Council approves 2023/2024 operating budget

PICTOU ­– The Municipality of Pictou County will be holding its tax rate for another year.

The residential tax rate will remain at $0.815 per $100 assessed value and the commercial rate will stay the same at $1.825 per $100 assessed value.

Warden Robert Parker said this year’s budget was one of the most difficult to balance without a tax increase in many years.

“Through hard work by staff and determination by all, we achieved our goal, a balanced budget,” Warden Parker said.

Residents may still notice an increase on their tax bills because of an increase in assessed property values, which has climbed provincewide.

In Pictou County, property values, which are determined by the Property Valuation Services Corporation, have risen 12 per cent in the last year. The Capped Assessment Calculation is based on the Nova Scotia Consumer Price Index and is 7.7 per cent for 2023.

While the Municipality isn’t involved in setting assessed property values, Warden Parker said it’s something that council and staff wanted to be mindful of.

“Holding the tax rate was a high priority of council, this year especially, because of the increase in most property assessments,” Warden Parker said. “An increase in the tax rate would only have worsened the tax bill.”

While the MOPC has faced the same challenges of rising costs as many families within the county, staff have worked hard to keep expenses in check. Council has approved an operating budget of $23,277,798 for the 2023/2024 fiscal year.

“This will be a year of strict cost containment in all departments for careful adherence to the budget,” Warden Parker said.

The Municipality has seen rising costs in both education and protection services. The MOPC’s mandatory education contribution increased by 6.7 per cent to a total of $5.65 million. Police protection increased by 6 per cent for a total of $4.19 million.

One of the largest new expenses in this year’s budget is $1.4 million for the demolition of the former East Pictou School. The school opened in 1952 and was used for a high school and middle school for decades before closing in 2020.

After it closed, the building became the responsibility of the Municipality of Pictou County. Attempts to sell the building were unsuccessful.

Budget Demolition was the successful bidder on the demolition project.

Warden Parker said the cost for the demolition came in 50 percent higher than anticipated and dealing with the increased cost required some creative thinking to prevent a significant tax increase.

“Rather than a large tax increase, this cost will be spread over 10 years with dollars to come from the County’s reserves and paid back, with interest, to that same account,” he said.

He said the decision was difficult but necessary.

Council has also budgeted approximately $1.2 million for various grants. This money goes to support community groups and organizations that benefit the residents of Pictou County.