Lantzville residents are a step closer to being hit with a significant tax increase next year.
District of Lantzville councillors voted 4-1 in favour of passing the first three readings of the municipality’s 2020-2024 financial plan during a council meeting on Nov. 18.
Residents were facing the possibility of a 25-per cent property tax increase, but during the meeting, councillors elected to remove a planned $46,000 contribution to their property acquisition reserve fund from the 2020 budget.
Residents will now be hit with a 23 per cent tax increase if the budget is adopted. Based on the average assessed value of a home in Lantzville, a homeowner can expect to pay $1,248 in municipal property taxes in 2020, should the budget be approved, according to district staff.
Sewer rates are also expected to increase from $113 per quarter to $123 while water rates will not increase.
Major spending items in the 2020 budget include $900,000 for Sebastion Road replacement, $400,000 for village core streetscape improvements, $265,000 for improvements to Costin Hall and the Heritage Church, $200,000 for Huddlestone Road piping, $171,000 for improvements to the district’s fire hall, $125,000 for highway signage, $104,600 for snow removal and $93,500 for asset management.
An additional $140,000 has also been allocated to fund two new staffing positions – deputy director of corporate administration and a public works employee – for the district.
Coun. Ian Savage was the one who voted against the three readings and during the meeting he expressed concerns about the staffing increase. He said staff increases should only occur when Lantzville’s population increases.
“This budget sets the template for an avalanche of new staff hiring…” he said. “In business, you don’t hire new staff unless the income warrants it. The same should apply to our local government.”
Lantzville Mayor Mark Swain said it is clear that staffing increases are needed at the district, adding that when about 39 per cent of the work required to be carried out by the public works department isn’t being completed, there is a problem.
“That is very concerning and for me, that is just cause for increasing staffing in our public works department…” he said. “There is a lot of catching up we have to do in terms of our staffing.”
Swain said the tax increase is unfortunate but necessary and that council isn’t “out of the woods” yet because there are likely high tax increases to come in years ahead, adding that councillors will need to “hold the line” and stick to those projected tax increases. He also said Lantzville’s roads are in “pretty sad shape” and the district’s asset management reserve is “in the toilet” and commended councillors for moving forward with the budget.
“We have big increases coming. I commend this council for being bold and doing what is right and maybe unpopular, but this is the right step,” Swain said. “We have to do this.”
Coun. Will Geselbracht said that previous councils didn’t invest as much money into the replacement of the district’s infrastructure and as a result, the residents are paying the price.
“We had old infrastructure to start in 2005 when we inherited it. We haven’t had any new development, we didn’t put any money away in the years 2005 to 2019, where we are now. It’s now provincially mandated that we must,” he said.
Geselbracht said previous chief administrative officers have all suggested that staffing levels need to be increased. He also said although it may sound like a “bad news” budget, it’s actually “bare bones” and necessary.
“Nobody is getting plush new chairs here in the council chambers,” Geselbracht said.
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