ST. MARY’S – The Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s is projecting a surplus for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2022, thanks to big increases in both local deed transfer taxes and the equalization payments it receives from the provincial government.
Director of Finance Marian Fraser delivered the good news to the council’s committee of the whole on Feb. 16.
“We are still seeing increases in our deed transfer tax, and we are projecting to end the year for these at around $228,000,” she said, compared with a budgeted $75,000. “We have also received a double up payment of equalization grants, [receiving] an extra $175,000 this year. This [too] is above what was budgeted.”
Like many rural parts of Nova Scotia, St. Mary’s has been experiencing a mini-real estate boom over the past two years, as Canadians from outside the region continue to scoop up properties during the social and economic disruptions caused by the pandemic in large metropolitan centres. Statistics Canada recently confirmed a slowdown in the rate of population decline in small communities across Nova Scotia, including the Eastern Shore, thanks, in part, to increasing in-migration.
According to the municipality’s figures, deed transfer tax revenues were $64,088 during the first quarter of the fiscal year, ending June 30, 2021, compared with $14,161 during the comparable period in 2019-20. During that time, the municipality registered 17 building permits, with an assessed value of $1.6 million, compared with 10 worth $718,000 in the same period two years ago. The year-end projection better expectations for the annual deed-transfer tax line item by a factor of three.
Meanwhile, the district continues to benefit from the provincial government’s Municipal Financial Capacity Grant announced last fall, which effectively doubled payments made to towns working to make normal ends meet. The $32-million top up was designed to pay for the rising costs associated with local public services, such as policing, fire protection and transportation.
Still, Fraser said, the fiscal news for St. Mary’s was not all rosy. The Eastern Mainland Housing Authority, which is responsible for maintaining the province’s public housing in the area, is expected to double or even triple the fee it charges the municipality to between $29,000 and $33,000 this fiscal year, compared with previous annual amounts of between $8,000 and $17,000. “That was not budgeted at this level,” she said.
What’s more, repair costs at the Recplex and Sherbrooke Library will affect the spending budget, as will start-up expenses related to the municipality’s new Seeds of Youth Literacy program, a mobile book service being launched to cover communities with poor access to the main branch.
Council should also expect a hike in the municipality’s power bill, Fraser said.
“I did a rough calculation and, over a three-year period, it’s potentially $5,000 [more] a year up to $15,000. At year three, this will impact us. We have streetlights, power for our sewer, our water, power for the Recplex, for this [municipal] building. We pay over $100,000 a year to Nova Scotia Power. Our streetlights, alone, cost around $66,000 a year [to run]. We just want council to know the impact that this will have on the municipal operation.”
Noting that the deed transfer tax revenue bump will help offset some of the unexpected expenses this year, she said: “We are very lucky.”