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St. Mary’s councillors take aim at power hikes

Finance department projecting budget shortfall due to rising costs

  • February 22 2023
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

ST. MARY’S – Nova Scotia Power was in the hot seat last week as members of council for the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s questioned recent rate increases that could help nudge public finances into the red this year.

In the 2023-24 municipal operating budget, “We are not presenting a balance,” said Director of Finance Marian Fraser at the committee of the whole meeting Feb. 15. “There is a shortfall of some $80,000.”

While noting that this was only a first draft and that there would be an opportunity for council to balance the books, she said the initial calculations showed revenues of $3,784,000 and expenses of $3,863,000 in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2024. That compared with final revenues and expenses of $3,462,824 for a balanced budget in the previous 12-month period.

Key expense items, so far, Fraser said, included the cost of protective services to the municipality of $728,471 (compared with $671,879 last year), but councillors also raised red flags over the rising cost of power, which is built into several budget items across multiple spending areas, including public street lighting.

“I would hate to see us take the lighting down,” said District 1 Councillor Courtney Mailman. “Could there be a coordinated effort amongst municipalities in Nova Scotia to have our say? Could we raise our voices to protest?”

Earlier this month, Nova Scotia regulators approved a 14 per cent hike in electricity rates over the next two years (6.9 per cent each in 2023 and 2024). The Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board (UARB) noted that its approval — against the wishes of Premier Tim Houston — was in the public interest and reasonable.

“The board cannot simply disallow Nova Scotia Power’s reasonable costs to make rates more affordable. These principles ensure fair rates and the financial health of a utility so it can continue to invest in the system providing services to its customers,” it reported.

Last week, Mailman disagreed. “Clearly, the increases are not going into maintaining the powerlines but back to investors,” she said. “I know the provincial government is trying to work on that … [but] this is a poor way to provide a service.”

Warden Greg Wier added: “We were supposed to have a representative from Nova Scotia to come and talk to us, and that got postponed. I really do think that this needs to happen. The last time they were here, they [NS Power] had no plan. Right now, that’s not good enough. Our people deserve more than that.”

He added: “The lines that are in the woods need to be [maintained]. We have a hospital. We have a nursing home. And they want another 14 per cent in two years? I think it’s time the public stood up and said, ‘You know what? We’ve paid and we want service.’”