Sackville Treasurer Michael Beal is recommending three main priorities for next year’s municipal budget:
(1) Maintaining the same level of town services for residents.
(2) Continuing to pay down municipal debt while pushing ahead with projects such as Phase III of the Lorne Street flood control project and buying a new fire truck.[efn_note] Beal says that the town could pay for most, if not all, of its $2 million share of the Lorne St. project and the $800,000 cost of the fire truck without having to borrow.[/efn_note]
(3) Pursuing environmental initiatives such as supporting the climate change co-ordinator and acquiring more electric and hybrid vehicles.[efn_note]The climate change co-ordinator’s position is funded through a grant from the provincial government’s Environmental Trust Fund.[/efn_note]
“I hate to say, but I’m still kind of a little blind,” Beal told council last night referring to the uncertainties brought on by Sackville’s forced amalgamation with the village of Dorchester and three surrounding local service districts (LSDs).
“We’re told [by the province] that it’s going to be essentially five different (tax) rates,” Beal explained.
“We’re also told that the local service districts, being Sackville and Dorchester LSD rates, will not go up significantly in 2023. So, if they’re not going up significantly, there’s no additional revenue, but [if] there is additional expenses, I’m kind of still going back and forth trying to fathom it,” Beal said.
Councillor Bill Evans said residents in the LSDs should pay more tax for the services they’re getting.
“We’re not allowed to raise taxes, so I don’t see us getting anything,” Evans added.
“We will have to provide services that we’re already providing for them — recreation comes to mind — but there’s no extra revenue there because they’re not being taxed,” he said, suggesting that this is a problem the new municipality will face in coming years.
Councillor Sabine Dietz repeated her warning that after amalgamation, Sackville residents will be required to pay for increased services from the Southeast Regional Service Commission and that could reduce the amount of money available for local priorities.
The province has given Sackville until June 10th to submit its budget priorities for next year to Chad Peters, the Moncton marketing man hired to facilitate the amalgamation of the five local entities, including Sackville, into the new Town of Tantramar.
It appears provincial bureaucrats, assisted by Peters, will draft next year’s budget before it’s approved by the new Tantramar council to be elected in November.
“The new council’s going to approve the budget, so we’re not entirely sure what the role of this council will even be with the 2023 budget,” said CAO Jamie Burke.
“Even that part is up in the air,” he added. “Talk about a weird process.”
Sackville councillors are expected to vote on a formal motion at their meeting next Tuesday setting out their budget priorities for the provincial facilitator.
Deputy Mayor Andrew Black said the motion could also include the town’s need for a personnel or human-resources (HR) manager.
“I think that would be nice to have in the budget,” he said. “It would certainly help with a lot of employee relations issues within the town of Sackville.”
Black also mentioned what he sees as the need to devote more resources to drafting strategies for affordable housing, diversity and inclusion as well as an invasive species policy.
“I think we need to make the climate change coordinator position part of our operating budget,” Councillor Evans said.
“I think the need is there, the usefulness is there [and] that should be something we should try to do,” he added.