Council passed a $17.58-million budget on Monday that sees the residential tax rate held at $1.63 per $100 assessment, while the commercial tax rate is dropping by two cents to $4.43 per $100.
This was accomplished despite a modest increase in residential taxable assessment, a drop in commercial assessment and an increase in mandatory provincial expenditures such as corrections, education and housing.
“Members of council worked as a team, listened to business community and residents and unanimously agreed on a business-friendly approach,” Mayor Dr. David Kogon told council. “Following a comprehensive operations and budget review process, the town is pleased to maintain its residential rate and reduce the commercial tax rate by two cents.”
It’s the first budget for Mayor Kogon and his council that was elected last October.
The mayor said council and senior management participated in a very intense and co-ordinated exercise that allowed it to identify and prioritize the issues. He said reducing the commercial tax rate shows council is listening to the business community, while maintaining the residential rate allows for stability for homeowers, who are also consumers.
CAO Greg Herrett said it wasn’t an easy task to maintain taxes. Residential capped assessment grew by 1.6 per cent, representing $6.3 million in additional assessment that yielded approximately $103,000 in additional revenue over last year.
Commercial assessment dropped by .2 per cent, representing a loss of $9,000 in revenue.
Expenditures will increase by 1.1 per cent, or $198,000, with wages and benefits expected to grow by .2 per cent and a position in engineering and a seasonal public works position have been eliminated by attrition.
Administration costs are down by more than $110,000 due to election costs incurred last year disappearing this year while there have been reductions in travel costs for both council and staff.
Other savings include a new cellular contract and a reduction in promotional costs while councilors will no longer be reimbursed for household Internet costs.
The town is changing the tax reduction policy by increasing the income threshold and increasing the credit available, the fire protection charge the water utility charges the town is increasing by $20,000 (as ordered by the utility and review board) and mandatory contributions to provincial agencies will see a jump of $55,000 in housing and $29,000 in education costs.
Council is spending a projected $235,000 surplus from the last fiscal year on strategic priorities like active transportation, a smart grid pilot project, a marketing refresh, a community energy strategy and an evaluation of the employee pension program.
The $5.75-million capital budget was again prepared with reference to various studies that have been completed including the asset management study, the recreation master plan, the TIR assessment of Amherst’s street infrastructure and the town’s vehicle replacement plan.
Additional long-term debt of $1.3 million is being used to finance assets with a very long useful life – including the Victoria and Station Street projects and a new fire truck.
“It is worth noting that our 10-year operating and capital models continue to indicate, given current assumptions, the long-term financial viability of the town,” Herrett said.
One thing Kogon said council wishes it could have done was provide funding to more community organizations. The town approved $63,950 in community support grants, but Kogon said it would’ve cost an additional $100,000 to fund all the requests the town received.