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Halifax budget meeting focuses on proposed 9.7 per cent property tax hike

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The city of Halifax held it’s first budget meeting Tuesday after staff recommended a property tax increase of 9.7 per cent to make up for a revenue shortfall of $68.7 million dollars.

“I’m thinking that we’re going to have to knock several points off this and we’re going to have to do that in combination of either hiring freezes or cutbacks on some programs or cut back on some projects,” says councillor Tim Outhit, noting he didn’t want to set the expectation of a 9.7 per cent increase.

Councillor Outhit tabled a motion to develop a budget according to council’s approved priorities.

“I think the message I’d like to see is that while staff has said for things to be easy and palatable for the municipality to go ahead and do all the things that we would like to do that 9.7 would be required,” Outhit says.

“I think we need to send the message that we are going to dig in over the next few months and not even consider 9.7.”

An increase of that amount would mean an individual homeowner would pay $223 more in property tax.

Outhit's motion passed 13-1, with councillor Trish Purdy being the only one to vote against it.

Councillor Waye Mason says there are ways to trim that burden for residents.

“We want the business units to come back with each of their plans and we’re going to examine their plans and look for cuts. What we did last year was set an arbitrary low number and then we kept adding things back in,” he says.

Mayor Mike Savage wants the province to send more money to the municipality. He’s looking for a new fiscal framework that would give Halifax a bigger share of growth-related revenue that right now goes into the province’s coffers. That could play a role in lessening the amount that comes out of the pockets of homeowners.

“What’s happening is that revenues at the provincial and federal level have been going up as the population of Canada has increased, but the infrastructure is largely at the municipal level. We have 60 per cent of the infrastructure in cities and municipalities but only 10 per cent of the taxes,” says Savage.

The original staff report called for a rate increase of 15 per cent; that is now down to 9.7, a number that’s still not acceptable for many inside city hall.

The next step in establishing a budget will come on Dec. 12 with a capital update. The final budget will be released in April.

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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