ARICHAT: Richmond Municipal Council is still without an operating budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year, following two failed motions on the budget itself and a proposed tax reduction at council’s annual general meeting.
With councillor James Goyetche missing the first half of the council meeting, Warden Brian Marchand was unable to bring a majority of the remaining four councillors onside for the budget prepared by the county’s Director of Finance, Jason Martell. This budget document, which proposed the same residential and commercial tax rates levied in Richmond County during the 2016-17 fiscal year, was supported by Marchand and councillor Gilbert Boucher but opposed by Deputy Warden Jason MacLean and councillor Alvin Martell, resulting in a 2-2 tie that rendered the budget motion defeated.
Moments earlier, a motion introduced by Boucher that would have seen each of the residential and commercial rates reduced by three cents failed to receive a seconder, resulting in its immediate defeat and drawing scorn from Martell and MacLean, who each claimed that none of their constituents has approached them with the complaint that tax rates in Richmond County are too high. The current residential rate is 80 cents per $100 of assessment, while the present commercial rate is $2.80 per $100 of assessment.
“I don’t want to speak out [against] people who struggle to pay their taxes – that’s certainly not my intention, and I get that they’re a part of it, but I will not support a tax hike,” MacLean declared.
“If we are saying to the public that we don’t need their money, based on all the people we have had to deny who have come looking for money, not to mention people who are no longer employed here, I think that’s an awful slap in the face.”
Warden Marchand, who had earlier insisted that he would “support nothing but a break” in terms of Richmond County’s tax structure, also drew fire for his proposals to redistribute $255,000 previously earmarked for grants to community organizations and to place more responsibility for the specific awarding of municipal grant money in the hands of county staff before bringing these requests to council for a final vote.
Apologizing for his arrival midway through the council meeting and his absence from the budget-related votes by saying “my old age took over me,” Goyetche suggested that the issues plaguing this year’s municipal budget are not impossible to repair but urged his fellow councillors to address the situation quickly.
“Nothing says that we can’t pinpoint certain items in the budget and make recommendations to rectify them,” Goyetche declared.
“I think we’re in a big mess-up and we have to fix something very important. We have to move forward, and I think we’ve got to do it now, not wait until September.”
Addressing the situation during the meeting’s public address period, Nova Scotia Department of Municipal Affairs (DMA) representative Ron Dauphinee warned that the municipality runs the risk of losing out on such initiatives as the Canada-Nova Scotia Gas Tax Fund and additional provincial grants if it does not submit its final budget estimates before the end of September.
“ It sounds like there’s a bit of information that you might want clarity on where some money has been moved around from, opportunities to ask for information from staff, and there’s opportunities to try to renegotiate and try to find some middle ground so that all councillors can support it,” Dauphinee told the July 4 meeting.
“Alternately, you can revisit it at your next council meeting, or if you feel you have support [to pass the budget], you can call a special meeting of council [at any time].”
Among the municipal spending decisions now in limbo as a result of the Richmond budget’s defeat are an increase in Richmond’s annual contribution to Strait Area Transit (SAT) from $45,000 to $100,000, a payment of $10,000 to the fundraising campaign launched last fall by the St. Martha’s Regional Hospital Foundation, and $5,000 to each of the Strait-Richmond Health Care Foundation and the St. Anne’s Community and Nursing Care Centre Auxiliary Foundation.