CBRM council approves operating budget
Councillors for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality have approved an operating budget of almost $149 million and $31 million capital budget that will see the municipal debt remain at the current level, with additional funding for roads and support for a new police station in east division.
Discussion of the budgets presented by chief financial officer Marie Walsh began early in the afternoon Thursday and stretched well into the evening. Much of the debate around the council table focused on some of the relatively small line items, including a lengthy discussion of the $120,000 allocation for the “communities in bloom” program that sees baskets of flowers hung in downtown areas throughout the CBRM.
There is an overall increase of 1.97 per cent in the operating budget for 2017-18, with revenues expected to increase by the same amount.
Under revenue, there will also be an increase in capped assessment of $1.4 per cent, an increase in the federal grantin-lieu of $266,000, with a $116,000 decrease in bylaw and planning development revenue of $116,000.
Mayor Cecil Clarke characterized it as a “moving forward” budget.
“What has improved is our stability, having that stability changed the type of debate from things where public works would have consumed a lot, a lot of time, because we’ve made improvements on our infrastructure … we’re into very much operational things that people have varying opinions about and passions but ultimately I think budgets are about trying to fund balance,” he said.
Clarke called the $8.2 million allocation for roads the largest that the municipality has seen.
Several members of council expressed their continued frustration with the freezing of its equalization funding from the province, noting it receives $15 million but sends back $17 million to Halifax in areas such as mandatory contributions to services over which they have no control, such as education.
Dist. 11 Coun. Kendra Coombes initially introduced a motion to remove the communities in bloom program from the budget, questioning the wisdom of spending that amount of money on flowers when roads are in the CBRM are in dire need of repair. But after councillors spoke both in favour and against the expenditure she ultimately withdrew the motion, something she regretted after the meeting, saying she wished it had proceeded to a vote.
One of those smaller items that many residents of the CBRM likely won’t like to see omitted from the budget is a spring heavy garbage pickup. The budget makes reference to it returning in spring 2018, and it was noted that additional pickups of contaminated items were done in the wake of the Thanksgiving Day flood.
Dist. 6 Coun. Ray Paruch noted that with heavy garbage pickup, the CBRM gives its heavily burdened taxpayers a service that they want.
Clarke said down the road, if there is an operating surplus, they may be able to address some of the issues that councillors have identified, such as heavy garbage or derelict properties.
Coombes had also introduced a motion to remove from the budget the $625,000 allocation for plans, land purchase and start for a new police east division building in downtown Glace Bay, which did not pass.
“I felt that there didn’t seem to be a real plan for the police department, they just wanted to move it downtown but there was no plan of where downtown,” she said. Coombes also questioned Chief Peter McIsaac’s assertion that having a new police building in downtown Glace Bay would have an impact on crime rates.
“For me, boots on the street actually walking the beat probably will do more to decrease crime than a building would,” she said.