If anyone thought that the amalgamation of a town, a village and three different local service districts (or parts thereof) would simplify things, a peek into the budgeting process might change their mind.
On January 6, the province finally provided Tantramar staff with a budget document outlining overall revenues and expenses for the amalgamated municipality. At the time, Mayor Andrew Black called the document ‘incomplete’ because it lacked any detail about how the numbers would break down among the former entities, including naming which former municipality would have which tax rate.
The document was created by transition facilitator Chad Peters and approved by local government minister Daniel Allain, and includes five different tax rates, though it took a further request to the department of local government to determine which area will pay which rate.
It turns out that rates in Tantramar will either go up or slightly down for 2023, depending on where you live:
The former town of Sackville and village of Dorchester will both see their rates go down slightly, with a less than 1% difference. That doesn’t mean those folks will pay the same in taxes, because on average, assessments in both Sackville and Dorchester have gone up significantly, by just over 10% in Sackville and just under 15% in Dorchester village.
Over in the former Local service districts, tax rates are all going up. The rate in the former Sackville LSD–which includes Westcock, Rockport, Upper Sackville, and Cookville–will go up by just over seven cents per $100 of assessment, which is a 16% hike on the 2022 rate.
Last year the Sackville LSD had the lowest rate of all three Tantramar LSDs, at just 44 cents per $100 of assessment. The Dorchester LSD was next highest at just under 54 cents, and Point de Bute was highest at 69 cents per $100 of assessment.
That doesn’t include an additional provincial rate, which in 2022 was another 41 cents per 100$. It’s expected the province will continue to charge that rate, as it will continue road maintenance in the LSDs.
Both Sackville and Point de Bute LSD residents will have double whammies on their tax bills for 2023, with both rates and property assessments having increased.
Vicky Lutes, a spokesperson for the department of local government, says via email that the varying rate hikes in LSDs are meant to be the beginning of a 5 to 7 year plan during which all former LSD areas would move toward a uniform rate, though she did not specify what that target rate would be.
“The council will need to consider the plan going forward but will be limited in the yearly increases as per the government’s commitment to phasing in impacts,” wrote Lutes.
Budget still not ready for public presentation
At Tuesday’s committee of the whole meeting for Tantramar council, former Sackville Treasurer Michael Beal told councillors that there was still work to do “unpacking” the document staff had received from the province. Though Beal’s job in Tantramar has changed to director of corporate compliance, he is working in the finance department until the hiring of a treasurer is completed.
“I would say we’re about 80 to 90% of the way through,” Beal told council on Tuesday. Once the budget is understood, Beal said it will be reviewed with the town’s managers, and then presented to council.
CAO Jennifer Borne told council one of the complications is figuring out how the province’s budget works with the five distinct former entities, or ‘sub-units’.
“Ideally, we would have had this earlier,” said Borne. “But at any time, you know, even if it was six months ago, we still would have been getting used to the five sub-unit budget.”
Between herself and Michael Beal, staff are familiar with both previous budgets for Sackville and Dorchester. But the budgets for the local service districts were managed by the province, and so that’s where the main information gap lies.
“It appears to be very much a status quo budget from 2022,” said Borne, though there are former LSD amounts to consider, and also “inflation in certain areas.”
“We’re certainly looking forward to presenting that to all of council and the public,” said Borne, though she didn’t want to commit to a timeline. “We’re kind of up against some snow days and regular day-to-day tasks… So we’re trying to fit it in on top of transition and regular commitments, as well as audit commitments. We’ll certainly get it done.”