Pictou council looks for budget savings in taxes, fire and property

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PICTOU –  Rising costs combined with increased downloading from the provincial government has Pictou town council pulling its apron strings a little tighter.

In a mid-morning budget deliberations meeting Friday,  councillors zeroed in on four areas that may need to be tweaked in the 2014-2015 budget.

These areas include mandatory contributions to such provincial services such as justice, education and house, the future of the CN Station, fees for garbage collection and the high cost of fire protection in the town.

Pictou CAO Scott Conrod took councilors through each item step by step yesterday, asking for direction on how it wanted to proceed in the new fiscal year.

He told councilors the town is facing a 12 per cent increase in its mandatory contributions which are payments made for such services as the library, school board, justice, housing and assessment services.

These costs ring in at a little over $800,000, but the town will receive some grant funding of about $560,000 to offset the total bill, he said.  The end result will mean that taxpayers will be on the hook for paying more than $240,000 this coming fiscal year, which is a 12 per cent increase over the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

“We have no control over it,” said Pictou Mayor Joe Hawes. “ We are told what we have to pay for these services.”

Conrod pointed out to councillors that one way to put revenue back into the budget would be to start charging exempted properties fire hydrant rental fees.

In 2013, hydrant rentals cost the town $167,000, but if tax- exempt property owners are now forced to pay the charge, it could net the Shiretown close to $10,000 in revenue.

Conrod said he checked with other municipalities in the province and said some of them make all tax-exempt buildings pay, while others exclude churches from the list.

He said the only buildings that must still be exempt under the policy are those owned by the Queen or province. Instead of there being a charge worked into the tax bill amount, residents and property owners would see a rental fee listed on their bill for hydrants.   

“At the end of the day, residents will be paying the same amount of money, but the budget will increase by $9,000,” he said.

Councillors liked the idea of increasing revenue, but some were at odds as to whether everyone should be forced to pay.

“I don’t want to exempt any properties,” said Coun. Lynn Vigneault. “The Town of Pictou is not a charity and churches are a charity. Let them fundraise for the increased costs. If the residents have to pay, the exempt properties need to pay.”

Coun. Cam Beaton disagreed with Vigneault saying that churches help so many people in need that this will be extra burden on them.

“Churches, at the end of the day, are doing good work for everyone and they we should be supportive of them within reason,” he said.

Hawes and Coun. Bob Naylor agreed with Vigneault so the vote swung in favour of Conrod researching the issue further.  Council will have more debate on the issue before a final budget vote takes place.

Conrod also suggested that councilors look at doing a user-pay system for solid waste collection.

Pictou pays about $250,000 in solid waste collection fees each year, which is based on weight at the scales, but a new flat-rate system could mean a few extra dollars for the town.

He said the flat-rate would apply to residential properties only, not business owners since they are suppose to contract out their garbage collection.  

Beaton said he likes the idea of user-pay fees, which would again be listed separately on the tax bill, but he believes if council approves such changes, strong communication will be needed to get its message out.

“We will need to highlight every item out because everyone will have to understand we aren’t doing this for smoke and mirrors,” he said.

In addition to taxation issues, council also turned its attention to the annual $30,000 to $40,000 it is putting into the history CN station each year.

Conrod said council may want to consider calling for a request for proposals that could involve the sale of the land and building.

He said the Northumberland Fisheries Museum is expected to be in their new building on Caladh Avenue in the fall so council could look at selling the building and land as three separate parcels with the stipulation that the exterior of the building remain the same and concessions are made for such events as the Pictou Lobster Carnival.

The Pictou Youth Centre currently occupies a space in the building, but for sake of saving $30,000, councilors said they may be able to find the youth association another location.

Council was also told that closing the building up for the winter months would save the town money as well because it wouldn’t be heating the space or required to provide much maintenance.

Once again, councilors gave the CAO approval to look more closely into the situation with the understanding that the issue would be revisited again when the budget is finalized.

Lastly, councilors turned their attention to the town’s fire department that is $16,500 over budget this fiscal year.  The department had a budget of $375,000 in 2013.

Conrod said the department has gone through some necessary training and equipment upgrades in the past few years, but now is the time for a complete inventory of all budget items to determine if fire protection spending can be brought under control.

Public safety will never be jeopardized, but he said some areas of the department’s budget that doesn’t deal with staffing or building issues can be looked at a little closer.

Pictou town council will continue its budget deliberations for the next few weeks and all of the items can be discussed again before a final vote is taken.

 

 

 

 

 

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  • dumbfounded
    July 18, 2014 - 19:12

    -why do fire dept members need uniforms?- save $$$ -why do public vehicles get taken home by employees?-save $$$ -close the rink?- save $$$ -amalgamation- less politicians?- save $$$