At a special meeting last Wednesday, council approved the 2021 operating budget of $37,327,452, including an operating levy of $13,126,772, and a capital budget of $10,404,287.
It took them almost five hours to get there, accepting the audit and finance committee recommendations with very few changes, and those ended up to revenue-neutral. The levy remained as recommended at a 2.12 per cent increase, or $440,621. For the average homeowner with an assessment of $533,482, this is an increase of about $29.67 on their annual tax bill, and for those who are charged the storm levy, an extra $3.25 on top of that.
Referred from an earlier council meeting was a discussion about a heritage tax rebate, based on an in-depth presentation by Robin Ridesic, owner of The Exchange Brewery, in a heritage building on Queen Street, and a heritage home on Prideaux Street.
Ridesic gave councillors a detailed account of money being left on the table, going back many years, from the province, and possibly from the region as well, which has an option to contribute.
The audit committee had not recommended the inclusion of a heritage tax rebate, instead adding $25,000 more to the existing grant program to allow for building facade maintenance.
Although there were details to be worked out, Coun. Erwin Wiens was the only one against the rebate being included in the 2021 budget, opposed to having a major decision “put together on the fly tonight,” in response to a request made just a few days before.
“I don’t think it’s responsible to develop something tonight, when we don’t know the cost of it. We’re flying by the seat of our pants.”
He also objected to it being partially funded by parking funds, “when nobody is coming. I don’t think staff or council know where we’re going with this. I’m not against the heritage tax, but the process here is incredibly flawed. I have grave concern about how this was developed in such a short time”
But for the first time, after decades of discussion, this council has said yes to the rebate, agreeing to moving $50,000 in the budget to finance it, including moving the $25,000 facade grant and adding another $25,000 from parking revenue.
Once the details are worked out, including which properties are eligible and the percentage of the rebate, which can be up to 40 per cent, the province will kick in a greater amount, based on the town’s contribution.
A motion by Coun. Clare Cameron to reduce the discretionary grants from a total of $100,000 to zero was approved, with Coun. Gary Burroughs and Coun. Wendy Cheropita opposed.
For a short YouTube video explaining the town’s budget, visit https:/www.youtube.comwatchv=O619Ba0l5jk&feature=youtu.be