AMHERST – Despite increasing costs, Amherst is lowering taxes.
Amherst council passed its 2012-13 budget during a special meeting here Wednesday that includes a one cent reduction in its residential tax rate to $1.66 per $100 taxable assessment, while its commercial tax rate is dropping by five cents to $4.55 per $100 assessment.
Amherst is also eliminating its downtown area rate for this year.
“When we started down the budget path this year, we did so with a hold the line state of mind. However, a meeting with the downtown business community just last week convinced us to pause and reflect on the significant challenges that that group, that all businesses for that matter, are facing in these rough economic times,” Mayor Robert Small said.
“The message to us was loud and clear, they need some relief, any relief from taxes. With that in mind, the budget as proposed features the reduction, for this year, of the downtown area rate to zero, as well as the reduction of the commercial tax rate.”
While the reduction in the residential rate isn’t much, the mayor said, it’s a start and recognizes the challenges taxpayers face. It also reflects the additional cost the town is placing on users of the sewer system with the increased costs of operating the new wastewater treatment facility slated for opening later in the spring.
Taxpayers are seeing an 18 per cent increase in sewer charges with residential rates rising to 99 cents per cubic metre of water consumption and 49 cents per cubic metre for commercial users.
The solid waste management uniform charge is staying at $174 per dwelling unit.
“When we embarked down the path of achieving our strategic objectives, we added a penny to the rate to partially fund those activities,” the mayor said. “This modest reduction comes as we wind down the work on these objectives, which we have largely achieved.”
CAO Greg Herrett said residential capped assessment grew by 5.6 per cent this year, representing an $18.5-million increase, yielding $300,000 in additional tax revenue. With 73 per cent of its residential accounts eligible for the assessment cap, the town is seeing some growth in residential assessment.
“Suffice it to say though, the cap program remains a challenge to all municipal units in Nova Scotia,” Herrett said.
Commercial assessment is down by 2.2 per cent, mainly because of successful appeals.
Herrett said the budget includes a 1.7 per cent increase in expenditures. Wages and benefits are expected to rise by 3.4 per cent as cost of living increases for both unionized and non-unionized employees take effect.
The town is also seeing increased costs because of the elimination of the provincial Memorandum of Understanding relating to housing, education and corrections. Amherst’s contributions are increasing by about a quarter of a million dollars.
Council also approved a $6.4-million capital budget that continues several strategic priorities in the downtown ($1.04 million), building improvements ($919,040) – including the Dominion Building and properties at 10 Princess St. and 85 Church St., streets ($482,400) and sanitary sewer – including completion of the wastewater treatment plant ($3.3 million).