The new Town of Tantramar is heading into a financially uncertain future with no way of predicting yet how taxes and municipal services may be affected.
But one thing is clear: The Southeast Regional Service Commission (SERSC), which currently provides land use planning and garbage disposal services to cities, towns and villages in Westmorland and Albert counties, is gearing up for a major expansion.
During her presentation to Sackville town council this week, Stephanie Thorne, the Commission’s chief financial officer, said SERSC has drafted a $26.2 million budget for next year — a 17% increase to help provide five additional services that the Town of Tantramar and other municipalities will pay for.
The services include regional transportation; regional social and community development; regional sport, recreation and cultural infrastructure; regional economic development and regional tourism.
Thorne said SERSC plans to hire a new director at an annual salary of $110,000 for regional social and community development which will also need two co-ordinators at $90,000 salaries.
Regional transportation, regional tourism promotion and regional sport, recreation and cultural infrastructure will share one $110,000 director, while economic development will hire a new director and specialist at unspecified salaries.
In addition, SERSC will keep its executive director position while adding a new CEO.
According to the draft budget, existing services — land use planning and solid waste disposal — are projected to cost $24.1 million next year, a 10.7% increase. Tantramar’s share will be just over $555 thousand.
The five new services are initially expected to cost about $1.5 million with Tantramar paying just over $58 thousand.
In response to questions from Sackville Councillor Sabine Dietz, Thorne said SERSC was cautious about tallying the costs of the new services, at least for the first year.
“We really wanted to put the work in to make sure that we’re not just asking members for a bunch of money right off when we don’t know what we’re going to do with it and we don’t have a plan,” Thorne said.
“When we can take the year to really build a strategy, the 2024 budget will look much different from this and I’ll be able to really tell you where the money is going,” she added.
Dietz predicted the modest amount that Tantramar will pay next year for the new services is likely to increase starting in 2024 and she wondered how SERSC would measure their effectiveness.
“Some of the things are going to be really hard to measure,” Dietz said.
“Like when you’re taking on social development and homelessness, well, those are local solutions, some may be regional, but most of them are very local, they’re very much within the local community,” she noted, “and so, wow, if this increases from $5-6 thousand…to let’s say $50,000…how do we measure (effectiveness) and why are we putting this money into regional, versus local?”
Thorne responded that in its consultations with municipal leaders and others, SERSC has heard a clear message:
“We need key performance indicators and we need to have a lot of communication. We do have meetings now with all the administrators from the municipalities. I foresee those increasing so that we can really stay on top of making sure that we’re communicating with the communities what’s happening (and) what our plan is.”
Thorne said the SERSC draft budget will be submitted to the province for final approval.
To view part of her slide presentation to Sackville town council on the five new services SERSC will provide, click here.