Debate arises from operating budget

PORT HOOD: Inverness Municipal Council passed its 2018/19 general operating budget last Monday resulting in some welcome news and, at times, some conflict between the six members of council.

On the good news side, the municipal unit is not raising taxes. The residential tax rate remains at $1.02 per $100 of assessment, while the commercial tax rate held at $1.85 per $100 of assessment.

Some of the budget highlights include a significant investment in fire services ($1.3 million), a healthy investment in community projects ($1.4 million), and an investment in waste water facility replacements in Judique and Whycocomagh ($5.5 million). The municipality is setting aside $250,000 to leverage federal and provincial funds to address cellular and Internet service gaps. With that, the budget is funding accessibility projects throughout the municipality such as a beach accessibility pilot project in Inverness.

All told, the budget is balanced at $11,173,700.

“Council held several meetings over the last three months focused on building and prioritizing the key aims of the budget,” said Warden Betty Ann MacQuarrie. “Through thoughtful discussions, each councillor was able to bring the needs of their district to the table.

“The budget represents a significant step forward by the municipality and strengths the organization’s ability to deliver services on behalf of the citizens of Inverness County.”

MacQuarrie noted that in January of this year, council accepted the recommendations of an organizational review. In many ways, she said the budget is designed to those recommendations in mind.

“We’re not going to sit on this,” she said. “We’re acting on it.”

The other big news out of the budget is that the municipality is planning seven new hires in the near future.

Two file clerks (one-year contracts) will be hired, as well as an occupational health and safety specialist (two-year contract), a human resources officer (two-year contract), a procurement officer (two-year contract), a communications and community outreach coordinator (permanent), and a special projects officer (permanent).

“The new job openings will provide residents the opportunity to evolve their careers and recent graduates to start their careers right here at home,” MacQuarrie said. “I’m looking forward to these upcoming additions to staff.”

The budget passed unanimously, but not all councillors were fully pleased with all aspects of the budget. Councillor John Dowling took issue with Inverness Council not providing funding for the Port Hawkesbury Airport.

“This is the second budget where we’ve not supported the airport, and, good Lord, we had the Snowbirds there last week,” he said, referencing the air show put on by Celtic Air Services. “There’s not a district in this municipality that doesn’t see revenue from that airport.”

Warden MacQuarrie noted that Inverness County paid over $700,000 for the Port Hawkesbury Airport in past budgets. Those payments, she said, were made under an agreement that funding would be made only when the airport was operating in a deficit. However, Dowling said he has not yet seen a specific motion locking Inverness County into that agreement. MacQuarrie said council staff is currently looking for the documentation.

Councillor John MacLennan, representing the Whycocomagh and area, also had issues with the budget.

“District 4 is kind of slammed,” he said, noting there’s currently a livestock issue in his area and he doesn’t see a great deal of council assistance on the matter. “There’s paper work here, there’s [money for] the RCMP and Strait Area Transit, but I can’t see any name here for District 4.”

Councillor Jim Mustard said he’s working hard to get the livestock issue tidied up, but he added that such things take time.

He added that he’d like to make a positive comment on the budget.

“We’ve added all sorts of things that are a response to the needs in our communities, and the commitment from this municipality to support our communities is huge,” Mustard said. “I think our organizations are getting the respect they deserve.”

Council also passed its capital budget last Monday, and the municipality has a two-year plan to make several infrastructure improvements.

For 2019, the municipality will put forward $7,139,840 for the replacement of waste water treatment plants in Whycocomagh ($1,750,000), Mabou ($1,035,394), and Judique ($1 million); upgrades to the Inverness water supply ($750,000); the installation of radio-read water meters ($750,000); and several other projects.

For 2020, a total of $3,992,000 will be spent on projects including the waste water treatment plants in Whycocomagh ($1,750,000) and Judique ($1 million); repairs to the Port Hood Island Wharf ($750,000); and the decommissioning of the Port Hood Wharf (($250,000).