After half a year of suspense, the province has released its idea of how regional economic development can be paid for now that the federal government has pulled out of the funding mix.
Renewing Economic Development in Nova Scotia, released in late November, calls for the establishment of six Regional Enterprise Networks (RENs), with costs shared equally between the province and municipalities.
In May, ACOA announced it would no longer provide core funding to regional development agencies after May of next year. In June, the County of Kings voted to withdraw its membership from the Kings RDA as of March 31, 2013.
The county’s decision led to tension among the RDA’s other municipal partners. Even its own citizen-members on the board seemed confused by the decision. The towns expressed their regret and tried to go on, but, within a month of the county’s decision to opt out, the RDA board voted to close the agency at the end of the fiscal year.
If the provincial plan comes to pass, 11 municipalities from West Hants to Cornwallis will have to pick up a roughly $400,000 a year towards a Valley REN.
How to divide the costs and co-operate on the endeavour needs to be worked out.
No doubt many municipal watchers are wondering what Kings County will do.
While smaller fire, sewer and recreation agreements have carried on and there has been buy-in to the Kings 2050 process, co-operation is not always smooth. After the divisive education funding fight between the county and towns within the past few years and the shock the towns expressed when Kings pulled out of the RDA, apprehension is to be expected.
It is clear the county wants more of a say in economic development – it plans to hire an economic development officer of its own – but we hope it will see the wisdom of a broader plan, too. For most citizens, businesses and potential immigrants, the lines between towns and county – or even between counties – are invisible.
Warden Diana Brothers’ invitation to her fellow municipal leaders last week to meet and discuss the REN idea was an indication that hopefully, things might be changing.
In July, RDA chairwoman Cathy Reid asked, “If the county isn’t willing to fund the RDA, what is missing that the county values that we could bring into the mix?”
We’re hopeful the answer to that question will be revealed during the implementation phase of the new model.
What is known is that there is a need for speed. A letter to local leaders from the province and the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities gives a deadline of February for sorting out what the RENs will look like.
While challenging, particularly given the nature of municipal decision-making based on a once-a-month meeting structure, the timeline is good for our area.
Since July, the local RDA has been a lame duck. How effective can it be with a best before date of March 31?
As it is, the greater part of a year of economic development work will be lost as the agency tries to wrap up and the municipalities work out the next steps. If the new REN isn’t in place when the Kings RDA is done in March, a regional approach will continue to be neglected at everyone’s expense.