No tax increases are on the horizon, after the Town of Antigonish approved its budget for the fiscal year of 2019-20. Both residential and commercial property taxes will remain the same. The town is also looking at a surplus of 0.3 per cent ($34,000).
“This is the best budget I’ve ever sat in on,” remarked Councillor Jack MacPherson during a special budget meeting on May 21.
Mayor Laurie Boucher echoed MacPherson’s sentiments, noting “it’s exciting to be able to say there are no tax increases in Antigonish … especially with all the projects that are on the docket this year.”
The reason tax rates are staying the same is because property assessment rates have increased. Residential taxable assessments have increased 2.11 per cent, and commercial taxable assessments have increased 1.32 per cent.
This year’s budget includes $10.67 million in spending and a $3,087,400 capital plan.
The main capital projects the town has planned for this fiscal year include the Hawthorne and Main Street intersection ($584,000); the Main Street parking lot ($277,000) and the Sunflower Foods parking lot ($78,000).
The town also plans to spend $220,000 on nine sidewalk projects, which include making them wheelchair accessible; $313,000 on seven paving projects and $325,000 on a new street sweeper.
Although residential and commercial property taxes won’t be increasing, director of corporate services Meaghan Barkhouse noted there will be increases in the town waste collection and sewer rates.
Waste collection rates, Barkhouse noted, are going up because the recycling rebate the town receives have decreased. The waste collection rate will increase $8.14 per equivalent unit.
In the case of sewage rates, Barkhouse said, “we want to capture the capital cost projects that are related to sewer systems,” noting that the cost of depreciating sewer infrastructure is factored into the cost of the service. The cost of sewage service in town will increase an average of $8.19 per quarterly bill.
In addition to transfers, the town will be drawing on federal gas tax money and a higher than expected transfer of $1.1 million in dividends from the Alternative Resource Energy Authority (AREA) partnership. This higher-than-usual amount of money was due to an increase in wind energy production in 2018-19.
The capital project is supported with $711,000 from the Federal Gas Tax Transfer, $50,000 in federal accessibility funding, $335,000 from the town’s capital reserves and $845,000 in external fundraising and support for the All Wheels Skate Park and ‘Sandlot’ Accessible Ball Field Project.
The 2019-20 budget forecasts for a $40,000 surplus generated by the town water utility and has a number of projects planned that include the Hawthorne/Main Street upgrades ($31,000); upgrades for the corner of Brookland/College ($15,000); investigations into water issues at Hillcrest ($15,000) and yard servicing and a new hydrant for the department of public works ($30,000).
For the electric utility, the town is expecting a one per cent increase from last year’s sales, a 0.5 per cent increase from last year’s sales for commercial electrical and for large general, a 0.1 per cent decrease from the previous year’s sales.
$40,000 in funding put in the budget last year for the now defunct Eastern Regional Strait Enterprise Network (ESREN) is still in this year’s budget, Barkhouse told council. This is there for any potential closing charges associated with the shutting down of the REN. Barkhouse noted there is also potential for that money to be used this year for locally-focused economic development initiatives in conjunction with St. F.X. and the Municipality of the County of Antigonish.