Budget will come up for vote at April 17 town council meeting
Downtown Yarmouth. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
By Tina Comeau
The Town of Yarmouth won’t be raising the residential or commercial tax rates in its upcoming budget.
Although there was discussion over whether the town should look at increasing the rates by one cent each – doing so would have generated around $40,000 in revenue for the town – those around the council table felt if there is no dire need to increase the tax rates then it should not be done.
The town will end up with a surplus on its budget. It’s not much, only $26,229 on a budget of roughly $17 million. However before the town’s CAO and director of finance – based on priorities outlined by councillors and the mayor – cut chunks of $5,000, $10,000 or more from various budget lines, a week ago the town was staring down a deficit of $473,771.
At a committee of the whole meeting last week, a motion was passed to bring forth a recommendation to the April 17 town council monthly meeting to approve the budget.
Areas where town staff made cuts of $5,000 or $10,000 to the budgeted spending amounts included such areas as Frost Park lighting, Candy Cane Lane lighting, general Christmas lighting, tree removal, tree planting, parks maintenance, Communities in Bloom and building maintenance. These things will still happen, but the amount of money to be spent has been cut back. The grants to organizations pot, which sits at $80,000, was cut back to $75,000.
There was a $40,000 waterfront development grant reduction. A request by staff to increase the sidewalk repairs budget by $25,000 was denied, so the budgeted amount for that stays the same at $150,000. In saying that, the town says if there are sidewalks that are a safety hazard of course they will be fixed. Asphalt crack sealing also saw a reduction of $25,000.
A transfer from surplus of $275,000 – related to the town’s compost facility – helped to cut down the projected deficit.
Town CAO Jeff Gushue said the budget strikes a good compromise. He said the town doesn’t want to make all of its cuts in areas of maintenance because if unexpected and necessary repairs come up you still have to spend the money. Therefore those cuts are accompanied by risk. But if you cap how much money you’re going to spend on things like tree planting, he said, that is easier to control.
Still, given that the surplus isn’t a big one, deputy mayor Jim MacLeod asked whether the town should consider the option of raising the tax rates by one cent. Gushue said a one-cent increase on the residential rate for the average single family dwelling in Yarmouth would result in a $10 cost.
While not a high amount, it wasn’t something that councillors embraced doing.
Councillor Phil Mooney said if it was a case of wanting to stretch out the surplus, there are always other budget areas that could be cut or tweaked. Councillor Ken Langille said he was totally against increasing taxes because it would send a message that the town is in trouble when that isn’t the case.
Councillor Dan MacIsaac said he’d rather see the extra money kept in the pockets of residents. While a one-cent increase might not seem like much, he said when you’re living on a fixed income every dollar matters.
One budget item that monopolized a lot of discussion was a $2,500 budget line for Destination Southwest Nova, a tourism association that recently dissolved. Because that group will no longer exist town staff had looked at sliding the money over to YASTA. (the Yarmouth and Acadian Shores Tourism Association). But the YASTA budget line is already set at $60,000 and most councillors wanted to see the $2,500 go to grants to organizations instead to lessen the reduction there.
Councillor Madeleine Daues, however, was adamant that she wanted to see the $2,500 go back into sidewalk repairs. Therefore when it came time to vote on the budget, and because moving the $2,500 into grants to organization was tied in with that motion, Daues was the only councilor to vote against the budget.
Meanwhile it was noted during the budget discussion that a decision the town made around a decade ago has paid off. At that time the town increased the tax rate by 10 cents, which has since generated funding each year to cover the depreciation of the town’s assets. Even with the tax rates not increasing in subsequent years, that move from years ago has helped to generate around $1.7 million annually that the town can use for capital purposes. The town says it is the only town in the province that moved to fund the depreciation of its assets through its tax rate. Other municipal units that haven’t done this see their depreciation translate into a deficit.