The differences between rural HRM and urban HRM are vast. The challenges to go forward as one municipality will also be large and ever-changing. I grew up in a rural community. While I currently live in downtown Halifax, I have a special place in my heart for rural living, and hope to one day return to the rural lifestyle I know very well and love. What, as a municipality where the majority of the population live in the urban area, can we do to address the needs of the rural community?
First and foremost, we need to stop taxing the rural communities for services they do not receive. If you have paid to have a well installed, you should not have to pay for water service you do not have and do not use. This applies to a whole range of services from sidewalks, to waste collection, to sewers. We need to come up with better solutions to these issues. A great, simple first step would be to encourage rural residents to have backyard composters rather than green bin service. Green bin service to rural communities is expensive and does not need to be conducted every week in these areas. It would be considerably more cost-effective to have backyard composters. Since it is important to maintain recycling service in the rural communities, the current biweekly service could be changed to an once-a-month service to help with the removal of materials that do not compost well.
Second, as a city we need to understand that the needs of rural communities are not the same as the needs of the urban communities. Not everyone in the rural communities need a sidewalk. It would cost a fortune to provide everyone in the rural communities with a sidewalk. Is there a need for sidewalks in certain rural communities? Yes. We as a city needs to talk to the residents of rural communities and determine their needs, not determine what we in the urban area think they need. One thing to look at in the future is how we use our resources in the rural communities. Clear cutting forests may make money, but it also causes many problems for the residents in the area. Gold mining produces cyanide. Before we attempt to make money mining gold in HRM, are we making sure the residents in the area are being taken care of? Will the process of removing this gold cause long term problems?
Third, we need to develop better transit for rural residents in HRM. We should absolutely promote and support services like MusGo. The rural growth must also be directed as time goes forward. It is always easier to provide services when people live in communities. We need to focus our rural growth on the small towns that already exist in the rural areas of HRM. Will this take time? Yes. Does it mean the communities like Musquodoboit Harbour, Sheet Harbour, and Tantallon will be encouraged to grow and the even more rural areas around HRM will perhaps return to wilderness? Yes. I stress this is a 10 to 20 to 30 year process, not a 6 month process. We need to stop spreading out and grow together; this applies not only to the urban space, but to the rural space as well.
Finally, consider this idea: what if we took the tax money paid in the rural communities for services they do not receive and put that money towards services like MusGo. We could also allocate that money to providing more facilities for physical activities, or even arts and culture. I think we all understand that we need to pay taxes. I fully understand you should not be paying taxes for services you are not receiving. I have also heard from many people in rural communities that they want more services and access to things that are available in the urban area. This reuse of tax money is a way to accomplish this goal.