We are now slightly past the halfway point in the term of the current mayor and council for the Town of New Glasgow.
It is a good time to look at how well they have done in setting a positive direction for the town and in meeting their campaign promises.
In her campaign, Mayor Dicks set out three priorities:
– Stronger citizen engagement, an open and transparent town hall.
– Spending money wisely, finding efficiencies and ensuring a competitive and stable tax rate.
– Fostering positive economic growth, supporting our downtown.
She committed to propose a 10 per cent cut in salary and expenses for mayor and council – leading by example in her words, and also committed to a cost-efficiency review in all town departments and to host quarterly community meetings. While councillors were generally less specific in their priorities and commitments, it would appear that most supported similar platforms.
So how are we doing?
– Open and transparent town hall. Based on personal experience, with my employment being threatened unless my wife, a taxpayer in New Glasgow, discontinued attendance at town council meetings, not overly open.
– Spending wisely and finding efficiencies. The 10 per cent cut in council honorariums was passed, but the resulting savings were not returned to town taxpayers. Based on subsequent town budgets, while the council may have been leading by example, it appears that town administration chose not to follow. As for the departmental efficiency review, I can find no evidence that this ever took place. Two years after taking office, New Glasgow council continues to preside over a town with one of the highest tax burdens per household (an average tax cost of $2,025 per dwelling unit) of all Nova Scotia towns, and expenditure levels that are nearly $3 million higher than a similar-sized Amherst. Surely efficiencies can be found if council chooses to look.
– Economic development. Nearly five years after development, the East River Road business park remains empty. Despite several positive projects initiated by a local entrepreneur, the downtown continues to struggle and the number of empty storefronts is discouraging.
There are two years remaining in this council’s mandate – two years to do better. With over $10 million in net debt and $20 million in annual expenses, New Glasgow ranks second only to Truro as having the highest level in both values.
Property tax assessments were recently mailed to property owners. This year’s capped assessments have risen by three percent. If New Glasgow council continues its practice of holding tax rates at prior levels (while sliding in some increases through sewer and solid waste user fees) this will result in tax bill increases of three per cent for most taxpayers.
As a start towards increased efficiency, council can, and should, reduce budgets for 2019-20 by $400,000 from 2018-19 levels. This would allow a reduction in the tax rate to $1.75 and offset the assessment increases. This is a modest challenge, but is a start, and provides some indication that council is indeed serious in finding efficiencies. It is time to do better.
Brian W White,