The Town of Trenton is preparing to alter the bylaw that governs how residents of the town are billed for municipal services.
At its Feb. 13 meeting, council had its first reading of bylaw for rate charges for certain utilities, basing those charges on the amount of services used, and whether those services are available to a property.
The new bylaw will slightly lower tax rates for residents and businesses, but has included new fees for the provision of services. Those fees will only be charged to residents receiving the services.
The new bylaw, the Municipal Services User Fee Bylaw (No. 2017-001), entails a number of changes CAO Brian White said are meant to “try and get a bit more fairness in the system.” Tax rates, on average, have decreased from $1.99 for residential properties and $5.44 for commercial properties, to $1.41 and $4.00 respectively.
The services affected are fire hydrant charges, sewage charges and garbage removal (solid waste) services.
The bylaw saw the approval of all members of council except Coun. Don Hussher, who spoke extensively and emphatically about why he thought the new bylaw to be a step in the wrong direction.
“I’m totally against this... I think we’re jumping off a cliff by jumping so quickly into this. The town has been doing all right… and I think we should open the floor back up for discussion,” said Hussher. “We have to look after our neighbours, and that’s what I worry about.”
Hussher said he believes that Trenton’s tax rates, in their current form, give it an advantage over other communities, noting, “just look at what they’re paying for sewer (service) in New Glasgow.”
Hussher also raised the issue of the potential bylaw’s effect on seniors, “who are being encouraged by the NHSA to stay in their homes as long as they can.” He also raised concerns that implementation of the fees associated with the bylaw would create cash flow problems.
We’ve only been here a year, and we have two more budgets we can study this, and get more input. Nobody needs to rush into this,” said Hussher, urging council to get more discussion and public consultation. Hussher emphasized that council moved too quick by bringing the bylaw to its first reading.
Coun. Alec Dove had a different opinion.
Dove explained his support of the potential bylaw by saying, “Let’s say you own a $100,000 (assessed) home in Trenton, and pay roughly $2,000 in taxes, and then you’ve got someone who owns a home that’s roughly $50,000 and pay $1,000 in taxes – they’re receiving all of the same services. I think bylaw is about fairness to everyone in town.”
Dove added, “You’re just asked to pay for services you receive from the town. Ours… all jumbled together. I think, at the end of the day, that’s hurting the town. A hundred years ago, we had grocery stores, banks, and garages in town and you see what we have there now. We need to do something, and this is the way to go.”
In a call with The News, White described the rationale behind the new bylaw saying, “where we have a single residential tax rate, there’s an unfairness for the larger residential properties, and in some cases an empty lot would be paying the same tax rate as a developed lot. So, we didn’t want empty lots that were not generating garbage being taxed for it.”
In the case of garbage collection, a flat charge of $180 per dwelling unit, if they receive the service, will be applied through the new bylaw.
In the case of fire hydrant charges, White said that not all the town is covered by fire hydrant protection, since many properties aren’t near hydrants. The new bylaw will implement a hydrant charge and applies only to areas where there are hydrants.
“The tax rate includes the cost of fire hydrants. Since there are no fire hydrants, say in on Little Harbour Road, those people will no longer pay for something they’re not receiving,” said White.
“We’re addressing the concern of residents like Mr. (Duncan) Ross who showed up a few meetings ago, who had the valid concern that they were paying for services they were not receiving,” White added, alluding to a Trenton resident who went before council last year, who spoke about being in such a predicament.
In the new bylaw, the rate for sewage service would be determined by the volume of sewage collected and treated.
“Our contribution to the sewage treatment plan and the East River treatment system is based on the total volume we send there. The heavier users in town are creating more costs than those who use less,” White said. “We’re looking at implementing a standalone pollution control charge … based on the total volume of water pumped into the property, and the estimated volume of water going into the sewer system.
White said that depending on the assessment value of properties, the changes may have varying effects on total tax bills.
“Our estimates based on looking at a number of represented properties show that, for the most part, properties at the lower end of assessment values would tend to have a somewhat higher property tax bill, and those with moderate or higher assessment values on their property would see lower total taxes.”