The Region of Queens Municipality (RQM) has approved modest residential and commercial tax increases to help fund new spending initiatives.
The 2018/19 operating budget, adopted by council Apr. 24, includes a two-cent tax hike for every $100 in assessed property value. That translates into a $30 annual increase for homes and businesses with assessed values of $150,000.
Increased property taxes are expected to add $177,400 to municipal coffers and help RQM realize a razor-thin operating surplus of $1,315.
Solid waste contracts are projected to generate $197,102 in additional revenue compared to last year. And the use of $135,000 in special operating reserve funds, set aside for specific projects, will also boost the municipality's spending power.
Total operating revenues in 2018/19 are expected to be $19,782,092, nearly $500,000 more than last year.
Raising taxes to pay for investments
"This budget is about investments that are important to our residents to foster growth in our economy and population," Mayor David Dagley said in his budget address. "An increase in the tax rate is required to pay for these investments."
Operating expenses are projected to be $19,780,777, an increase of $498,190.
More than $1.6 million is dedicated to water and sewer projects in Liverpool and Brooklyn. Budget documents indicate the municipality will "replace all water and sewer lines on Union Street, Liverpool (from Main St. to Church St.) and Mill Lane."
It will also "continue expansion of (the) sewer and water system in Brooklyn from Markland Avenue to Brooklyn Waterfront Park."
Education expenses will grow to $2,812,574, an increase of $44,743. Policing costs will rise by $26,435 to $2,059,900.
The budget sets aside $100,000 for the provincially mandated review of RQM's municipal planning strategy and land-use bylaws. An additional $50,000 to $100,000 will be required to complete the process next fiscal year, Dagley said.
The municipality has earmarked $75,000 for the completion of an independent engineering assessment of the Liverpool waterfront. The goal of the project is to eliminate – or at least reduce – ongoing flooding issues affecting nearby parks, parking lots and businesses.
Branding and beautification
The budget commits $50,000 for a municipal branding initiative that will include public consultations and the hiring of external consultants. "Currently, there are many brands, slogans and signage differences throughout Queens," Dagley told council. "These are confusing not only for visitors, but for our own community. We must do better."
District 5 councillor Jack Fancy took issue with the project's price tag and cast the lone vote against it. "To spend $50,000 on it, I can't agree with that," he said. "We don't really have a plan."
Fancy said the budgeted amount for the branding project likely represents the "tip of the iceberg" in terms of actual costs. A variety of municipal signs, printed materials and other items bearing RQM's current branding will need to be replaced, he said.
Deputy Mayor Susan MacLeod defended the initiative and the funding attached to it. "I really feel that we need to start doing something," she said.
District 7 councillor Gil Johnson also addressed the branding issue. He said the $50,000 does not represent "a blank cheque" because specific expenditures under the program will still require council's approval.
The budget allocates another $50,000 for a "facade program" in Liverpool and Caledonia. Dagley hopes the provincial government will contribute to the beautification initiative, which he said will "brighten up" both vacant and occupied storefronts.
Queens Place still 'a financial struggle'
While council and staff were able to reduce some costs associated with operating Queens Place Emera Centre, Dagley said it "continues to be a financial struggle."
"I do believe the deficit at the (Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre) is approaching $1 million," he told reporters after council approved the budget. "We're almost half of that. We're providing an excellent service to residents of the Region of Queens."
RQM is anticipating Queens Place will generate less revenue this year. For example, the budget predicts a $45,000 drop in ice rentals despite a two per cent increase in fees. Fitness memberships are expected to be down by $12,500.
More money for conferences and training
Councillors' pay and benefits will remain the same, but there will be more money available for them to attend conferences and training sessions. "One of council's commitments this year is to begin to reinvest in itself," said Dagley.
According to budget documents, the allocation of $35,673 will "provide opportunities for members of council to attend local, regional and national meetings and conferences to learn about programs, services, infrastructure and governance."
Nearly $60,000 is set aside for municipal staff to participate in training and professional development opportunities.