Councillor Lisa Blackburn in this 2017 photo. (Healey photo)

BEAVER BANK: The two local councillors have both given their stamp of approval to the recently passed HRM budget for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, even with a slight tax increase for residents.

Steve Streatch, the HRM representative for District 1 (Waverley-Fall River-Musquodoboit Valley), and District 14 (Middle/Upper Sackville-Lucasville-Beaver Bank) councillor Lisa Blackburn both had separate highlights to the budget and what it means for the year ahead for the municipality.

“I’m very encouraged by the budget that we recently passed,” said Streatch. “This is the very first time we’ve taken a multi-year approach. The budget that was passed, for the most part, will take us into the next two years.”

Besides approving the municipality’s $741.5-million operating budget and $187.3-million capital budget for 2017-18, council also approved, in principle, the 2018-19 capital and operating budgets ($763.1 million and $156.7 million, respectively).

The average single-family home tax bill will increase by $33 or 1.8 per cent in 2017-18 to $1,874. Increases at less than the annual pace of inflation are anticipated in each of the subsequent three years. Debt will continue to decline and should be as low as $245.8 million in 2017-18 and $240.7 million in 2018-19 and reserve balances will increase to $127.4 million in 2017-18 and $134.9 million in 2018-19, maintaining the municipality’s strong financial position.

In approving these budgets, Regional Council is signalling a new approach to managing the Halifax Regional Municipality’s finances through its multi-year budgeting strategy. To meet the municipality’s financial needs over the next four years, Regional Council is taking a balanced approach by:

  • Adding new services while mitigating the escalating pace of service costs
  • Approving slight reductions in the capital budget
  • Moderately increasing taxes
  • Increasing reserves to prepare for future obligations and new opportunities

This two-year approval supports the delivery of Regional Council’s strategic priorities adopted in December 2016. The new multi-year budget deliberation process was inspired by a healthy and respectful debate by Regional Council regarding municipal service options.

“The municipality is experiencing significant change and we need to embrace our opportunities and challenges with a steady hand,” said Mayor Mike Savage. “Regional Council is taking a measured, responsible, and long-term approach in order to ensure sustained growth.”

Streatch said under the leadership of council, the CAO, and staff, he was confident in what was brought back to councillors as acceptable.

“At the same time, nobody likes a tax increase, least of which me, but the 1.8 per cent lift we will take, mainly due to assessment increases this year not an increase in the rate, will allow us to meet not only the challenges we face currently, but indeed the service level increases that the general public has told us that are important to them.

“It was a good budget and I was happy to support it.”

Blackburn said one of the highlights for her is to keep a close reign on tax increases.

“We’ve gone four years since HRM has had a tax increase, so 1.8 per cent for the most part, and from what I’ve heard from residents, is they can live with that,” she said.

She was pleased to see the increased spending from HRM in the recreation department.

“When we did the online survey, spending for recreation came through loud and clear and when they came to council with the proposed budget, you could tell a lot of the cuts they were proposing were deep and they hurt,” said Blackburn. “I was very glad to be able to reinstate a lot of those expenditures so residents get what they want.”

As Blackburn said, it was her “first trip to the rodeo.”

“I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “Hats off to staff who really churned it down business unit by business unit for us. It made it a lot easier to understand the budget demands for each department.

“It put it all into perspective for us.”