Taxes in­crease in Har­bour Grace

Coun­cil needs more rev­enue for in­fra­struc­ture, higher wages and waste dis­posal costs

The Compass - - SPORTS - BY TERRY ROBERTS

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

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