again.

Bailey pointed out that everyone who spoke so far was on council because they can perhaps read the budget better than the general public, “because it is massive and detailed and things like salaries are worked throughout the document.”

“I, like everyone else, have been hearing different rumours about what state the town’s finances are in, what’s being spent, and how it’s being spent.”

“I looked for myself and wanted to get a better understanding of where we are. And I, too, was really quite shocked by the increases in HR spending, and the numbers of studies and costs,” said Bailey.

“I would, as the others have mentioned, urge you not to pass the budget as is tonight, unless there are qualifications provided for it.”

“The one thing is the $175,00 for the development of Blockhouse Hill. As has been mentioned earlier, there is certainly concern. Not everyone has the same concern, not everybody has the same ideas on what should be done, but there is concern. And this is a wise opportunity to take a pause.” 

“If you’re looking to move ahead with that project without a pause, or without consultation with people in the community, then I think it’s going to be more division and more distrust.” 

CAO speaks to resident’s question about cost of deferred maintenance on town properties – says town needs a financial plan

The next presenter was Faune Creaser, a resident who is on the Town’s Heritage Committee.

Creaser said she is aware of the challenges of maintaining heritage properties from being a heritage house rescuer who renovated through the pandemic.

Creaser asked how much deferred maintenance on town-owned properties is impacting the budget.

Doyle answered the question, saying this is hard to quantify. 

“The real quantifiable one we have is for town hall, which you would have seen, just for the roof and exterior, at $3.8 million, and I’ve heard from some contractors in town that is incredibly conservative and it’s probably not gonna be enough.”

“So that caused us some concern to read, we tried to figure out what it is we do have to complete. If we did external and internal, what would that look like? Our preliminary estimates are $10 million plus, and that’s just for this building alone.” 

“I don’t think we have a really good robust, comprehensive financial plan, but we need to get one, and we need to get one quickly. Because without knowing those numbers, it’s really hard to plan. Because we don’t know the lifecycle. And that’s not just for our buildings. We have 13 assets of that nature that we have to try to grapple with, which I’m just today starting to compile some of those numbers.”

Doyle said these kinds of costs are covered in the capital budget that was already passed for the year, and a meeting on the 16th will cover the kinds of costs the town is facing and the need for a financial plan for the next 5 to 10 years.

“We can estimate what we owe, and it’s a lot, to be honest – and I’m a bit staggered by some of the numbers, just for the buildings alone. 

As an example, I was flabbergasted by this one – I had to ask Tyson [Joyce, Town Engineer] twice if I heard him right – we were talking about a section of sidewalk than runs down Pelham towards Rous Brook. And I think it was 375 feet, give or take. And it’s $375,000 to replace that sidewalk. Duke Street out here, it’s $500,000 just to repave it.”

“So we’re talking about costs of that nature, and we’re not even factoring in underground infrastructure with that. The pipes that are under those grounds, we have to maintain and operate life cycling of sidewalks and curbs and streets in an incredibly busy historic town, that we get no funding from the provincial or Federal government for.”

Doyle said town staff are pursuing funding from the Federal Government.

“Albeit we do benefit from a UNESCO designation, and we do see a lot of tourism that does benefit the town, but it’s also hard to put that back on the town to pay for those lifecycle costs.”

More speakers address council with critique on budget

The next speaker was Martin Ruiz Salvador, proprietor of businesses on Montague Street including Salt Shaker Deli & Inn and the South Shore Fish Shack.

Salvador asked Doyle which contractors in town have said it will be more expensive than $3.8 million dollars to repair town hall’s exterior, and if they will get another quote.

Doyle named a contractor. He said the Town would have to prepare a tender based on the numbers they have, and if the bids come in higher, they would have to bring that to council, which they would have to do no matter what.

Martin signed off saying, “I just want to say I really don’t think this town is divided. I think it’s the most together I’ve ever seen it in 20 years,” to applause from the room.

Another presenter named Ted said he wanted to add context to the budget.

“In 1991, the town staff comprised eight people working in town hall, sixteen people plus one part time in public works, three people plus one part time in recreation, five people in the electric utility. Now, what has changed in that period of time? We have roughly the same population, just a few more structures. But, really, nothing. So where are we spending the money? Service levels haven’t increased,” he said.

“We’re spending it on consultants and outside sourcing. What are we getting for it? I might add, also, that bylaws were drafted at the time by town staff, and looked at by the town solicitor to ensure it met all legal requirements. And then reviewed by Town Council. Now, we pay untold numbers of thousands of dollars to have a consultant come in and the end result is a draft bylaw. I hope that will add some context in terms of your thinking.“

The final speaker was town resident Mark Breaugh.

“As elected members of council, I want you to think about something here,” said Breaugh.

“Are you hearing from your constituents, a visceral reaction to the CCP? Are you feeling that in your homes? Because we’re living it. I’ve had discussion with a couple of you in the past, and I’m urging you – use some creativity and leadership here. Listen to the people. Pause things, please.”

“No one said the trail is leaving, but – the essence of the trail,” said Breaugh, addressing Mosher’s earlier comments that development on Blockhouse Hill would not remove the nearby walking trail. “It just makes no sense. It’s all happening so quickly.”

“So as elected members, I want you to think about that and reflect. The will of the people of the town is not with you on this. It’s clear. You know that. Right? You all know it,” said Breaugh to applause.

“So if we’re not there, and you’re up here, what do you need to do as leaders? You need to bring us along. We’re not there, folks.” 

Councillor Halverson addresses budget presenters

Halverson thanked the presenters for bringing their concerns.

“I want to focus on Mark’s last comment in that things are happening quickly,” said Halverson. “I think it’s evident that in any form of government, nothing happens quickly, nothing. We are at a beginning stage.”

“When we talk about the Blockhouse Hill plan, we are trying to get ideas. We are trying to figure out if this is something we want to pursue.” 

“As our CAO alluded to, there are very big expenditures coming our way. And we’re going to see tax rates increase. That’s what’s happening. We’re going to see the costs of our assessments go up. We want to make sure this town stays affordable. And the only way we can do that in the long term is to ensure we can keep our tax rates low.”

“We only have three mechanisms – I know you’re tired of hearing it, but that’s what we have as a municipal government. We can raise taxes, we can reduce services, or we can expand the tax base,” said Halverson.

Halverson paused for a moment, turned to the gallery, and said, “And … give us another idea. Give us another idea.”

Multiple people in the room raised their hands and some started shouting responses before Mosher took over.

“Not actually,” said Mosher to the gallery. “This is a council discussion.”

Halverson continued. “We’ve heard we can cut – yeah, we can cut, but I don’t think we can ever cut enough to maintain the infrastructure our CAO has pointed out. These are difficult situations, but the best thing about this is you are all sitting in this room. Since this started, this is the first time I’ve seen this much engagement from the town, and it’s wonderful. This is great, this is engagement.”

“I don’t see a path forward towards getting what we need to do unless we’re prepared to deal with Blockhouse Hill, at least explore it. So I think that’s got to be the way forward. I know the $175,000 is contentious.”

Halverson asked Doyle to explain the $175,000 in the budget for Blockhouse Hill planning.

Doyle said the amount is an earmark for the availability to award the RFP. He said if a proponent for the RFP exceeds this amount and council decides they are the best, it will have to go back to council for a decision. 

Councillor Sanford addresses gallery

Councillor Sanford spoke next.

“I can remember when we were first in our roles and we had many consultations with folks on the street, door knocking and so on, and there were things we heard over and over,” said Sanford. “One is that we need change, one is that we need housing. And I think it was pretty consistent across the board.”

“I don’t think for a minute this council is running rampant without trying to do the foundation work that needs to happen in order to support the planning and the consultation with the community that has to take place. It’s yet to come. So, I feel like we’re between a rock and a rock in the context of the RFP for proposals, and these are just concepts, right?”

“We want concepts, to be able to go to community and say, ‘Can you please look at these concepts with us and tell us what you think?’ No decisions are made. Blockhouse Hill hasn’t been sold. And you can say, ‘I don’t like this, I don’t like any of it.’ Or, you know, ‘I kinda like that, or I like this.’ But, we can’t just assume or create or say what these are gonna look like. We need someone to show us what the potential can be. Or what our choices could be. But at the end of the day, you will make those decisions.”

“So when I hear us talking about trying to weigh the money we’re spending and the request for proposal in the context of Blockhouse Hill, I don’t see how we could do it any other way than to have those concepts to be able to bring to community to get your feedback.”

Sanford also commented on staff reorganisation. She commented that people told Council they need change, and that meant organisational restructuring.

“So I just want to say, and I’m going to go back to the RFP. There are things that have to happen in order for us to be able to move ourselves forward. But we don’t move forward without you. And there are people who are reaching out to us, that are being supportive, that are being encouraging. It’s not just the folks in the room. I’m really glad you’re here, and to Councillor Halverson’s point, I hope you keep coming every Council meeting. We need you. We’re your representatives.”

“So to think we’re out running willy-nilly is just far from the truth. We’re trying to make decisions, and informed decisions, and we’re your neighbours. We live in Lunenburg. Some of us work in Lunenburg, some of us work outside of Lunenburg. But we all live in our community.”

Motions to pass budgets pass unanimously to largely disgruntled audience

Councillors Jenni Birtles, Melissa Duggan and Stephen Ernst did not speak to the motion to pass the operating budget. The motion passed unanimously, to groans from multiple people who started leaving the hall.

The motion to pass the water operating budget also passed unanimously.

Acting Mayor Mosher gives speech on accomplishments of Council under former Mayor Risser

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Mosher announced the agenda item to acknowledge former Mayor Matt Risser’s resignation, saying, “Thank you for restraining yourself,” to the gallery.

He gave this speech:

“I’d like to say it’s been an honour and a privilege to serve with Mayor Risser. His level of intellect, and his ability to execute was at a scale beyond most people’s capabilities. He was elected in 2020 by an overwhelming majority that hasn’t been seen in decades, and he fulfilled his commitments to his election promises. Some of the things that he did accomplish while he was in office – I made a list:

We passed the Comprehensive Community Plan as the town’s strategic plan.

  • You modernised all land use regulations.
  • The new MPS [Municipal Planning Strategy], and LUB [Land Use Bylaw], won an Atlantic Planners Institute Award of Excellence in 2021.
  • Secured federal and provincial funding at 10 million dollars for a wastewater treatment plan upgrade. 
  • Only raised the residential tax rates once three cents, and the commercial rates did not raise beyond pre-COVID levels.
  • We’re addressing the high risk liabilities and costs resulting from town ownership of town-owned assets.
  • We have the electric light utility under review, we’re modernising our internal organisation and changing the organisational culture.
  • We considered planning heritage, recreation, economic development under the Community Development Department. Better supported the Town’s growth, maximized the synergies in these areas. 
  • Renewed town staff, particularly in hiring a highly qualified CAO.
  • You undertook a comprehensive GIS mapping of the town’s water distribution, the sewers collection system. And we also protected the flood risk around the current wastewater treatment plan. 
  • We substantially increased the town’s operating reserves.
  • We secured, with the support of District 1 and 2, a new rescue fire truck.
  • Purchased a new ice resurfacer.
  • Purchased significant equipment for public works.
  • Answered town communications to residents, streamlined communities, more efficient utilization of staff time.
  • Expanded the low income property tax relief program for seniors and others. 
  • Commenced planning and development of town-owned lands, Blockhouse Hill and King Street.
  • We did infrastructure projects, including Tannery Road, Bluenose Drive, Duke Street and Prince Street restructuring, introduce street tree programs to revitalize urban forests, and renegotiated a CUPE contract.
  • Renewed a significant number of sidewalk blocks, undertook a significant amount of road maintenance, and we did sell the Angus Walters House and the Old Town School, which now will provide 6 additional housing units and increase your tax base.

So it’s not insignificant what’s happened in the last couple of years, and I think you know, certainly from our perspective, I will miss having Mayor Risser here, and we wish him well in his future.”

Council clapped to applaud Mosher’s statements.

Council approves new Workplace Harassment Prevention Policy, approves draft Film Policy for formal approval at next council meeting

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Council unanimously passed a motion to approve a draft of a Film Policy with a new price table for filmmakers with their eyes set on Lunenburg.

The new Film Policy, guided by Devin Casario, Economic Development and Funding Manager with the Town, would replace the town’s existing filming guidelines. 

The current guidelines have no application fee and charge $1,000 for a daily rate and $500 for a half-day rate.

The new policy would introduce application fees ranging from $50-200 depending on the project and a tiered model for daily filming fees ranging from $150-$1,000 for a full day or $75-$500 for a half day.

Councillor Halverson said he was concerned that the policy outlined fees for student films, and asked if the Town could waive fees for students.

Casario responded that as a former student filmmaker, he could see the rationale for this, but “if they’re serious about their craft they’re going to find the money.” 

“So, no dilettantes,” replied Halverson, chuckling.

Council also unanimously approved a new Sexual Harassment Policy.

The town’s brief on the background to this new Policy states, “In mid-March, the Town’s insurance company stated an updated abuse policy was required and provided staff with a deadline of May 15, 2023. The insurance company stated the policy should define various forms of abuse (physical, mental, sexual, etc.), should outline reporting procedures, and behaviour management and disciplinary processes. The repealed Sexual Harassment Policy would not have met the requirements outlined by the Town’s insurance company.”

Two councillors did not address any items

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Lunenburg has five councillors in addition to Acting Mayor Peter Mosher: Jenni Birtles, Melissa Duggan, Stephen Ernst, Ed Halverson, and Susan Sanford. All other than Mosher are in their first term as councillors.

Councillors Birtles and Ernst did not say anything at this meeting.

Ed. note: this article originally said Rachel Bailey was Mayor of the Town of Lunenburg from 2012 to 2016. Bailey was Mayor from 2012 to 2020.


Comments

6 responses to “Lunenburg Town Council approves 23/24 operating budget to disapproving gallery, addresses Friends of Blockhouse Hill”

  1. Anna Shoub

    Thank you so much for this in depth reporting. It is so valuable to our town…and democracy. Great job.

  2. Tricia Fish

    Excellent work.

  3. Anne Macleod Weeks

    Just for clarification: Is Jamie Myra still president of the BOT?

    1. Jesse Ward

      Hi Anne,

      I emailed this question to the Lunenburg Board of Trade this morning and received a response from the Executive Managing Director confirming Jamie Myra is the President of the Board.

      Best,
      Jesse

  4. Debbie Dauphinee

    Thorough coverage of the meeting. Accurately captured the feeling of discord in the room. Thank you !

  5. Ellen Morrissy

    Very comprehensive. Thank you for being there and for your ongoing coverage of this issue.

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