GUYSBOROUGH – “No council likes to put up taxes,” Municipality of the District of Guysborough (MODG) Warden Vernon Pitts said March 17, after council approved a $0.06 increase in taxes across the board in its 2021-2022 budget.
The increase, and ones similar over the past three years – excluding last year, are meant to help make-up for the reduction in MODG tax revenues that occurred as a result of the decommissioning of the Sable Offshore Energy Project.
Councillors Dave Hanhams (District 4) and Finn Armsworthy (District 8) voted against the tax rates in the new budget.
In an interview with media after council adjourned, Pitts said of the dissenting votes, “Certain of our councillors would like to dip into operating reserves and take it out of there but with COVID on the go and the economy the way it has been the last while – our residents have to realize, we took over a $3 million hit the last number of years in regards to declining Sable assessment. We have no means of making that up presently and by a very small tax increase, I don’t think it is an undue hardship to anyone.”
The 2021-2022 budget stands at $17.2 million, with a capital plan of $3.5 million. Tax rates for residential and resource properties are set at $0.77/$100 of assessment; commercial properties are set at $2.74/$100 of assessment and a reduced rate of $2.06/$100 of assessment is set for identified seasonal tourist businesses.
A tax rate of $1.51/$100 of assessment for residential and resource property and $1.34/$100 of assessment for commercial property will be levied in District 8, the former Town of Canso, to defray the cost of additional services provided by the MODG.
In other business, council narrowly voted 4-3 in favour of setting aside $550,000 in a reserve fund for the Chedabucto Lifestyle Centre (CLC) in Guysborough. Councillors Hanhams (District 4), Armsworthy (District 8), and Ricky McLaren (District 7) voted against the motion, with councillors McLaren and Armsworthy stating, during discussion of the question, that the money might be better used in other projects in the municipality.
Warden Pitts told the media after council adjourned that the fund in question, “was money allocated for it [CLC] … and should remain as such.” He further explained that the money came from provincial and federal rebates on expenditures incurred in the construction of the facility.
The reserve fund would be used for capital, not operating costs for the CLC, said Pitts, adding, “What was stressed in council is that it is a CLC reserve, but council has the power to spend that money on anything they see fit to spend that on. It could be a piece of pavement, a sidewalk the Canso arena – it’s at council’s discretion.”
At the March 17 meeting, council unanimously passed a proposal to buy an electric vehicle for the use of the Recreation Department. With the recently announced provincial and federal electric vehicle rebates, the cost to the municipality will be reduced by $8,000 for a total cost – after researching price, performance and availability – of just under $45,000. This acquisition, along with several other investments in renewable energy in this year’s budget, reflects the MODG’s commitment to the environment.
Outside of budget issues, Pitts spoke to media about several issues that had been in the headlines in recent weeks. He said of the release of the Fitch report on Emergency Health Services, “We were glad to see them moving with some of the recommendations.”
And of the preliminary look at Mary Jane Hampton’s report on the two hospitals in the MODG – Eastern Memorial Hospital and Guysborough Memorial Hospital – Pitts said, “I got a bit of a positive feeling from that. We are going to have to all start working together… more so than we have in the past because, if we go down today, Canso goes down tomorrow and St. Mary’s the next day. We all have to start pulling in the same direction.
“I think maybe going down the road we may be looking at a shared service model but so be it. At least there’s a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.”
The 2021-22 budget will be available on the MODG website under “Reports” after the minutes from the March council meeting are adopted at the next regular council meeting on April 21.