Yes, 2020 has been a difficult year. That is certainly true for most of us as individuals, or as operators of businesses, or as community organizations. Certainly, for our rural Municipality, it has been a challenging year but there are some rays of sunshine. We all must concentrate on those. One might expect that with a pandemic and the price of lumber being sky high, that the amount of construction in our Municipality would be much lower than the previous year but that is not the case. This is good news for all of us as taxpayers, as it substantially increases our assessment role which allows the County to hold the tax rate or at least minimize any increases. The numbers say it all, just over $20 million dollars of new construction, down less than 4% despite all the negative factors. Our senior managers were prepared for up to 50% decrease.
This is good news for our County. People want to live and raise their families and run their businesses in rural Pictou County. One of the areas that can be greatly improved to encourage this trend is better access to quality high-speed internet for all our rural citizens. Over the past year, despite the slowdowns of Covid-19, our Council has worked determinedly to build a network that will allow private companies to deliver high-speed internet at an affordable price, eventually to all our residents. We had hoped to have the first residents on-line by December 31, but due to supply chain slowdowns, we are running a couple of months behind. We are still on track to have the first 1000 homes connected by spring. Our Council is hopeful of getting Federal support to allow us to give urgent wireless service to up to 5000 homes, hopefully by November 2021.
Highway safety has been a prime concern of our Council over the past year. We do not have direct control over some of the resident’s concerns but we try hard to work with those who are able to change conditions. Council has pushed hard for the past two years to improve safety at the Abercrombie-Trenton Connector intersection. We vowed to keep it at the front of the list and are hopeful that a round-about will be announced soon, with positive vibes coming from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal. Now that we are able to meet in person again, we need to bring some issues to our RCMP reps, on our Police Advisory Board, that residents are very concerned about, including excess speeding and property theft.
The past 12 months also saw us go through an election with all Councillors being returned except for one retirement. I view this as a vote of confidence in our Council and we are determined to work diligently to show results from the hard work over the past years, especially delivering on high-speed internet and greatly improved cell service. We will continue to strive to keep our tax rates reasonable and at the same time improve services like water and sewer to some communities including Salem and the suburbs of Thorburn (water).
Employment and the environment are always big concerns. Our Council co-operates with the other five Municipal units to fund the Pictou County REN (Regional Enterprise Network) to help the businesses in our County to survive and even grow, while always trying to draw new enterprises to anywhere in the County. We are optimistic that some significant announcements will be coming soon that will benefit all residents of Pictou County. I have personally worked with the Pictou County REN and members of the local Forestry Sector to look for opportunities for new markets, with or without a pulp mill.
On the environmental front, Council has established a new Climate Change committee that will also take over the work of the former Energy committee. We must look at all new ventures through a ‘climate change lens’ to make sure that we are doing our part to have a planet for our children and grandchildren to enjoy. They are demanding it!
Finally, as Warden for our rural Municipality, I am working together with the Mayors of New Glasgow and Pictou to address and help others to provide better services in the field of mental health in Pictou County. A lot of good efforts are being delivered but we must, and I believe we can, do better. Too many of our citizens are suffering and we need to do our part to speak up for them to those who have the power to change things. Remember to watch carefully over yours and your families’ mental health. Please stay safe, stay home as much as possible, and stay positive, better days are just ahead. From our Council and our staff, best wishes for a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous 2021.
Warden Robert Parker