Guysborough raises taxes, projects deficits

GUYSBOROUGH: Taxes are going up in the municipality.

Last week following a 6-2 vote, council for the Municipality of the District of Guysborough adopted its budget and tax rates for the 2018-2019 fiscal year. The recent iteration of the municipality’s budget saw the residential tax rate go from $0.61 per $100 of assessment to $0.66 cents, while the commercial tax rate rose by a similar amount, going from $2.58 per $100 of assessment for $2.63.

The tax hikes are in part due to the municipality projecting deficits for the next five years. For 2018-2019, there was a projected deficit of $738,398. The deficit is projected to rise for the next four years, jumping to $1.3 million in 2019-2020, around $2.8 million in 2020-2021, $3.15 million in 2021-2022, and around $3.4 million in 2022-2023.

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Guysborough CAO Barry Carroll said a major reason the deficits are going up is because the Sable offshore energy project is decommissioning.

“As a result, we’re starting to lose revenue from the offshore gas assets,” said Carroll. “We’ve lost over $1 million of [gas revenue] to date as it’s steadily going to decline in the next few years. If we did nothing, we were facing [a deficit of] $738,398. If we did nothing each year [the listed deficits] are the types of deficits we’d be facing each year.

“We’re hoping that one of our projects is going to come along and things can change but all of our projects are in the development phase,” noted Carroll. “They haven’t got a final investment decision made so we’ve got to plan for the worst. That’s basically what we’re doing.”

Carroll said council developed a five year budget in which they are trying to minimize the impact on residents, while maintaining services. He said if nothing changes on the project development front, the municipality will have to cut expenditures.

“We’re trying at the outset a combination of a little bit more revenue generation, cutting more expenses… but you can’t keep increasing the taxes year in and year out for the next five years,” he said. “We’ve already absorbed $1 million internally in cuts based on revenue loss to the gas industry in the last five years. We’re absorbing more cuts this year, so we’re getting pretty lean on our budget but we’re going to have to get leaner dealing with the numbers that we’re facing unless something changes.”

Even with the increases, Warden Vernon Pitts said the residential rate remains the lowest of its kind in the province. He said raising the taxes is a way for the municipality to get in front of the issue.

“People must remember that we as councillors also pay taxes and I don’t like my taxes going up anymore than anyone else,” he said. “It’s the cost of doing business. It’s either increase the rates or cut services, cut staff, cut programs and council was not open to that.”

Pitts said council made cuts to recreation grants and they cut grants to community groups by 25 per cent, with a similar cut to councillor stipends.

“It’s not a real painful or bloody budget,” he said. “I think it’s the lesser of two evils. I think this is the way to go. I’m not forecasting doom and gloom but we’re faced with a bit of a deficit this year and this is council’s way of trying to overcome that.”

When asked if people will raise concerns with the Chedabucto Lifestyle Complex coming online this year in face of projected deficits, Pitts said one has no bearing on the other.

The budget included an additional local services rate of $1.51 for residential and $1.34 for commercial to be applied in Canso, which is the same as previous years.

Canso area councillor Fin Armsworthy, one of the nay votes on the budget, said he was disappointed with the document.

“We’ve been waiting for a break tax-wise for five years,” said Armsworthy. “There’s been three different studies done and every time we go back to the table, it’s never there. This is just another five cents on it and people are feeling it. They don’t know which way to turn anymore.”

Armsworthy said he was hoping to see the taxes at least stay the same.

“I think council should be a little bit softer to the Canso [area],” Armsworthy said, adding people are not happy with the local services rate.