PORT AUX BASQUES – The last Town Council meeting for 2020 took place on Tuesday evening, Dec. 8. Deputy mayor Todd Strickland was the only councilor not in attendance. Here are some of the highlights.
Cathy Lomond delivered a letter from the Tourism Southwest board about the significance of the ATV Trail to the region’s tourism industry. The letter outlined recent maintenance work and promotional efforts, before asking for council’s support in helping to grow the ATV tourism business, including financial support.
Grand Bay Bottom Sewer
Mayor John Spencer read notes from a recent privileged meeting that discussed the finances of the sewer project. Specifically, the Town voted to borrow $494,827.
“I don’t know if we’re going to be able to afford all this – what we’re expected to do in terms of Federal regulations. This one project is going to cost us $500,000 and we have six or seven left to start,” said Spencer.
Tax write off
Council also voted to write off poll tax that has been kept on the books for several years. Spencer noted that the tax, which is levied against residents who don’t own property, brings in a fair amount of money for the Town.
Come Home Year
Coun. Jim Lane announced that after much consideration, he had to recommend cancellation of Come Home Year 2021.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen in 2021,” said Lane. “I understand there’s a vaccine coming online. We really don’t know what kind of impact that’s going to have.”
After some discussion, Council decided to err on the side of caution and supported the recommendation to cancel the festivities.
A letter to Council asked for a permit to operate a new taxi business. The private operator seeks to run a single vehicle and be the only driver. Ideally the entrepreneur would like to start during this Christmas season.
Council noted that the person has a significant amount of experience and is familiar with the regulations surrounding the taxi industry, but requires some clarification before the permit can be issued.
Mayor Spencer stated it was a particularly difficult budget to pull together this time as the effects of the pandemic continue to wreak havoc on the overall economy and by extension this region. Despite the difficulty, Council has no plan for any tax increases in 2021.
“Groceries going up a minimum of five percent. I see the poverty. I see the strain. I see the evidence around the community of people not seeing their families, of people not being able to travel,” saidSpencer. “It was a difficult year.”
Even though the town shut down Bruce II Sports Centre, there were no revenues to offset unavoidable expenses like utilities and insurance.
Spencer noted that families already struggling to make ends meet cannot afford to pay last year’s taxes and will likely find themselves in similar circumstances next year, even with a vaccine on the horizon.
“The damage has been done.”
According to Spencer, budget meetings revealed “quite a large gap” between the town’s revenues and expenses in 2020 that will necessitate some cutbacks in 2021.
Compounding matters is that the Town’s residential property assessments dropped by $16 million and business assessments decreased by $2 million. That means a revenue loss of around $150,000 for the Town. Most residents will see a tax reduction in 2021.
Past practice has been to raise the mil rate to compensate for decreases in assessments, but Council does not intend to raise the mil rate during such rough times.
“There will be no extras in 2021,” said Spencer. “There’s no wish list for Council.”
Although borrowing rates are low, the Mayor observed that eventually those monies will have to be paid back and at this time it doesn’t make sense for Council to increase its debt load, which is currently at 14 percent even though that can be extended to 30 percent.
“We’re going to move along and struggle along until we can get out of this COVID situation,” said Spencer.