Kings RDA faces challenges going forward
By Jennifer Hoegg
‘Heated’ is an apt description of the Kings RDA’s annual general meeting.
Approximately 60 people gathered on a hot, humid evening June 21 in the Port Williams Community Centre to discuss the future of the regional development agency, using words like “confusing,” “frustrating,” “exasperating” and “heartbreaking” to describe the situation.
After the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency announced cancellation of its core funding to Atlantic RDAs as of May 2013, the Municipality of the County of Kings gave notice it will also withdraw funds and representatives next year.
“The decisions by ACOA and the County of Kings have created what can politely be termed ‘uncertainty’,” executive director Stephen Kerr told the audience.
The agency’s core funding comes from the province, ACOA and the local municipalities, with Kings providing approximately 50 per cent of the municipal share. Wolfville, Kentville and Berwick chip in the rest.
Kings North MLA Jim Morton said the province cannot pick up the remaining tab from ACOA and will be reviewing the RDA model.
“We do see this as an opportunity to do some rethinking,” Morton said.
Board chairwoman Cathy Reid and Kerr were expected to meet with the four municipalities June 25 to discuss future plans. Kerr expressed disappointment the four municipalities didn’t look at the ACOA decision together before Kings County opted out.
Planning is “tougher because one municipal partner has left the team even before the premier’s research has been undertaken,” he pointed out.
When the RDA presented its business plan to the municipalities in the spring, Kerr added, “they all, at least publicly, declared it good.”
Kerr said he and Reid would present two plans ACOA and the province by July 16: a going out of business plan and a transition plan.
“The sum of these two decisions requires it.”
The current board of directors will stay in place in the meantime, after a motion was approved to suspend elections until on or before the 2013 AGM.
Kings County’s move to pull out of the RDA led to some tense moments during the meeting.
The ACOA withdrawal “wasn’t good news, but it wasn’t devastating,” Kerr said. “The upshot of it is, in my opinion, is that rural development in Kings County is the province, pardon the pun, of the province and the municipalities.”
He also mentioned ACOA is now questioning some of its program funding for the agency because of the county’s decision, which could harm promotion of the area as a food and wine destination.
Kentville Mayor Dave Corkum spoke about the history of the RDA and how it enhanced co-operation between the county and towns.
“It would be going backwards with economic development,” Corkum said of the notion of giving up on the agency. “We don’t want to go back to that chasing game with our neighbours.”
Berwick Mayor John Prall voiced his support for the agency.
“We know we are small, our contribution to the RDA is small,” he said. “One of the things we need to do is some soul searching before we make dramatic moves.”
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At the end of the agenda, when a period for discussion was scheduled, county Deputy Warden Janet Newton protested that Warden Diana Brothers had not been permitted to speak and called Corkum’s remarks “inappropriate.”
“We were a three-way partnership and one partner was gone,” she said, explaining the county’s decision.
Newton said Kings has put more than $1 million into the RDA over the last 10 years and it is interested in spending money on a business development officer instead.
County Coun. Fred Whalen read Brothers’ remarks in her absence, which touted the county-led regional planning exercise Kings 2050.
Kerr said the RDA supports Kings 2050, but it is about “planning, not economic development.”
The evening was not without its positive moments.
One of the county’s citizen representatives on the board of directors had a different point of view from the elected reps.
“I’m very proud to have been a board member for six years,” Brian Hirtle said. “Please identify what partnership means because I think that’s what we’re lacking.”
Many speakers praised the agency’s role in co-operation and collaborative projects, including Nova Scotia Community College Kingstec principal Isabel Madeira-Voss.
“I don’t think that (death of the RDA) should be a question for anyone involved in this agency.”
Kerr pointed out Kings County has “remarkable” assets and is within the magic 100 kilometres of Halifax.
“We shall grow. Most rural areas can’t say that,” he said.
Kerr said after the meeting the “heartbreaking part” is that a local partner has withdrawn.
Kerr pointed out the province is rewarding municipalities that work together and “political boundaries have nothing to do with economic cash flow,.”
Both Reid and Kerr spoke frankly about the June 2011 AGM that went “from composed to chaotic” with the revelations of a deficit.
Reid said a closer look at the books showed “poor and inexplicable auditing and accounting decisions were made to defer losses rather than properly declare them.”
Kerr clarified the losses were from 2005 and 2006, when the RDA lost approximately $73,000, and the losses were carried forward as “good receivables” instead of “bad debt.”
Tougher questioning of financial statements has improved board and staff members’ working relationships, Reid said.
The $73,000 loss now stands at approximately $45,000. The annual report cites expected revenue to come from HST rebate and a refund from Bell Mobility.
Doug Hickman of Canning asked whose liability the $45,000 would be should the agency fold.
Kerr replied that will be part of the planning between now and July 16.