Amherst delivers ‘steady as she goes budget’

Darrell Cole
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Residential, commercial tax rates being maintained

It's going to cost a little more to own property in Amherst after council brought down its 2014-15 budget.

Amherst taxpayers will pay just a little more for property after the town brought down its 2014-15 budget on Wednesday. The residential and commercial tax rates are staying the same, but a small increase in capped residential assessment and an increase in the uniform wastewater treatment facility charge will result in the owner of a $100,000 property paying $73.81 more this year.

AMHERST – Owning a home or business in Amherst is going to cost slightly more this year.

While Amherst is holding the line on both its municipal and commercial tax rates, a .9 per cent increase in the taxable assessment and  $44 jump in the uniform wastewater treatment facilty charge to cover the cost of the $13-million sewage treatment plant will result in a higher tax bill.

Amherst passed a $17.1-million budget at a special meeting on Wednesday that maintains the residential tax rate at $1.63 per $100 assessment and the commercial rate at $4.45 per $100 assessment.

“So while the tax rates are staying the same, it would not be correct to stay that the cheque that the average homeowner has to write is not increasing,” Mayor Robert Small said. “The increase in the capped assessment of .9 per cent will cost the owner of a $100,000 property $14.67 this year. Combined with an increase of $44 for the wastewater treatment facility and a water rate increase, as ordered by the utility and review board of approximately $15, will mean that it will cost the owner of that property, on average, $73.81 more than last year.”

The mayor said the town seriously considered reducing the residential tax rate to absorb the $14.67 per residential account increase, but knowing there are some future cost pressures coming in both the operations and capital budgets council decided against doing so.

However, he said, council has directed CAO Greg Herrett to provide a report on where the town may find “significant, sustainable, long-term savings while balancing our service provision expectations.”

Town councilor Robert Bird, who cast the lone vote against the budget, said later that he could not support the budget because it does nothing to lower the tax burden on property owners.

He said the town’s budget has increased by 3.8 per cent, even though the consumer price index is only up by 1.2 per cent. He feels taxpayers aren’t getting the bang for their buck and suggested council needs to do a better job controlling expenses and softening the tax burden.

Herrett said the town’s residential capped assessment grew by 2.3 per cent, representing an $8.3 million increase in assessment, yielding approximately $135,000 more in residential rates. However, for properties eligble for the assessment cap (more than 80 per cent of the town’s residential properties) the increase in taxable assessment was only .9 per cent.

Commercial assessment increased by two per cent, but subsequent successful commercial assessment appeals have moved that initial modest gain into negative territory.

He said the increase in the uniform charge for the wastewater treatment plant is necessary to fund debt service costs of approximately $291,000 related to that facility.

Herrett said expenditure increases have been limited to $237,000, or 1.4 per cent. Wages and benefits, he said, are forecast to increase by three per cent, or $235,000.

Capital from revenue spending is steady at $530,000.

“This strategy of paying cash for all but the largest projects has served us well as mentioned last week in our discussion of the province’s financial condition indicators,” Herrett said. “In fact, even after accounting for the additional debt this year, our debt service ratio stands at a very healthy 7.56 per cent.”

As well, transfers to provincial agencies and departments for housing, education, corrections, assessments and libraries is up slightly and continues to be an expensive line item at $2 million.

“There are many other offsetting increases and decreases to many revenue and expenditure lines. With rising costs and relatively flat assessments and rate decreases, this was very much a steady as she goes budget,” Herrett said.

Compared to other similar-sized municipal units like Truro, New Glasgow, Bridgewater, Yarmouth or the Municipality of Cumberland, Herrett said the town is in the middle of the pack in residential tax burden while it’s near the bottom in terms of commercial tax burden.

As part of its budget, the town is also giving a 1.2 per cent cost of living salary increase to non-unionized employees as well as members of council, while home owners with a total household income of less than $16,728 are eligible for a tax exemption of up to $241.08. The due date has been moved to Sept. 30 from July 31.

Council also formalized its $5.8-million capital budget, awarded a $572,293 tender to reconstruct Eddy Street and committed up to $200,000 to repave South Albion Street from Pleasant Street to the town boundary.

Twitter: @ADNdarrell

Geographic location: Amherst, New Glasgow, Yarmouth Cumberland Eddy Street South Albion Street Pleasant Street

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Recent comments

  • Jack on the Rocks
    May 01, 2014 - 11:40

    Sounds to me like we are going to have quite a race for Mayor on our hands when Yoda,Jim G and Ej throw their hats in the ring...Seeming as they know how to run the town...

  • Ej
    May 01, 2014 - 07:01

    I can't wait to go out of business like Springhill. Our population hasn't increased in40 years but our police force and town hall employee number has gone by 400% to 500%. We need a mayor that understands we are a small town and not a city.

  • Jim G.
    May 01, 2014 - 02:07

    After reviewing the article it becomes apparent that the budgeting process is complicated and has details beyond what most of us can interpret. If you want to get to the bottom line read councilor Bird's comment about the overall budget increasing by 3.8% which is quite large. The only way that the average owner will not pay 3.8% more is if the town grows which is not the case. The water treatment plant amounts quoted in dollars with the rest of the budget quoted in percent makes it confusing but because it is a flat increase it is correct. The increase in salaries at 3% is a bit generous especially if the cpi is 1.2. Nonunion salary increase of 1.2% is modest but matches cpi so the people are at least keeping up with inflation. Is there an explanation for a 3% salary increase to be in place? The budget should increase between 1.2 and 2%. When and if the economy booms than it would be appropriate to have a 3.8% increase.

  • Yoda
    April 30, 2014 - 16:17 bucko's... lets keep 'er steady as she goes!! Lets get this ship a shipshape and sailin' all over town. Even though we're in good financial shape let's get out there and doing more plundering by trimming some of the taxpayers sails so we can get a bit more of their golden bootie! Maybe we can build some more elf condo's or hire more police!