AMHERST – Balancing the budget without raising taxes is becoming more of a challenge for Amherst.
Despite increasing costs due to inflation and other factors, and a relatively flat assessment base, Amherst council delivered at $17.5-million budget Wednesday that includes $2.98 million in capital spending and a slight increase in the residential and commercial tax rates.
“I feel extremely optimistic about the next year for the Town of Amherst,” Mayor David Kogon said during a special meeting of council. “This budget allows the town to complete necessary infrastructure projects while minimizing tax increases. The town is fortunate to be able to continue to deliver the level of services provided while minimizing tax increases even while the expenses of the town continue to be impacted by inflation on items like wages, energy costs and more.”
The new residential tax rate is $1.635 per $100 of assessment, up from $1.63. The commercial rate is $4.435 per $100 of assessment, up from $4.43. The small increase comes a year after council held the residential tax rate and decreased the commercial tax rate by two cents.
The increase allows council to commit more funds for its community support grants while it also supports changes to the tax exemption bylaw and its tax reduction policy.
Because of this commitment, the community support area rate – included in the overall tax rate – is going up half a cent to 6.5 cents per $100.
Amherst CAO Greg Herrett said the town modelled the change based on the average residential assessment for Amherst residents, which was $103,814 in 2017-18 and $103,873 in 2018-19. “The increase is a total of $36.16 per household annually,” Herrett said. “That’s less than 10 cents per day.”
Herrett told council is facing growing pressure on its budget.
“It is worth noting that our 10-year operating and capital models indicate that there are ongoing pressures expected on costs and revenues, and that Amherst needs to continue to be vigilant in ensuring the long-term viability of the town,” Herrett said, adding it’s a situation faced by many towns outside Halifax.
Tax rates also include the mandatory provincial contribution for education, correction services, housing and property assessment services. That was set at 39 cents per $100 of assessment in February.
The budget also raises the deed transfer tax to 1.25 per cent of the purchase price from one per cent. This money is being earmarked for one of council’s strategic priorities – the reduction of poverty. It’s estimated this measure, that goes into effect July 1, will raise approximately $50,000.
A revision to the town’s Tax Reduction Policy should also assist those whose household incomes are $25,000 or less. Council has eliminated the various tiers in the policy. As a result, each household that qualifies will receive a $450 credit on their taxes.
Amherst’s operating budget experienced a 0.3 per cent decrease, mainly because of the removal of the CRDA wind-up costs from last year. The highest percentage in costs can be attributed to policing services, which are 24 per cent of the town’s total expenditures.
Council has budgeted $6.1 million in its water and general capital budgets to continue maintaining and upgrading the town’s infrastructure and equipment. Among them is a $225,000 investment in the first phase of the town’s five-year active transportation strategy.
Amherst is investing $2.3 million in upgrades to Willow Street between Spring Street and the ARHS and $805,000 to improve the section of East Pleasant Street between Church Street and Central Avenue.
The town has budgeted $340,000 for upgrades to streets and sidewalks in other parts of the town and as a result of the 2019 Fred Page Cup it is budgeting $222,000 in the Amherst Stadium for a new sound system, new dehumidifiers, reconditioning the ice plant, fixing the rink boards and upgrading the Wi Fi.
The Amherst Water Utilities’ $2.1-million budget was also approved by council. It’s up 6.1 per cent from the previous year.