By Tim Kalinowski
Cypress County council considered its 2017 budget one more time before voting on the matter at last Tuesday’s meeting. Council had been gridlocked on whether or not to accept director of Corporate Services John Belanger’s recommendation to raise the business tax mill rate by 11 per cent to cover off a $1.5 million projected deficit for 2017, or to hold off on a much needed water distribution line upgrade in Suffield until a future year. The county would then put those allocated funds toward the 2017 deficit instead.
Belanger, taking into account council’s dilemma, brought back a few other options for council to consider. He stood behind his primary recommendation to raise non-residential taxes; however, alternatively, he suggested councillors could also raise the mill rate on agricultural lands, which is very low, instead of non-residential properties. He also suggested instead of completing water/ sewer infrastructure projects in both Irvine and Suffield, as had been budgeted for, to move extra MSI (provincial) money set aside for Irvine to the Suffield project, and use the remaining Irvine funds to pay off the deficit without raising taxes. This way Suffield’s water problems, which have been identified as a priority by county staff, could be dealt with in 2017, and 100 per cent paid for by MSI grants. Irvine’s sewer and water work would then be deferred until new grants and funding could be attained in a future year.
Coun. Dan Hamilton, who had been mulling over the decision since the Dec. 6 council meeting, said he had miscalculated how much a potential tax increase would be on his businesses in Dunmore. The impact would not be as great as he first thought.
“When we were thinking this out last time, I think I said it was going to be about $5,500. When I got home that night, I started thinking about it and looking at all over again. For my property it is going to be about $700. So (this increase) is not nearly as bad as what we were looking at.”
“I don’t have a problem with increasing,” continued Hamilton. “I can see we have to. The problem I have is we need to educate the 52 businesses (most effected).”
Coun. Ernest Mudie moved to accept the budget as presented by staff, with the non-residential tax increase included and both infrastructure projects in Suffield and Irvine to be funded in 2017.
Coun. Hamilton moved to amend Mudie’s motion to also direct staff to set up future two forums to allow local business owners to ask questions, give input and hear about the county’s future plans in regards to non-residential taxation. All councillors would be in attendance alongside county staff.
Coun. Mudie accepted this notion as a friendly amendment. Councillors then voted unanimously to accept the 2017 budget as presented with the two public forum dates to be announced.