By Richard Bell
Residents living in or near Musquodoboit Harbour will be getting a rare opportunity in November for a non-binding vote to retain or end a small tax dedicated to improving local recreational opportunities and facilities. This little-known tax, called a local area rate, appears on property tax bills under the name, “Musquodoboit Hbr Common Rec.”(MHCR) The rate is a very low halfpenny per $100 ($0.005)—or $10 on a $200,000 assessment.
The amounts of money involved per property are small, but the upcoming vote is already producing discussions about the history of this tax, how it has been administered to date, and whether control should pass from Councillor David Hendsbee’s hands to a group chosen from the ratepayers. Resolving these issues is more pressing in light of a planned request by the Musquodoboit Harbour & Area Chamber of Commerce & Civic Affairs for three projects that would consume most of the money that has accumulated in this fund.
The County of Halifax adopted this local area rate for recreational purposes in the late 1980s, initially to pay for the installation of lights at the baseball field, and to pay the electric bills for operating those lights. The catchment area where this rate is applied includes 1,888 residential and resource properties, mostly along East Petpeswick, West Petpeswick, and Ostrea Lake Roads. This year, the MHCR will bring in $10,475, in addition to $30,620 that has accrued from previous years (for a total of $41,095).
Managing the Funds
HRM staff have been pushing to eliminate local area rates. In Musquodoboit Harbour, all requests for spending from the tax go to District 2 Councillor David Hendsbee, who decides which requests to put before the Harbour East—Marine Drive Community Council, which has the ultimate authority to approve or reject Hendsbee’s recommendations.
The Chamber’s Pending Proposal
At the October 5 meeting of the Harbour East—Marine Drive Community Council, Chamber of Commerce president Kent Smith said that the Chamber would be submitting a request in the future for the Community Council to approve spending $35,000 from the MHCR fund’s $41,095 on three projects: $19,979+HST to Ekistics for “200 hours of design time to generate working drawings;” $10,000 to “create and implement a branding strategy;” and $5,000 for upgrades to the Railway Museum and grounds.
Rules for Voting
Property owners will be entitled to one vote per property. Seasonal residents who pay property taxes can vote. Hendsbee told an October 17 meeting of the Musquodoboit Harbour & Area Community Association that he was working with staff from HRM’s Taxation and Revenue department on several issues: (1) writing an explanatory text that would come with the ballot; (2) deciding how long the poll would stay open; (3) locating drop boxes to collect votes; and (4) establishing the criteria for deciding whether enough people had responded to make the results legitimate.
In response to a question about the control of the fund if voters retain it, Hendsbee said that he would consider appointing an advisory group to make recommendations on the use of the recreational fund in the future.
“I don’t live in the catchment area, so I don’t pay the tax,” Hendsbee said. “But if there’s a reasonable response rate and it’s split down the middle, I’ll probably lean towards keeping it.”
Hendsbee confirmed on October 26 that the vote was still on track for November, and that he would be sharing the draft explanatory text beforehand to make sure that people got enough information to understand what they were voting on.
The vote, however, is advisory only, not binding. The ultimate decision about whether to accept or reject the results of the vote lies in the hands of the Regional Council.