ARICHAT: The councillor for district 5 voted against the proposed Area Rates, as well as the municipality’s budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
During a special video conference meeting of Richmond Municipal Council tonight, Director of Finance Jason Martell told council they have to approve the Five-Year Capital Investment Plan to receive Federal Gas Tax funds.
Martell said the plan has been sent to the provincial and federal governments and includes refrigeration plant and accessibility upgrades to the Richmond Arena, the replacement of the Arichat-Petit de Grat sewer treatment plants, as well as upgrades to the Arichat-Petit de Grat water treatment plant.
While that part of the budget passed unanimously, that was not the case when it came to Area Rates.
Martell explained that the rates were calculated separately so they could be voted upon separately by council. This includes the fire department rates and community levies.
The rates stayed the same from last year, Martell confirmed, noting the only change was that the Louisdale sidewalk levy was changed to zero.
District 4 councillor Gilbert Boucher raised the issue of different Area Rates in his district where some residents are being charged 9 cents, and others 10 cents. He voted to approve the budget but wants to revisit this issue.
“I want to clear up the difference in the rates in St. Peter’s and surrounding areas,” Boucher said. “I don’t think it’s fair to the people who are paying 10 cents versus the 9 cents.”
Martell responded they are waiting to receive an annual report from the St. Peter’s Volunteer Fire Department to verify their coverage area but he noted that some parts of River Bourgeois were being served by the fire department in Grand Anse.
“If the fire departments or someone is able to provide the finance department with what the boundaries are, or who’s responsible to respond to a particular account… if we can determine that, I believe we can change that rate ourselves post approval of the budget,” Martell explained. “We have to determine what the service areas are of St. Peter’s versus other areas. We have the ability to change individual accounts as long as we can prove that St. Peter’s is responding versus Louisdale, for example.”
The Area Rates for volunteer fire departments are as follows: St. Peter’s 9 cents; West Bay Road 10 cents; L’Ardoise 16 cents; Grand River 15 cents; Loch Lomond 15 cents; Louisdale 10 cents; Framboise-Forchu 15 cents; and Isle Madame 11 cents. Existing Area Rates include: District 10 fire 15 cents; Louisdale sidewalks zero; former District 2 community rate four cents; former district 4 community rate 1 cent; and the St. Peter’s village rate will be set by July 31.
District 5 councillor Jason MacLean told council he will not support the Area Rates or the final budget.
“We went through this process last year where there was one area rate that was dropped down from 10 cents to 5 cents, and this budget has us eliminating an area rate altogether,” MacLean said. “When that happened, there was no discussion. There’s still the former district 4, there’s still the former district 2 that still have area rates. There’s been no discussion as to eliminating those so I’m not sure why one was picked over the others.
“You can’t tell somebody that we no longer have the tax revenue that we once had, and therefore have to eliminate some services, and then say it’s okay for one district to pay off someone else’s Area Rate.”
Despite MacLean’s nay vote, the Area Rates were approved by council.
On the subject of the final budget for the term ending March 31, 2021, Martell said the closure and dismantling of the Exxon Mobil plant in Point Tupper cost the municipality approximately $380,000 in commercial revenues.
“We have seen normal increases in residential and resource but unfortunately, a decrease in commercial tax,” Martell reported. “And this is part 2 of a hit we’ve taken, last year and this year again.”
Although the effects from the COVID-19 pandemic remain unknown right now, Martell said municipal staff and council were able to keep operating costs as low as possible by practicing careful spending, and making “smart” decisions like putting extra money on the municipality’s pension deficit.
“This budget contains no tax rate increases of residential, resource or commercial, and no transfers from or to operating reserves,” Martell said. “We made some adjustments due to the pandemic, but of course there are a lot of unknowns in regards to that.”
Martell added the $13,769,100 budget maintains the residential tax rate at 80 cents and the commercial rate at $2.10. There will also be 18 per cent interest charged on unpaid taxes, and the deadline is September 30, after which warrants can be issued for unpaid tax bills.
The budget was approved by council, with MacLean as the lone vote against.