A dozen residents came out for a public presentation of a draft of the 2014/2015 operating budget for the Town of Digby.
Municipal government consultant Rick Ramsay told Digby council and the audience not to be discouraged by those numbers.
“This is a process, it’s new,” said Ramsay at the Digby firehall on Thursday night, June 12. “This is the first time we’ve done this and the more people learn, if you do this next year and keep doing it, the numbers will grow. I’d advise you do it at least three years.”
Ramsay went through the 21 pages of the draft budget line by line, offering explanations as he went.
He pointed out the budget they’ve presented requires a slight tax increase to be balanced; both residential and commercial property tax rates would go up one cent per $100 of assessment.
The residential rate would be an even $2 and the commercial rate would rise to $4.19. Last year council raised the residential rate five cents and the commercial rate 19 cents.
The town’s sewer rate will also go up 40 cents to $5.95 per 1,000 gallons water usage.
Solid waste (garbage, compost and recycling) will also go up from $221 to $234 per dwelling unit.
Garbage went up by $7 the two previous years. The sewer rate increase this year cancels out last year’s decrease from $5.95 to $5.55.
Mayor Ben Cleveland asked the public to go through the draft budget carefully and prepare questions or suggestions for the next public budget meeting Tuesday, June 17 at 6:30 p.m. at the Digby firehall.
He asked if possible, that those questions be provided before the meeting so staff and council would have time to prepare answers.
The mayor said council’s direction to staff, made behind closed doors, for preparing this budget, was to “maintain the level of service but to do so as cost-effectively as possible.”
The four or five people who asked questions at the meeting were more concerned about council’s efforts to cut costs and taxes.
Town resident Paul Saulnier says his taxes when he was living outside of town in the municipality were half what they are in town.
“This is a $5 million business that I’m a shareholder in, “ he said. “When times are tough, the budget needs to be looked at with a fine tooth comb.”
As examples of the efforts to cut costs, the mayor said the town has recently lost three employees but has only budgeted for the replacement of one, and the town will no longer accept Visa payments.
The mayor also mentioned the next set of discussions he committed to – council was to consider reviewing council size this June.
The mayor said cutting two council positions at a savings of $30,000 in a $5 million budget wouldn’t make a big impact.
“These are all things we’re going to have to look at,” he said. “But there’s only so much to cut, once you’ve cut police and fire and public works, doctor recruitment, well what then? What does the future look like then?”
The mayor says council needs to start looking at higher-level issues like how do we make Digby an attractive place for people to live.
“We need to find a way to bring people back and start working on a better future for Digby,” said the mayor.
Copies of the draft budget are available at the town office Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.