By Craig Westcott/December 9, 2021
CBS Deputy Mayor Andrea Gosse presented her first budget Monday as council’s financial chairperson, a $37.2 million spending blueprint that weighs in at almost the exact same amount as this past year.
And just like the 2021 budget, there will be no increases in residential or commercial mil rates, but the water and sewer connection fee is going up by $25 per household and $5 per student for schools.
Gosse said the hike is necessary to catch up with the increased costs of providing water services, which have gone up by 16 per cent since 2016. The move will net the Town an additional $280,000.
“As the Town continues to grow, more and more water and sewer services are connected each year,” said Gosse, “all of which require regular inspection, maintenance and servicing. As a result, the Town’s cost to provide water and sewer services has increased by $698,000 in just the past six years.”
Largely due to lower property assessments in 2021, which affect the taxes the Town collects on houses and business properties, council found itself short some $1.5 million in this past year’s budget, Gosse said. About a million of that was whittled down by making spending cuts in most departments.
The Town’s finance director, Liz Davis, also implemented a “debt management strategy,” which resulted in the Town saving some $320,000 in the amount it pays to service its debt. That will bring the cost down to $4.9 million in 2022.
The remaining $500,000 from this past year’s shortfall is being rolled into the 2022 budget.
Despite the increased financial pressures on the Town, council will continue to waive, for the third year in a row, all permit fees on new home construction, as well as extensions, decks, fences, sheds and general repairs. That will mean foregoing about $60,000 in revenue.
Council is also banking on an easing of the pandemic next year, which should mean lower operating costs at town facilities. “Eased public health restrictions should also translate to increased revenues from our recreational facilities, which has been incorporated into this budget,” Gosse said.
Council is also hoping to ease the financial pressure in future years by conducting an “in-depth” review in 2022 of its recreation fees, and “ensuring every business pays an equitable share when it comes to commercial and business tax,” Gosse indicated. “The Town will soon undertake an in-depth review of its tax classification structure to ensure each of its nearly 600 businesses are classified properly and equitably.”
As for the recreation fees, Gosse noted there has been little change in them since 2015. “In an effort to be fiscally responsible, we owe it to our taxpayers to take a strategic look at how their tax dollars are subsidizing recreation services,” she said.
Council is also counting on future growth, encouraged by the fact applications for building permits increased by 40 per cent in 2021 compared to the period before the pandemic started. The Town saw 107 new building starts and 40 new businesses in 2021. An uptake in real estate action also resulted in some $100,000 in new revenue as the Town started charging for tax compliance certificates on real estate transactions.
That’s why council is continuing the policy on waiving permit fees for new construction and other residential projects, “to keep the momentum going,” Gosse said.
The Town will also spend almost $1 million on economic development in 2022, Gosse added, an increase of some $135,000. “Our focus is to attract and retain businesses,” Gosse said. “Not only will this create jobs and help provide goods and services essential to a thriving community, but it will grow our tax base, offering further financial assistance to our residents.”
Growing the business base, and by extension commercial tax revenues, is critical.
“Right now, only eight per cent of our town revenue is generated from business tax,” Gosse said.
Council plans to hire a consultant to help market the town as a strategic place to set up industries and will soon unveil a “tactical business attraction video,” Gosse said.
“As part of growing our business portfolio, we will take an enhanced focus on the Gateway development (on Legion Road)” Gosse added. “Our Gateway development is positioned to be a one-stop destination, and the Town will retain external expertise to help market this area for strategic investment. We are making the Gateway a focus of our economic development strategy, however our Town has incredible potential for commercial development and enhanced retail services beyond the Gateway, and we will work with investors to keep our entire community on their radar.”
Meanwhile, council will embark on one of the most aggressive capital spending programs in its history, according to Gosse, planning some $20 million in work. That will include $5.7 million for road work, of which $425,000 will be spent on sidewalks, $2.7 million on paving, and $2.5 million on upgrades to Minerals Road, “the last of the major town-owned roads to be upgraded that connects to Peacekeepers Way to Route 60,” Gosse pointed out. However, that work, she cautioned, is contingent upon the completion of Ocean Choice International’s wharf and infill project at Long Pond Harbour, which is just up the street from Mineral’s Road.
“To further protect against financial strain for our taxpayers, we will continue the 12-month interest-free monthly payment plan,” the deputy mayor said. “In 2021, over 3,400 households and businesses took advantage of this payment option.”
The Low-Income Property Tax Reduction Program, Senior Citizens Property Tax Reduction Program, Seniors Property Tax Incentive Program and business tax incentives will also remain in place.
Other highlights of the budget include:
- $90,000 for traffic calming, “on par with the highest ever budgeted for this service,” Gosse said.
- Town to reduce speed limits to 30 kph in school zones during school operating hours;
- $1.7 million for 24/7 snow and ice control;
- $4.2 million in Fire Protective Services, an increase of $120,000 over 2021;
- $6.9 on water and sewer services, which includes new infrastructure and maintenance;
- $3 million investment towards construction of the new library in Remembrance Square;
- $2.5 million on new accessible playground and park behind Dominion Supermarket in Long Pond;
- $50,000 to better understand and promote opportunities in the renewable energy sector, subject to approval of cost-shared funding from other levels of government;
- a “public engagement process” to decide on amenities and possible locations for a new community centre;
- $10,000 to continue work on securing a route for an ATV Trail leading from the staging area in Seal Cove;
- Town to begin planning for its 50th Anniversary Celebrations in 2023.
“Provided that there are no unforeseen supply chain issues due to Covid-19, the library is expected to be completed in late 2022,” Gosse said, and the “community park splash pad ready for use late this summer, and the ice surface ready for commissioning next winter.”
Gosse said the goal of the budget is to make CBS the “community of choice.”