In a 5-1 vote Monday night, Sackville Town Council approved next year’s $12.1 million operating budget that would maintain town services and cover increased expenses without additional borrowing.
A majority of councillors rejected Bruce Phinney’s motion for a three-cent cut in property taxes and voted to maintain the current residential property tax rate of $1.56 per $100 of assessment.
Phinney argued that the town will receive what he called a $716,000 “windfall” because of an average 9.7% increase in residential property assessments and he called on council to return just over $212,000 of that money to taxpayers.
“I just think it’s time that we gave back to the people instead of continually charging them all the time,” Phinney said, adding that a tax cut would help poor people.
“A friend of mine mentioned that there is a couple he knows, that they count their pennies every month worrying about how they’re going to make ends meet and if that’s just one, how many others are there?” he asked.
“I think this is probably in the best interests of the people and we would be showing them that we are a council that does care.”
“This is grandstanding that doesn’t benefit the people that he claims to be benefitting,” Councillor Bill Evans responded.
“We have to cut services to do this,” he added. “This is going to cost over $200,000 this year [and] it’s going to cost at least that much next year if we lower the tax rate.”
Evans pointed out that a three-cent tax cut would give someone who owns a home assessed at $100,000 the equivalent of a cup of coffee a month.
Councillor Sabine Dietz agreed.
She said the assessment on her own home had increased by just over 7% and that Phinney’s proposed tax cut would generate a saving of only $4 per month.
Dietz pointed to a recent news report showing that a tax cut would provide significant benefits to wealthy property owners as well as the province itself which pays municipal taxes on schools, hospitals and universities.
“I’m more pissed at the province for pushing municipalities to make these kinds of decisions that will in the long-term affect our bottom line,” she said, a comment that brought Dietz a reminder from Mayor Mesheau that she should be “leery of her choice of words.”
Councillor Michael Tower pointed to increased costs next year such as higher salaries for the RCMP that will add $115,000 to the 2022 budget along with an additional allocation of $120,000 for backpay.
“I think that it would be a dangerous thing for us to lower tax rates,” he said.
“To give money back is nice, but to put us in a place where we would have to dig into our reserves more to cover it, would be wrong,” Tower added.
He noted that council is supporting the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) in asking the federal government to cover the RCMP backpay because local governments weren’t consulted when Ottawa negotiated a first-contract with the union that represents RCMP officers.
Tower said he hopes that if the town does receive a rebate from the federal government, that council would then consider lowering the tax rate.
To read a two-page, FCM background document on the backpay issue, click here.