© Ashley Thompson
Mayor Robbie Zwicker fields questions at a meeting the Town of Hantsport called to inform the public of the town’s financial situation going in to the 2014-15 fiscal year.
Hantsport’s town council is once again tasked with cutting costs come budget time.
Town council and CAO Rob Frost fielded questions about the town’s financial situation at a sparsely attending town meeting hosted in the fire hall Feb. 26.
Mayor Rob Zwicker announced that town council must scale back spending by $118,290 to make up for a reduction in revenue reflected in the 2014-15 budget.
Zwicker noted that council would have to call for a 16-cent hike in the residential and commercial tax rates to make up for the shortfall if they did not look at making cuts or changes to services.
The mayor added that a one cent increase in the residential rate, now sitting at $1. 69 per $100 of assessed valuewould generate an additional $5,805 in revenue, while the same increase to the commercial tax rate, currently set at $3.85 per $100 of assessed value, would reflect a revenue increase of $1,662.
A handout circulated at the meeting lists the cost of operating the library, opening the pool and providing public transit as some line items council will discuss, in addition to looking into reducing the amount of funds set aside for reserve and general trimming across the board.
“We’re considering not using the Kings Transit as a source of transit,” said Zwicker.
Frost estimated that the town would save about $15,000 if the pool did not open in 2014.
Coun Margot Bureaux stated that she feels it would be too soon to close Hantsport’s pool without first exploring what changes can be made to increase usage of the “phenomenal asset.”
The information sheet prepared for the meeting suggests $5,000 in savings was found through a reduction in the cost of auditing services, and an additional $42,000 in savings can be achieved by reducing the RCMP services offered in town for a year.
Council is also considering shaving $15,000 off of the IT services budget, closing the old town hall building to save $5,000, reducing the recreation budget by $5,000 and closing the tourist bureau to save an additional $6,000.
Zwicker said council has three options to make up for the shortfall in tax revenue and rising operational costs: reduce services, raise taxes or cut costs and hike taxes.
A pie chart distributed at the meeting shows residential taxes accounting for 47 per cent of the town’s revenue, with commercial taxes bringing in 31 per cent.
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Zwicker stated that council will be examining alternatives to raising taxes when the budget deliberations are underway.
“We’re not looking at a tax rate increase currently,” he said.
“We’re just not interested in creating any tax burden on the residents of this community.”
When asked why council would consider holding the tax rates in light of the revenue loss they must deal with, Zwicker said high property taxes makes an area less appealing to prospective homebuyers.
“I don’t think we’re heading down the wrong path there,” he maintained.
Deputy Mayor Harold Bulger said times have changed since Hantsport was a small town with three booming industries lining its waterfront.
“Hantsport, for a small town, has a lot of services. There’s no question.”
Bulger stressed that the town can no longer afford to offer the same level of service now that two mills are no longer operational. He urged citizens to share their thoughts on which services they feel they can, or can’t, live without.
“We’re trying to, I guess, supply champagne services on a beer budget,” he said.
In responding to a resident’s request for an example of what service cuts may look like, Zwicker said snow removal crews could be asked to only clear one side of the sidewalk, or wait until after a storm has passed to clear sidewalks.
The Town of Hantsport must have a finalized budget by September to meet provincial requirements.
Finances at a glace
How are tax dollars for a house in Hantsport assessed at $200,000 spent?
Here’s the breakdown for a tax payment of $3,380:
$811 – Protective services (RCMP, Fire, EMO, etc)
$676 – Transportation services (Roads, sidewalks, plowing, Kings Transit)
$608 – Government services (Town buildings, administration, auditing, councillors)
$372 – School board
$338 – Sewer and Valley Waste
$236 – Debt servicing
$169 – Recreation and culture
$169 – Tourism, economic development, cemetery, reserve
Source: Town of Hantsport information sheet