Top News

EDITORIAL: Is it time for Amherst to consider lower taxes?

Seven years ago, during the 2012 municipal election campaign, a candidate questioned why the town continued to enjoy successive surpluses in its budget instead of softening the tax burden on its residents and business owners.

At the time, the candidate said $700,000 in surpluses over two years appeared high. It was suggested the town should look to have a small surplus that gives staff wiggle room in their departments, but large surpluses are an indication that perhaps taxes are too high.

During the September meeting of council on Sept. 23, the audited financial statements from Jorgensen and Bickerton indicated Amherst finished the 2018-19 fiscal year with a general operating surplus of $369,068.

There was a surplus in 2017-18 and one in 2016-17. In fact, it’s a very familiar story over the last several years and it indicates the town is very frugal in how it spends taxpayer money. It’s money supports Amherst’s already healthy reserves and helps – among other things – to fund major projects without the need to take on additional debt.

It’s a position many other municipalities would love to be in.

However, as much as our elected officials and municipal leadership are doing a fantastic job of managing our finances, there have been – at times –loud calls from the business community for some form of tax relief.

Businesses, especially in the industrial park and along South Albion Street and Robert Angus Drive have frequently asked the town to do something to reduce the commercial taxes they pay. It’s part of the cost of doing business, but considering how many people these businesses employ and the amount of money they generate in the community, some business owners feel they are paying more than their fair share.

In fairness, Amherst’s residential and commercial tax rates are comparable to other similar-sized towns in Nova Scotia – even if some think their tax burden is higher than others.

Several years ago, during the former administration of Robert Small, Amherst’s leadership, including council and staff, completed a number of 10-year plans that looked at where the town is heading. Financially, the warning was sent that with an aging and declining population the town runs the risk of seeing its financial picture become more troubling if it’s not careful in how it handles budgets in the coming years.

Still, considering Amherst has had a series of surpluses over several years it would only make sense for the town to strongly consider whether the time is now to take a look at its operations and determine if the time may be ripe for some form of tax relief, while balancing that against those 10-year projections to determine if it’s a realistic plan.

In no way are we being critical of the work of successive councils and the administration in managing the town’s budget because it wasn’t that long ago, in the mid-1990s, when Amherst’s financial picture was a catastrophe. However, as we look for ways to encourage more people to consider Amherst as a place to live, work and play, lowering the tax rate – without placing the town in financial jeopardy – may be a strategy that should at least be studied.

While Amherst is not allowed under the Municipal Government Act to give tax rebates to attract residents or businesses, there’s nothing that says it can’t lower taxes across the board to do just that. It may be a pipedream, and unrealistic, but it might be something that gives Amherst an edge over other towns.

Recent Stories