Taxes increase in Harbour Grace
Council needs more revenue for infrastructure, higher wages and waste disposal costs
The Harbour Grace town council has decided to implement a slight increase in tax rates for 2011 in order to pay for infrastructure projects, higher salary costs and increases in the cost of garbage collection and disposal.
Council adopted its operating budget at a meeting on Dec. 16.
Mayor Don Coombs said increases will see another $54,000 in tax revenue flow into the town’s coffers.
It’s the first time tax rates have been increased since 2006, although citizens have seen their tax bills go up because of increases in the assessed value of their properties.
“In order to balance the budget, we needed some tax increases,” said Coombs.
The property tax rate has gone from 10.25 to 10.5 mills of the assessed value of a property, while the minimum property tax has gone from $325 to $350.
The water tax went from $250 to $260; sewer only has increased from $130 to $140; and the combined water and sewer rate has gone from $380 to $400. Business tax rates were unchanged. The operating budget is now just shy of $2.6 million, which is a record for the town.
Coombs said a roughly $10 million upgrade of infrastructure along Harvey Street, which he expects will be completed this year, and similar upgrades along Water Street, have increased the town’s debt charges.
A contract for Phase II of the Harvey Street project, which will see new water and sewer and paving from Powell’s supermarket to Noad Street, has already been awarded and work is expected to begin in the spring, Coombs noted. He expects Phase III — from Noad Street to Need’s store — will also be completed in 2011.
He said the town was able to move forward on the projects because of its emphasis on debt reduction over the past decade, and a capital program that sees the province picking up 80 per cent — in some cases 100 per cent — of most of the costs.
“It’s the biggest undertaking I’ve seen since I’ve been on council for 20-plus years,” said Coombs.
He said new collective agreements signed recently with municipal workers will see an increase in costs, while the cost of collecting and transporting garbage to the Robin Hood Bay landfill in St. Johns is expected to increase by some $20,000 this year as tipping fees continue to shoot up.
“ That’s a big factor (in our decision to raise taxes),” said Coombs.
“Nobody wants to see a tax increase, but the reality is you have to come up with the money somewhere, and you can’t always cut service because people expect a certain standard of service.”
Harbour Grace depends heavily on revenue from residential taxation. There are roughly 1,360 dwellings in the town.
The town’s commercial sector has been hit hard in recent years, with the loss of the fish plant, three oil companies and a bank removing several hundred thousand dollars yearly in commercial tax revenue. The retail sector has also shrunk.
Coombs believes any future growth will hinge on improvements to the harbour. He’d like to see the harbour dredged in order to attract new businesses.
“Our future is water-related,” he said. “ You’re not going to have a strip mall come and build in Harbour Grace. It’s not going to happen. Everything is regional now.” Collection rate improving On the bright side, Coombs said the tax collection rate has improved dramatically in recent years, and he praised the efforts of town staff for bringing the rate of tax arrears below 10 per cent.
“Right now it’s superb. We’re very pleased,” he said. “ We can only balance this budget if we collect our money.”
Meanwhile, the following are some highlights of the budget: Expenses: • Debt charges and other fiscal services — $698,000
• Council remuneration and travel — $40,000 • Administration — $352,000 • Fire protection — $90,000 • Transportation services — $732,000 • Waste collection and disposal — $227,000 • Recreation and culture — $112,000 Revenues: • Residential property tax — $957,000 • Commercial tax — $171,000 • Water and sewer tax — $597,000 • Other taxes — $258,000 • Provincial government grants and subsidies — $387,000
• Federal government grants and subsidies — $135,000