Members of Berwick town council and staff struck some compromises June 10 in order to agree on tax rates for the coming year.
Budget deliberations were held over from May council after councillors were unable to decide on whether to set aside financial support for the Valley Hospice project.
On June 10, finance director Greg Towne presented what he thought would be a “strategy to conclude the (budget) process with a rate that would satisfy the majority.”
Towne didn’t get far into his presentation when Coun. John Prall requested a review of already-approved items. Prall was absent from May council as he was representing Berwick Electric at West Hants council on the same evening.
“I was told there would be no financial decisions made that night. I was horrified to learn decisions had been made in my absence.”
Prall was critical of several service-level, or non-essential expenditures, including those for Uncommon Common Art and for the revival of a Berwick merchant’s association. Both are economic development initiatives being spearheaded by the town’s director of community development.
“One of the worst things you can do for economic development is to raise taxes,” pointed out Prall.
Prall, who also opposed any funding for a Valley hospice, said the town “doesn’t have the money to do extras like this and if we can get away without doing it, we shouldn’t do it.”
When it came time to vote, council chose not to support the hospice project, but kept funds for the Uncommon Common Art and merchant’s association in the budget. Funding for Activenet, a web-based recreation information program, was also axed.
Adjustments for higher than anticipated policing costs, new cost saving efficiencies and a transfer from the rate stabilization reserve combined with previously approved budget items to result in a budget increase of 1.1 cents in both residential and commercial rates.
In 2014-2015, residential ratepayers in Berwick will pay $1.519 cents on $100 of assessed value. Commercial ratepayers will be paying $3.811 per $100 of assessed value. The new rates factor in respective increases of 0.7 per cent and 0.3 per cent over last year’s budget.
Councilors also approved the capital budget with gross expenditures of $2,307,300 at the meeting.