Describing some of its contents as “utterly false,” Mayor John Higham spent 13-minutes at Monday night’s Sackville Town Council meeting replying to a letter from former councillor Shawn Mesheau.
Mesheau’s August 27th letter was published in the Sackville Tribune-Post and also sent to town council asking for a response.
It expressed shock that council would oppose the provincial government’s decision to freeze next year’s property tax assessments when the town recorded a budget surplus last year of $787,359.
“This stand is very self serving and I do not believe represents the position of a majority of property owners in the municipality,” Mesheau’s letter says.
“I am sure there are struggling municipalities in our province who cannot sustain their services with a freeze on assessments however Sackville is not one of them,” it adds.
Mayor Higham responded that Mesheau’s letter starts from a false premise.
“The premise is that we are either seeking a change to unfreeze the assessment or we’re seeking to raise property taxes,” the mayor said.
He went on to argue that the town is merely asking the Union of New Brunswick Municipalities to talk to the province about its unilateral decision-making.
“This was a unilateral decision,” he said. “The province was responsible for property tax assessments, they made an error and then they chose to put that cost onto local government without consultation.”
Higham pointed out that last week, the mayors of New Brunswick’s three largest cities also called on the province to consult with municipalities on the property assessment freeze and other issues.
“Their words were almost identical to what we’ve used,” he added, “but in this author’s view, we’re self-serving.”
Lack of understanding
The mayor went on to criticize Mesheau’s letter for claiming that the town generated a budget surplus of three-quarters of a million dollars last year equal to about 13 cents on the property tax rate.
“[It’s] utterly false and really describes a lack of understanding of what the financial statements actually say and how the tax rate is actually calculated,” Higham said.
Later, Treasurer Michael Beal explained that the actual operating surplus for tax calculation purposes was only $64,316 while the utility operating fund showed a surplus of $21,083.
Mayor Higham pointed out that when Mesheau sat on council, he served as liaison councillor for the town’s finances at a time when the books were also showing surpluses.
“He moved a motion to increase property tax rates by two cents,” Higham said. “So, there is an utter disconnect between what’s being stated in the letter and what he has actually done.”
The mayor added that the town welcomes informed criticism, but suggested Mesheau’s letter contains internal contradictions and errors that needed a detailed response.
“We’re not perfect,” Higham concluded. “We seek to do things well, we seek to follow best practices…and we’re responsible for what we do and what we say.”
To read the treasurer’s written response to the Mesheau letter, click here and to watch Mayor Higham’s oral response, click here. (Note the mayor’s response begins at the 32 minute, 20 second mark on the recording.)