Berwick town councilors agreed to defer a decision on the tax rate at their May 13 meeting.
The original plan for the town’s third in a series of budget deliberations, which drew a considerable crowd to council chambers, had been to set the 2014/15 tax rate at the meeting. But comments from residents and a lack of consensus on some service level, or non essential, expenditures compelled council to put off making a final decision on the tax rate to its next meeting, scheduled for June 24.
Five out of a total of 11 proposed expenditure items were approved by council at the meeting. They include $1,500 for the Uncommon Common Art series, $2,500 to develop a Berwick.ca website, an additional $8,000 for public works earmarked for road maintenance, $2,500 to establish a Berwick Merchants Association and $2,000 to invest in activenet, a software package that would enable “one stop shopping for recreation activities.”
Initiatives not approved in the budget included sponsorship of an upcoming suicide intervention conference to be held in Berwick this fall, funding requests from the Annapolis Valley Chamber of Commerce tourism committee and the Kings County Senior Safety Society, tree planting and seed money for the Valley Wildcats hockey teams.
These decisions, in combination with the previously approved base budget, will see tax rates rise by 3.1 cents per $100 of assessment. Berwick’s current residential and commercial rates are 1.508 cents and 3.80 cents respectively.
The outstanding budget issue is the town’s contribution to the development of a Valley Hospice. The budget called for the town to contribute $12,000 each year over the next three years. Councilors were at odds over this expenditure with Deputy Mayor Jane Bustin calling the initiative “very important” and councilor Anna Ashford-Morton’s contention that asking municipal units to fund palliative care is another example of “a download from the province.”
A decision by council to approve the hospice funding would push the tax rate increase to 4 cents.
Thrown in the mix of discussions was Mayor Don Clarke’s revelation that he plans to meet with the provincial Minister of Justice to request a reduction in the town’s policing costs. Berwick currently funds four RCMP officers working out of the Kingston detachment and Clarke wants that number reduced to three. Such a change could save the town $138,000, the amount equivalent to the cost of one officer.
“It’s a long shot, but I think we have a case,” said Clarke, who added if the request is approved the savings could mitigate any tax increase and perhaps lead to a lower mill rate for the coming year.
“So the option of putting off setting the tax rate for a month may be worth our while,” concluded Clarke, adding there is no timetable set to meet with the Justice Minister.
Council agreed with Clarke and consented to wrap up budget deliberations at its June meeting.