Budget behind schedule in Antigonish County

ANTIGONISH: Budget deliberations in Antigonish County are behind approximately three weeks, due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, according to their warden.

Owen McCarron suggested that means they haven’t made a decision yet on their tax rates, however, council doesn’t want to burden ratepayers to cover any potential shortfall. He expects council will strike a tax rate and table their budget by the third week of June.

Following their regular municipal council meeting May 11, McCarron highlighted one of the first things senior staff will be doing is reviewing their community grants – and then they’ll continue to build other pieces into their annual budget.

“We certainly are anticipating there will be less, and when we sit down, we’ll take that deep dive and understand exactly where traditional grants that we’ve offered won’t be utilized,” he said. “Certainly at this point, just due to the cancellation of fairly substantial events, we think there is going to be less pressure on community grants.”

The municipality right now, McCarron said, is looking at ways to maintain their current rate without any changes, but noted they wouldn’t totally know the impact to the municipality and their ratepayers until collections start.

“We don’t really know the impact COVID-19 is going to have, so therefore we’ll look at different options as we start to get into that,” he said. “But the first step is getting a tax rate struck and [then] see where we go from there.”

Speaking with their colleagues from across the province, some areas are talking about a potential 30 per cent reduction in collections, and McCarron indicated for Antigonish County, that 30 per cent equals approximately $4 million.

“There has been a lot of stimulus money out into the economy by the federal government; it’s hard until you actually start receiving collections,” he said. “We won’t really know until we get into about a month or two into the program.”

As for the recently announced low-interest municipal loan program, McCarron said it gives the county some flexibility with regards to timing.

“Once we get our tax bills out and start to see how collections are coming in, that will probably guide what way we’ll approach that type of a program,” he said. “And we’re looking at different options, the province is one. We’re looking at some other options internally, if need be.”