Status quo for St. Mary’s ratepayers

Council approves municipal budget

By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
April 7 2021

ST. MARY’S – Council in the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s has approved its budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year, one highlighted by no tax increases and a multi-million-dollar surplus.

“I expected most of what was in the budget,” Chief Administrative Officer Marvin MacDonald said. “Being a small, rural municipality, we take a very responsible approach to spending and budget accordingly.”

Defying the economic turmoil of the Covid-19 pandemic, now entering its second year, the municipality has unveiled a balanced operating budget for the next fiscal year (ending March 31, 2022) that requires no increases to the residential, resource or commercial tax rates and still contributes to an accumulated operating and capital surplus of $2,009,547.

The gross revenue is expected to be $3,295,264, about 0.25 per cent higher than last year. Meanwhile, the district will hold the line on both operational and project spending to stabilize its books over the coming months.

Residential and resource tax rates have been set at $0.95 per $100 of assessed value, while commercial rates have been pegged at $2.26 per $100. Overall, these are expected to generate $2,115,398 in tax revenue for the district.

The solid waste charge per residential account with dwelling and commercial account with a structure will increase from $96.82 to $99.82, and the street light area rate will increase from $70.17 to $71.85 per account. The Sherbrooke sewer rate will remain at $215 per unit.

“We try to be conservative but reasonable when estimating revenues and that usually works for us …There were no big surprises [this year],” MacDonald said.

The value of deed transfer taxes nearly doubled to $124,921 by March 31, 2021. This is expected to taper off only modestly to $75,000 by the end of the current fiscal year as the demand for housing in largely rural, “COVID-safe” communities continues.

Meanwhile, gas tax revenues are projected to be substantially higher, thanks to a federal government top-up program, increasing the reserve fund for municipal road work to $147,373 in 2021-22 (compared with $33,724 the year earlier).

On the spending side, education payments to the province are forecast to increase by 2.29 per cent, while the budget for recreational and cultural facilities and organizations in the district will fall slightly to $351,467.

Despite the Eastern Counties Regional Library’s (ECRL) recent and well-publicized cutbacks at the Sherbrooke branch, the budget maintains the current level of annual funding for these services ($16,927) through to the end of fiscal 2021-22.

Remuneration to the warden, deputy warden and councillors will also remain unchanged ($13,043 annually for councillors; an additional $8,300 and $5,929 for the warden and deputy warden, respectively).

This year’s results and forecasts are consistent with St. Mary’s 10-year budget record. In January, the municipality showed an operating revenue and surplus in 2019-20 that was 25 per cent higher and almost three times greater, respectively, than 2009-10.

“That’s our focus,” MacDonald said at the time. “With the relatively low revenue we have to work with we need to concentrate on what is important to the residents.”

He added: “Over the past five years we have increased efforts to collect on outstanding tax accounts and have improved our financial indicators in that area. We also watch our long-term debt and our debt servicing ratios to ensure that stays in a reasonable range for a municipality of our small size.”