Tax rates stay the same in Inverness County

PORT HOOD: Despite higher costs in a number of areas, Inverness County has maintained tax rates.

During its regular monthly meeting on June 3, Inverness Municipal Council approved a residential tax rate of $1.05 per $100 of assessment, a commercial rate of $1.91, a resource rate of $1.05 and a Forest Property Tax Rate of $0.25 per acre.

To offset a budget deficit, the municipality used $374,000 from last year’s surplus, finance director Tanya Tibbo said.

“We are using part of our prior year’s surplus to balance the budget,” Tibbo told council.

She said 85 per cent of the revenue generated by the municipality is from property taxes, which gives little room to generate more revenue.

Tibbo told council “several” budget meeting were held over the last two months, they’ve met with organizations about their funding requests, and staff has reviewed past budgets.

Tibbo said the total general operating budget is $19,041,550, and highlights include several staff additions like a bylaw enforcement officer, an accessibility coordinator, an engineer, a seniors’ advocate, as well as part-time employees on contract.

There is more money for volunteer departments, Tibbo explained, noting that departments which receive less than a $50,000 area rate levy, will see an increase in their operating grant of 50 per cent, while departments that generate more than $50,000 in the area rate levy, will get an increase of 10 per cent.

The emergency measures budget was increased by $60,000, Tibbo said, recalling that last year the municipality was able to help in the purchase generators for two volunteer fire departments.

A $15,000 annual operating grant for The Gaelic College was added.

The municipality reinstated Deferred Community Development Grants, to allow additional funding within municipal districts for community groups.

“Two years ago, we had cut that out in order to balance the budget and council made a decision to bring it back in this operating budget,” Tibbo said.

There will be grants provided to Sacred Heart in Chéticamp and Inverness Memorial Consolidated Hospital again this year.

There is also an allocation for smaller capital projects or purchases, such as new sewer services, or smaller tools and equipment, Tibbo said.

The finance director said residential assessment did not change much over the past year in all municipal districts.

As far as money coming in, under services provided to other governments, there was an increase in revenue from leachate purchased from the Port Hastings wastewater treatment plant and the We’koqma’q First Nation solid waste and wastewater services. Revenue from metals, beverage containers, tipping fees, recreation programs, and tax sales amounts to $417,755, Tibbo said.

The municipality budgeted $343,800 for revenue from interest on property taxes, interest from operating bank accounts and rental income, Tibbo noted.

Tibbo said conditional transfers from other governments are grants to the municipality with no stipulations attached – such as the equalization, and farm property grants, as well as grants not for a specific project (health and wellness, literacy) – saw an increase from $278,000 to $520,300 this year.

Tibbo said $1,769,000 was budgeted this year for protective services, which entails fire department operating grants and emergency measures grants.

Recreation and cultural services, also increased to $1,050,000 this year from $920,900, she noted.

Tibbo said mandatory contributions – which involve six payments to six entities including the RCMP ($2,737,400) and SAERC ($3,490,000) – increased from $6.9 million last year to $7,116,100 this year.

Environmental health services, including solid waste management, the transfer station, recycling facility and wastewater services went up from $920,900 last year to $1,190,650 this year.

Inverness County is increasing the area rate for property service by the municipality’s wastewater system, the finance director said.

“Whatever we budgeted in the budget for wastewater expenses is directly offset by the area rate that we’ll be levying to users of those services,” Tibbo explained.

Tibbo also told council that wastewater area rates have increased due to “increased maintenance requirements” in wastewater facilities and related assets. In district 1, she said the rate is going to be $0.374, and in districts 3-6 the area rate will be $0.363.

Tibbo said the water utility operating budget recorded a deficit of $182,323, which was partially offset by a contribution of $56,445.15 from Gas Tax Funds to 2021 water capital operating expenses.

“Unlike the general operating fund, council is able to budget for a deficit,” she explained. “There’s very little fluctuation in the revenue brought in by the utility as the rates are regulated by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board. So it really is based on the usage of the water.”

The municipality’s 2021-2022 budget was approved unanimously by council.