BUDGET AND TAX TIME #2 – Urban and Rural Responsibilities

From time to time a resident in Wolfville will speak to me with concerns regarding Town taxes – feeling they are too high and if they just moved to the country they would be much lower. Well, how much, I am not sure but yes they would be lower – but there are some reasons for that.

  • Economies of Scale: – This is a big one. Let’s compare our Town of Wolfville with the surrounding Municipality – the Municipality of the County of Kings  (MOCK). In 2016 we had a population of 4,195, compared to the population of MOCK with a population of 47,404 approximately 11 times more populous. We offer many of the same services – planning, financial management, public infrastructure maintenance, etc. Let’s take planning, while Wolfville needs a planner, MOCK (Kings) doesn’t need or have 11 planners. The same would be the case for all of our municipal line departments. In short to provide the services our public wants and needs we could do that at less cost if there were more taxpayers. The solution to cut our current services and thereby lower taxes doesn’t seem a reasonable option.

For comparison, Wolfville’s current residential tax rate is $1.465/$100 of property assessment; residents of the Village of New Minas (within MOCK and with significant commercial tax benefit) pay the base MOCK rate of .853/$100 plus an area rate of .43/$100 for a total tax rate to NM residents (in 2019) of  $1.283/$100. I believe New Minas has a larger population than Wolfville and certainly more commercial taxpayers.

  • Less Support from the Province: This is a significant issue for Towns in Nova Scotia, who have been quite verbal, albeit to little avail,  about what appears to us to be an unfair situation. For example, Highway 1, which in Wolfville is Main Street, is a Provincial Highway. Maintenance including repair and snow plowing is done along Highway 1 by the Province. It is not uncommon to hear it said that “the provincial snow plow lifts its blade when it gets to Wolfville at its eastern end and puts that blade down when it hits Greenwich. Those provincial costs btw are paid in part from our provincial taxes – so, in fact, Town residents are helping to plow provincial roads in rural areas but do not get the benefit of that maintenance in Town.

  • Limited Commercial Tax Base: Relative to other Towns, and to MOCK, Wolfville has a very small commercial tax base. Acadia University, which is a significant driver to the health of our Town, only pays residential taxes on its residences. The Town receives a contribution from the Province for Acadia, in the neighbourhood of $1,000,000 annually, considerably smaller than if we were located in New Brunswick or Ontario. It was noted by the Town’s Fiscal Sustainability Task Force (2010) (see Town of Wolfville website and search for “Fiscal Sustainability Tax Force” for the full report) that if the Town was to receive a grant-in-lieu for taxes for institutional buildings that would have added close to $5,000,000 to the 2010 tax revenue – or half of the current operating budget! Until, or unless, we have a significant growth in our commercial tax base – for which we have very limited land area to grow – the burden of taxes will continue to fall on the residential tax base.
  •  Cost of Being a Service and Tourist Town: There is no question that the Town’s commercial businesses and the University benefit financially from being located in an attractive and exciting community. Undoubtedly we as residents benefit from the vibrancy of people coming into our town, and the services that remain because of this support. While I am thrilled when our commercial and tourist sectors do well and attract lots of activity from beyond our borders, there is a cost and a pressure on our infrastructure for which the Town receives no compensation beyond the very limited commercial taxes. Whether a commercial enterprise does well or not they are charged the same commercial tax. However, should a business do very well and attract more cliental into Town, they will pay more taxes – to the Province. The wear and tear on Town infrastructure will be paid for largely by the residential taxpayer. Municipalities, including Towns, have almost no control on how, or what, revenues to which we have access. That is controlled by the Province.
  • The Forgotten Benefits Re $ for Town Residents: One of the things one may forget when comparing taxes in the Town to taxes in the County are the costs that we may save. For example, our household is able to manage with a single-vehicle. Yes, there are times when we have to juggle our schedules but almost everything we want is available within Wolfville, walking the 1 1/2 km’s (now that we have moved from the downtown core) is healthy from so many perspectives. Were we to live in a more rural area we would most certainly find it difficult without a second vehicle. That alone must save us close to $10,0000 annually. Just one of the costs of paying lower taxes in rural areas.

So, yes Town residents pay higher taxes than our more rural cousins. That cost however, should be considered along with savings in other areas afforded to us by our density and proximity to commercial and other services. That said, there would be clear benefits of economies of scale – be it through growth in our Town, or through a new relationship with MOCK. I am personally in support of both as long as we can manage processes so that we retain the flavour and aspects of this Town which we so seem to love. I believe to do so will take compromise and balance. As we move into our last year of this Council term, and our annual budget period. I hope that many residents will add their voices to these important issues.

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