It will be status quo for ratepayers in the Municipality of the County of Antigonish.
During a May 24 special meeting, council approved a $14,654,557 municipal operating budget, an increase from the previous fiscal year ($14,340,000).
For the 10th consecutive year, the residential rate – $0.88 per $100 of assessment – will remain the same. It, once again, ranks in the bottom third, compared to other municipalities in Nova Scotia.
On the commercial side, the $1.46 per $100 of assessment – also unchanged from last year – will continue to be the lowest one in Nova Scotia.
The municipal sewer rate will increase by 1.7 per cent – from $311 to $316.29 per unit.
“Obviously, maintaining the [tax] rates shows stability to the residents of the county,” Warden Owen McCarron told reporters, after the meeting, when asked for thoughts about keeping the status quo.
“We are certainly proud of that and, obviously, a lot of work goes into preparing the budget; there are a lot of requests.
“It is important to demonstrate to the public that we are able to maintain the rates and still provide a high level of service,” he added.
When it comes to the municipal assessment roll, McCarron noted, it is “running fairly even,” compared to the previous year.
“There have been a few increases in assessment, in residential, and a little bit of a decrease, in commercial, so we were fortunate that we were able to come in, on budget, with just a slight surplus at the end of the year,” he said.
As municipal officials indicated during the budget deliberation process, the number of funding requests from community groups and organizations – along with the sought-after amounts – continue to increase.
“We looked at all the different asks and – like I have mentioned many times before – every organization is good, but we do have to balance our budget each year,” McCarron said.
“So, sometimes, it makes difficult choices, even more difficult, but we feel we came up with a good balance of responses to the requests.”
The warden was asked if financial constrictions prevented council from including anything it wanted to move forward with in the budget.
“I think most of the priority areas, we feel we have been able to do and carry forward,” McCarron said.
“There are always certain asks that come in late that you would like to be able to help [with] but, obviously, when you are preparing a budget, it takes time to do that.
“So, when late asks come in, sometimes those are difficult, when you can’t help out. But, we always look at those, going into the next year, to see if there are opportunities that present themselves in the following year,” he added.
The $14,654,557 operating and capital budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year includes several “key initiatives,” as described in a summary released May 28 by municipal officials, such as a $50,000 commitment to the Special Olympics Canada 2018 Summer Games.
There is also a commitment of $150,000, if matched by provincial and federal governments, to enhance cellular connectivity in the municipality, while $630,000 has been earmarked for grants to support local community groups and events.
The municipality will continue work with Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation on a community economic development initiative, while also maintaining its support of the Eastern-Strait Regional Enterprise Network (ESREN), including completion of an economic assessment for Antigonish.
Ten automated external defibrillators for community centres, along with a mobi-mat and floating wheelchair to help increase access to Pomquet Beach.
There will also be a condition assessment of water and sewer lines, along with roads.
Under the capital investment heading, there will be accessibility upgrades to municipal facilities, along with the purchase of a new excavator for the Beech Hill Solid Waste Management Facility.
West River Cross Road will be paved, while re-paving will take place on Old South River Road and the Antigonish Arena parking lot.
There will also be curb and gutter work on Appleseed Drive.
The Canada 150 Pavilion at the Antigonish Education Centre will also be completed.
As for the breakdown of how that $14,654,557 will be spent, topping the list is the mandatory education transfer to the province ($3,515,720).
Protective services, which include policing, corrections, fire protection and fire departments, carries a $3,167,768 price tag.
General government services – council, administration, facilities and assessment costs – will be $2,762,546, while environmental health items (sewer, solid waste collection and Beech Hill transfer station operation) will cost $2,212,732.
The remaining budget headings include recreation and cultural services (recreation and community programs, Antigonish Arena and community grants), $1,041,647; fiscal services (debt charges), $776,176; environmental development (economic development, planning services and street lights, $441,576; transportation services (municipal and J-Class roads, sidewalks and snow removal), $385,091; Heritage, cultural and services (Pictou Antigonish Regional Library and Antigonish Heritage Museum), $203,000; public health and welfare (regional housing authority and community organizations), $148,300.
An accompanying pie chart shows the percentage breakdown for each budget area.
Council also approved a May 22 committee of the whole motion to maintain the municipality’s low-income exemption threshold at $125.
The maximum combined household income, when it comes to eligibility for the program, is $25,000.
“Each year, there is, probably, in the range of $15,000 that goes toward that [program],” McCarron said.
“It helps those that are in need. It gives them a little bit of tax relief. We feel, if people can maintain their homes and stay in them a bit longer, it is important for them.”
‘Good financial position’
When asked about what kind of shape the municipality is in, McCarron said “we are in a good financial position.”
“We continue to do projects. We look for cost sharing on different projects with other levels of government,” he explained.
“We also have the ability to borrow from ourselves, sometimes, to carry out projects, and that’s a good position to be in.
“It is a position we don’t take lightly and we want to make sure we maintain that, so that we remain strong financially,” McCarron added.
Both the warden and municipal clerk-treasurer Glenn Horne credited senior staff for their work during the budgetary process.
“As always, you have done an exceptionally good job,” McCarron said.
Tax bills will be mailed out in the coming days, with payments due June 29.
Unpaid taxes, as of that deadline date, will be levied a six per cent charge per annum.
Budget highlights, along with a summary of planned expenditures and grant recipients, will be available on the county’s website – www.antigonishcounty.ns.ca.