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Council launches review of district boundaries

Halifax Regional Council voted yesterday to dive straight into adistrict boundary review that will take a year and a half to complete.

Halifax Regional Council voted yesterday to dive straight into a district boundary review that will take a year and a half to complete.

The process is required by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board, but it will be far from easy for city councillors, who will take a close look at how HRM is governed and decide how many polling districts are needed.

Coun. Sue Uteck of Northwest Arm-South End told Metro Halifax after yesterday’s meeting that will be “a challenge” because it requires councillors to agree on what districts could be amalgamated, and subsequently which of their colleagues could be without districts to represent, adding that’s “what has killed the process in the past.”

Currently, HRM has a 23-member council, not including Mayor Peter Kelly.

During the last major review in 2003, a committee comprised of citizens recommended dropping the size to 20 districts, but in the end city council voted to maintain the status quo. The URB agreed, ruling that while public consultation is necessary, council had left too much of the discussion up to citizens.

“Council appears to have adopted the view that it was somehow inappropriate for it to decide what size of council or style of municipal government should exist in HRM,” the board said. “It is not only entirely appropriate, but in fact necessary."

Uteck said she still thinks a separate body should recommend the reduced size, with input from individual councillors, adding the final decision should go “straight to the URB.”

Coun. Bob Harvey of Lower Sackville went a step further, stating now may be the right time to discuss whether or not HRM itself is too large.

“There wasn’t much appetite around council to include that as part of the mandate,” he said last night.

But Harvey said he doesn't mind council deciding on the districts, adding he's "weary" of a debate that has gone on for years.

The process will also involve a committee made up of residents and experts who will recommend new boundaries. The full review is to be submitted to the URB by Dec. 2010.