It’s early in the budget season, but Halifax regional councillors are hoping to keep next year’s tax increase well below inflation.
Council’s budget committee met Tuesday to work toward creating the municipality’s billion-dollar 2020-2021 budget, and unanimously passed a motion to limit property tax increases for the year ahead to 1.5% on the average bill — equal to $30 for the average residential property tax bill.
Most of that increase is due to rising property values.
The final numbers aren’t in till later this month, but chief financial officer Jane Fraser told councillors the municipality is expecting the average residential property assessment to rise by 1.4%, from $242,400 in 2019-2020 to $245,800 in 2020-2021.
Under the proposal approved by councillors on Tuesday, the tax rate, 0.815% in 2019-2020, would only rise 0.001 of a percentage point to 0.816%.
The average commercial tax bill would rise by 1.5 percentage point as well, equal to $643.
Fraser told councillors her office needed to find an extra $34.5 million above the current year’s budget due to increases in municipal employees’ wages, inflation, and other costs.
To make up about a third of the deficit, the municipality is budgeting for $12 million more deed transfer tax, levied when property changes hands, in 2020-2021. Fraser said the city is also projecting lower fuel prices, taking on more debt, and she said it found $4 million in unspecified “efficiencies,” budget cuts to be revealed in the weeks to come as municipal departments come to council with their numbers.
About $8 million of the budget deficit would be made up with the tax increase.
Councillors also voted Tuesday to add millions of dollars worth of capital projects to their budget adjustment list, which they refer to as the parking lot, including $2 million for renovations to the Keshen Goodman Library in Clayton Park.
They’ll likely add more items to that list from the operating budget as municipal departments make their presentations at council. At the end of the budget process, councillors will pick and choose items from the list to determine the final budget and final property tax changes.
The final budget is expected to be approved in April.
Last April, council approved an above-inflation increase of 2.3% cent to the average property tax bill. Consumer price index-based inflation last year was 2.1%, and is expected to be 2.2% this year.