PORT HOOD: For the first time in 12 years, Inverness County taxes are on the rise.

“Over the last month or six weeks, we had three meetings on budget,” said councillor John MacLennan. “We cut as much as we could, but it was inevitable that we had to raise municipal rates, and that’s all there is to it.

“It’ll be a hit on people, but we had to do what we had to do.”

During last Thursday’s regular monthly meeting, CAO Keith MacDonald and Chief Financial Officer Tanya Tibbo presented the municipality’s general operating budget for the 2019-2020 financial year. The main takeaway is that the residential rate is going up to $1.05 per $100 of Assessment (a three cent increase), the commercial rate will now be $1.91 per $100 of assessment (a six cent increase), and the sewer area rates are also on the rise, except in District 2.

In District 1, the rate will be $0.34 per $100 of Assessment. In Districts 3-6, the rate will be $0.33 per $100 of Assessment. The increase is by three cents in both cases.

Tibbo gave a detailed breakdown of municipal expenditures and revenue for the municipality. For the county to efficiently operate for the 2020 fiscal year, it has to shell out $16,963,900.

Of that amount, $6,705,500 is earmarked for mandatory contributions. Municipalities are legislated to collect for provincial services through property tax. These services include education, RCMP, regional housing, corrections, regional libraries, roads, and property valuation services.

In Inverness County, 54 per cent of every tax dollar is transferred to the province and its subsidiaries.

Other wallet-dingers in the budget included environmental health services ($3,264,600), general government services ($2,602,461), protective services ($1,371,600), environmental development services ($1,146,400), and transportation services ($1,075,850).

The vast majority of the municipality’s revenue comes from taxes. For the 2020 fiscal year, $15,050,700 will be raised in Inverness County through property taxes and payments in lieu of taxes. The rest of the money comes from sources like grants in lieu of taxes and transfers from other governments.

Tibbo gave some numbers regarding how, on average, the increases will affect the tax payer. In Inverness County, the average property assessment for residential property is $80,100. Such a property would see an increase of $24.60 (for property tax) and an increase of $24.03 (for the sewer area rate).

On the commercial side, the average assessment for commercial property is $136,100. That means such a property will see an increase of $81.89 (for property tax) and $40.83 (for the sewer area rate).

Tibbo noted that despite the increase, Inverness County is still beneath the provincial average in terms of the residential tax effort indicator, which measures the average property tax burden per household in the municipality. Inverness County has a 2020 average of 1.76 per cent, whereas the rural municipal average is 2.04 per cent.

She ended her presentation by noting the municipality is offering $338,534 worth of charitable tax exemptions.

CAO MacDonald noted there were many factors that went into budgeting this year that weren’t in the municipality’s control. For one thing, the county will be losing out on approximately $245,000 in additional tax revenue due to Bill 99 from the provincial government. The bill requires Nova Scotian municipalities to tax short-term rentals at residential property tax rates. Previously, the properties were taxed at a commercial rate, determined by the Property Valuation Services Corporation of Nova Scotia.

Another major issue, MacDonald pointed out, is that the municipality recently identified over $103 million in necessary water and wastewater infrastructure repairs and replacements that have to happen over the next 10 years. Other new costs to the municipality can be attributed to increased expenditures for the health and safety of employees as well as ensuring that the municipality complies with provincial and federal legislation.

These needs were identified during the organizational review completed in 2018 by the consulting firm Davis Pier.

Other services for which the municipality palms the bill, like the RCMP and education supports, have been steadily rising since 2009, MacDonald pointed out. The cost of policing has increased 41 per cent and education support has risen 44 per cent.

Council moved to accept the budget and the tax increases.

“The reason that I agree with the increase is due to the hard work of our CAO, our new staff, our existing staff, guiding us in directions that I haven’t seen in recent years,” said deputy warden Alfred Poirier. “It is an increase that looks into the future: it helps us maintain what we have and provide services for people.”

Warden Betty Ann MacQuarrie said she congratulated council and staff for working so diligently on the budget.

“It was difficult, but we hope it will be a good fit for the years ahead,” she said. “We hope to make this a municipality that runs efficiently and safely.”

Councillors John Dowling and John MacLennan also tipped their hat to the work done by staff and their colleagues on council in preparing the budget. Councillor Mustard said the comments made by the other councillors summarized his feelings. Councillor Laurie Cranton was attending via telephone, and his connection failed before he could offer a comment.