‘Good news’ budget
in stone yet, with West Hants council still needing to approve them. However, chief administrative officer Louis Coutinho felt confident it will go ahead.
If it doesn’t go through, Coutinho said the town still has a healthy operational reserve it can draw on if needed.
The town is not setting aside any money towards the reserve fund this year, but if there is a year-end surplus, that money would go into the reserve.
Windsor Mayor Anna Allen said early on that this was one of the toughest budgets council has had to deal with.
“We’ve heard for a long time that our tax rates are too high and we know that,” Allen said. “We get an awful lot of service for that tax rate, but still, people find it’s too high.”
A new public works truck and loader was approved, but some items had to be delayed, including maintenance work to the town’s utility shed.
The Windsor Fire Department is in the middle of a transition, lowering their number of volunteers and surplus vehicles, which will bring down costs now that they exclusively cover the town limits.
The town is also bracing for potential cost increases from the RCMP with the possible unionization of the federal police force.
Several major projects are also impacting the town coffers, albeit with a lot of assistance from the provincial and federal governments. The ‘Big Dig’ on Gerrish Street, which will replace all under and above ground infrastructure along Windsor’s main commercial thoroughfare, carries a price tag of more than $1 million, with the federal government taking care of 50 per cent of those costs. The town is paying its portion through the reserve fund.
Windsor will also pay off the new wastewater treatment plant in this budget.
The town’s debt service ratio – a tool used by the province to monitor municipal unit borrowing – is slightly under 14 per cent and approaching 15 per cent, which means the town’s spending may be under more scrutiny if it reaches that point.
“We went from 7.8 to this because we’ve got a large amount of borrowing and the province does this to make sure that when towns and municipalities are borrowing money, that there’s a good reason for it,” Coutinho said.
Having a few new items, including funding set aside for a dog park, maintaining service levels and keeping the tax rate steady, makes for a “good news” budget, he added.
Coun. Shelley Bibby was frus- trated that the town couldn’t find funding to hire a communications person – something she thinks Windsor needs.
“I think that a lot of people feel like we are not communicating with them as well as we could or that they have a way to communicate with us,” Bibby said after the budget was passed.
Initially, $45,000 was set-aside for a communications staffer, but during budget discussions, council agreed it was a want, not a need.
Coun. Jim Ivey said he was pleased they were able to hold the tax rate steady, despite some of the tough choices that had to be made to get to that point.
“If we’re able to keep it there and not let it go up, that’s a step in the right direction,” Ivey said. “Maybe a year from now we’ll find other strategies that will assist us in lowering costs or finding other sources of revenues to balance things out.”