By Richard Bell
After more than two years of delays, property owners in and around Musquodoboit Harbour may finally get to vote this summer on whether to keep or kill a local area rate on their tax bills. This rate is a half cent ($0.005) per $100 of assessed value for all residential and resource properties in the Musquodoboit Harbour, East & West Petpeswick, Ostrea Lake and Smith’s Settlement areas. It brings in about $10,000 a year. Councillor David Hendsbee led a discussion of the coming vote at the May 15thmeeting of the Musquodoboit Harbour & Area Chamber of Commerce & Civic Affairs.
The county of Halifax adopted this small tax in the late 1980s at the request of local residents who wanted funds to pay for lights at the Musquodoboit Harbour ball fields. As Brian Staple noted at the recent Chamber meeting, parents had been parking their pickup trucks around the ball field so kids could play at night. Since then, control over allocating this fund eventually passed into Hendsbee’s hands, and has been spent on such things as the sailing program at the Petpeswick Yacht Club, or matching funds for the Chamber’s beautification program.
HRM staff began working to get rid of local rate funds back in 2017, and a vote on whether to keep the rate or kill it was originally supposed to happen in November of 2017. The Cooperator editorialized in favour of keeping the rate. As we noted at the time, “But more importantly, this rate creates a pool of money, about $10,000 this year, to spend on local recreational needs that does not need approval from the bureaucrats in downtown Halifax. Given how often rural residents complain of being ignored, it would be foolish to give up this modest financial source of autonomy and self-determination.”
For reasons lost in the fog of the HRM bureaucracy, the vote has never happened.
At the May 15thChamber meeting, Hendsbee said that HRM now wanted the vote to occur in time for it to be included in the October 2019 property tax bills, assuming that the vote was positive. But before the vote can take place, HRM has to mail out a notice to all non-commercial property owners. There HRM has to hold a public meeting, between the time the ballots go out and the time they are due back. If people vote to retain the rate, then the Harbour East Marine Drive Community Council has to vote to approve the rate, and then the Regional Council has to vote to approve the rate.
By a show of hands, there was unanimous support for retaining the rate among those at the Chamber meeting. And there was strong skepticism about whether the HRM bureaucracy was capable of moving fast enough to meet all these deadlines in time for the printing of the tax bills, which takes place in late August. Hendsbee said that if HRM failed to meet these deadlines, then Regional Council could decide to either extend the rate for another six months, or to suspend it.
Paula Milsom, former chair of the Musquodoboit Harbour Ratepayer’s Association, spoke out strongly for keeping the rate: “This is the only thing we have left, to my way of thinking, and I could be batshit crazy, this is the only thing we have left that we have jurisdiction over. I recommend highly that we retain this.”
Other attendees raised questions about who would control the funds if the vote was Yes, and who would decide, going forward, on what kinds of projects the community wanted to spend money on.
Hendsbee emphasized that the community would have to deal with such concerns after the vote. “Should the area rate be maintained, that’s the question. If we get a Yes, then we can move forward.”
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