Steve Streatch (Healey photo)

FALL RIVER: The local councillor for Fall River doesn’t like the direction this year’s HRM budget discussions are heading.

Steve Streatch, the representative for Waverley-Fall River-Musquodoboit Valley, said the vibe he is getting during discussions is that the municipality could be taking on a bit more than what they should.

“The discussions we’re having now are early, they’re all committee discussions,” said Streatch in an interview with The Laker in mid-February. “Early in the process, our staff brought forward a budget that was basically neutral. If council approved it the way it was, it would result in no tax increases.”

He said his concerns lies with new initiatives, new capital projects, new services, etc. that have been introduced recently by several members of council.

“That all come with a price tag,” said the District 1 representative. “As we know, anytime a budget is increased consideration has to be given for something else to be cut or indeed looking at raising the tax rate.

“I’m concerned so far by what I’ve seen. Several initiatives have come forward that are now having an upward pressure on the rate that is going to be proposed. At this particular juncture I am not sure I can support the direction we’re going with this current budget.”

Streatch said the last sector HRM wants to harm is the youth of the municipality. So he supports initiatives that support the young people succeed both physically and socially.

“At the same time, they come with a price tag,” he said. “Some initiatives that were proposed to be cut have been suggested to be changed, and I support those.

“Other initiatives have come forward, completely outside those realms that are having pressure on the budget, and it remains to be seen if we can continue to support those.”

District 14 Councillor Lisa Blackburn, who represents Middle/Upper Sackville-Lucasville-Beaver Bank, said council has heard from all of its business units so they understand what it is they’re looking for in terms of a budget for the next two years.

“What has happened is that the business units have put forward what their hopes and dreams are, and we’ve put that on the wish list,” said Blackburn. “We have started debating individual items that they want.”

Blackburn said the highlight through the process for her has been the budget put forth by the Department of Parks and Recreation.

“You could tell it was one that was hard to put together and that they did a lot of soul searching,” she said. “They made a lot of cuts that council, at the end of the day, decided to put back on the budget for further discussions.

“That’s a department that has really taken a hit over the past few years.”

In an online tool asking residents what they wanted to see in the budget, a loud strong message that they wanted more money into Parks and Recreation came through, said Blackburn.

“I think we’re going to have some good solid debates over what to do with that, and fund Parks and Rec the way it should be funded,” she said.