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The civic centre on the Esplanade in Sydney is shown in this file photo. - Cape Breton Post
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Cape Breton Regional Municipality council to consider balanced budget

Staff recommends keeping heavy garbage, rejecting big dollar asks
SYDNEY, N.S. — Heavy garbage is among the expenditures included in the proposed 2018-2019 Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM) budget to be presented to council Tuesday for consideration.

The document, that features an operating budget of almost $147 million and a capital budget of $34 million, will be pitched by chief financial officer Jennifer Campbell during the opening session of deliberations at city hall.

“We’re coming forward with a balanced budget that hopefully council will approve,” said Campbell, who added that the proposed financial blueprint is based on months of meetings, consultations and public information sessions as well as municipal staff input.

“It’s really a collaboration between every department of the CBRM — we left the budget workshops back in February knowing that we were over budget by about $1,062,000, so we had to go through everybody’s budgets and consider what were new asks, what were mandatory increases and come up with a compromise of how we were going to cut a million dollars across CBRM.”

And Campbell, who spent three years as the CBRM’s finance manager before assuming her new duties last August following former CFO Marie Walsh’s appointment to chief administrative officer, said balancing the budget of the cash-strapped municipality was not an easy task.

“It’s really tough to do because everybody wants to make improvements to service delivery and internal operations, however, we’re not able to financially do that at this time,” she said.

“New initiatives that were considered more or less discretionary were either denied for this year, although hopefully future budgets will see those improvement, but for this year they were the first things that unfortunately had to come off the budgets proposed in the workshops.”

With a $2 million decrease in overall revenue, the proposed operating budget is 1.4 per cent less than last year, while the capital budget contains $2 million more in expenditures than it did in the 2017-2018 document.

The CBRM long-term debt sits $49 million. The total debt is expected to rise to about $73 million once the municipality pays for capital projects from the past two fiscal years with short term borrowing totalling more than $24 million. Campbell, however, said the debt sounds worse than it is given that it was well over $100 million just eight years ago.

Highlights of the proposed capital budget include $10.5 million for the Sydney Marine Terminal’s second berth and $4.5 million for Bayplex renovations. For both projects, the funding represents the costs for the first of two years of construction.

The capital budget is to be financed by almost $22 million in external funding ($7.2 million from the province, $7.8 million from Ottawa and $6.7 million from the gas tax rebate program), $2.4 million from CBRM coffers and almost $10 million that will be borrowed when needed.

In regard to the operating budget, engineering and public works is expected to gobble up more than $45 million, while police and fire services will likely cost $26 million and $18 million respectively.

Staff is also proposing that a number of substantial funding requests be turned down. Those include New Dawn Enterprise’s $1.5 million request for the Cape Breton Centre for Arts, Culture and Innovation and the Horizon Achievement Centre’s application for $750,000 to help with its Over the Horizon new facility project.

However, the transit pilot project will continue as will operations at the Canada Games Complex arena at Cape Breton University. Additionally, staff is recommending that the municipality’s popular heavy garbage removal service be maintained at a cost of $253,840.

“Heavy garbage is back,” said Campbell. “We weren’t going to propose cutting that again given that it’s not what the community wants, and that is supported by council, so we weren’t going to go back and try to take heavy garbage out as one of the balancing items.”

While Campbell and staff put together the proposed budget, it is up to council to approve the document, either as is or with approved changes.

Deputy Mayor Eldon MacDonald, who represents District 5 in Sydney, said that while he acknowledges the need for a balanced budget he was not pleased to see that just one of 60 staff-identified upgrades to collector roads was included in the document. And the District 5 councillor said the state of roads in the municipality is one of the issues he hears most about from CBRM residents.

“It’s a very difficult issue so you try to do the best you can on behalf of the residents, but you will not fix all of those problems and issues as quickly as people think they should be resolved,” said MacDonald, who further opined that some of the municipality’s financial woes would be alleviated if the province distributed the annual equalization payments it receives from the federal government.

“We’re just not getting our fair share of funding and that’s a big part of the problem, but we’re not getting it — the province is getting it, the federal government gives the province $1.8 billion every year and they’re keeping 80 per cent of it,” he said.

The province has passed on $15,335,838 directly to the CBRM in the form of annual transfer operating grants since the 2014-2015 fiscal year. Supporters of federal transfer payment reform suggest that with 10 per cent of Nova Scotia’s population that the CBRM should receive much more.

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Highlights of proposed 2018-2019 CBRM budget

• $146,860,803 — operating budget

• $33,932,855 — capital budget

• $45,577,826 — engineering and public works

• $26,994,915 — police services

• $18,201,994 — fire services

• $10.5 million — construction of second berth, Sydney Marine Terminal (year 1 of 2)

• $4.5 million — renovations to Bayplex, Glace Bay (year 1 of 2)

• $254,000 — re-establishment of heavy garbage pickup

• $100,000 — amount saved by discontinuation of Communities in Bloom program

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