Former Sackville councillor Ken Hicks, who lives in Frosty Hollow, spoke on behalf of residents living within the boundaries of the former Town of Sackville who complain that they’re paying high taxes while receiving few municipal services.
“I just want to be sure that council understands that we’re not here talking about the amalgamation, we’re not here talking about the New Brunswick government’s tax assessment, we’re talking strictly about services that the town provides and the tax rate that’s levied against them,” Hicks said.
“When it comes to sidewalks or things like that, drainage and what not, yes those are important things that everyone would like to have, but we’re talking about the core items, water, sewer, things that have been promised in the past through the annexation that have never been followed up on,” he added.
Hicks was referring to promises he said were made in 1975 when the provincial government extended Sackville’s boundaries to include areas to the west as well as Middle and Upper Sackville.
At the time, the Sackville Tribune-Post quoted Mayor Percy Trenholm as saying that residents in the amalgamated areas would not pay town tax rates until they received the same level of municipal services.
“Despite having nearly 50 years to install infrastructure to provide access to these services, the town of Sackville failed to do so,” Hicks said.
“And now [they] deliver the excuse that these are ratepayer services,” he added, referring to the fact that residents who do receive water and sewer services pay separate utility rates for them in addition to their property taxes.
He argued that it means that he and his neighbours must pay for and maintain their own wells and septics, while paying the same tax rates as Sackville residents who do have access to core services, a situation that also applies to Ward 4, which includes Upper Sackville.
“We can conclude that the challenge to extend services is not a focus for the town,” Hicks said, adding that the taxes he and his neighbours pay have been used to upgrade and maintain services in the town core that is now part of Ward 3.
Meantime, aggrieved residents have set up a Facebook page named “Over Taxed and Un-serviced in Tantramar.” A flyer they distributed recently to about 250 homes points out that residents west of Sackville, who are within the old town boundaries, are paying $1548.40 on a home assessed at $100,000 while their neighbours across the train tracks in the former Sackville local service district pay $924.
Mayor Andrew Black responded to Hicks’s presentation by pointing out that the 2023 tax rates were set by the province as part of the amalgamation process, but since it officially took office on January 1st, Tantramar council now has that power.
“We now have full authority to make any changes to taxation rates that we wish,” Black said.
He added that council can discuss the five different rates in the three former LSDs as well as Sackville and Dorchester when it sets the 2024 budget.
Other members of council agreed.
Councillor Barry Hicks, who represents Ward 2, sparked a few outbursts from spectators when he focussed most of his response on municipal/provincial sharing agreements for snow plowing.
“Ward 2 needs the taxes looked at some time or another. It will be next year, we can’t do anything this year,” he began.
“Some of Ward 2 is being maintained by the town, it’s being plowed, it’s [having] ditches done, the roads are being paved, they’re being patched, their lines are painted and some of Ward 2 has nothing, nothing’s being done, it’s still being plowed by DTI [provincial department of transportation and infrastructure],” Hicks said.
Mayor Black called for order as one resident shouted objections.
Councillor Hicks, who worked for many years in Sackville’s public works department, then continued to talk about the complicated municipal/provincial sharing arrangements.
“So, the ones that are being plowed by DTI, that was traded off years ago when the town amalgamated. Before, the town plowed some DTI roads and DTI plowed some of the town ones, so when you see a DTI plow going by your house, it doesn’t mean the town is not plowing it,” he said as members of the audience murmured objections.
“So, some of Ward 2 is plowed by the town and some is plowed by DTI. So, there’s two different systems there for Ward 2,” Councillor Hicks concluded.
Councillor Matt Estabrooks, who represents Ward 4, said his property and the one where he grew up are included in the higher Sackville tax rates.
“It is difficult,” he said, “and I’ve heard a lot of confusion, that I hope will be cleared up, around the fact that the electoral wards are just that.
“I think there was an assumption out there that tax rates would be tied to the electoral wards…and it is a concern,” he said.
“I think that we will have to take a look, I feel we should probably take a look. We have five individual tax rates and as Mayor Black has said, we do have the opportunity next year going forward to potentially address or adjust, but this year the rates were set by the provincial government.”
Meantime, Ward 3 Councillors Allison Butcher and Michael Tower, who live on Walker Road, pointed out that they too have no water and sewer services.
“I live within Sackville,” Butcher said, “but we have never had services.”
She added that the tax problem is one that is not new to amalgamation, but more people are now affected by it and council will have to deal with it in the coming year.
“I think it would be lovely if we could figure out a way that the tax rate would be based more on what services you actually get,” Butcher said.
“How we do that, I don’t know, but right now we’re stuck with what the province has given us.”
“I live in a two-bedroom bungalow and my taxes are over $5,000 a year,” Councillor Tower said.
“I don’t have water and I don’t have sewer,” he added.
“Then, you go to West Sackville, [and] a person who doesn’t have water and sewer, he lives the same distance from the fire hall I do, so if there’s a fire, we’re both going to get the same kind of service, but his taxes are half of mine, for what reason?” Tower asked.
“This is a serious problem and it’s going to be a difficult one, but I think we have to deal with it.”
For an earlier story on Tantramar tax rates, click here.
For Erica Butler’s CHMA story on the Greene family’s call for fairer taxes, click here.