Cape Breton Regional Municipality has had its year-end financial statements cleared by an independent auditor and is in the unusual position of having a significant surplus.
CBRM ended the 2020-21 fiscal year in the black with an extra $3.9 million in cash and its overall debt reduced by about $2.5 million.
Mayor Amanda McDougall praised municipal staff for "some pretty amazing financial management," despite extra costs and lost revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Wow, what a hard year and a half we've had, and to have financial statements coming out so strong for the municipality, it really puts us in a place that we can focus on the work that we want to do to help our community grow," she said Wednesday during a special council meeting held to approve the financial statements.
Chief financial officer Jennifer Campbell told the audit committee earlier in the day that the surplus was achieved mostly through increased deed transfer taxes from an unexpected boom in local real estate sales and by holding the line on expenses.
Cost savings were achieved by not filling some staff positions and reduced demand for snow-clearing thanks to a mild winter, she said.
Transit revenues dropped significantly, but the service had to continue running because it was deemed essential by the Nova Scotia government.
Municipalities received varying amounts of provincial pandemic funding to cover added expenses and lost revenues, but that only covered about 85 per cent of the financial impact on CBRM, Campbell said.
"2021 was certainly a year for the history books," she said. "Ever-changing public health protocols certainly had us continually changing gears and that continues right through to present day and moving into the next couple of weeks."
Last week, the province announced CBRM will be getting an additional $15 million this year for equalization while a new funding arrangement is negotiated with all municipal units.
Coun. Steve Parsons, a member of the audit committee, asked whether the municipality could invest some of its surplus cash instead of following the past practice of placing it in a low-interest reserve fund.
Campbell said that is possible, but CBRM council would first have to consider creating a policy.
"We're not used to having surplus cash balances, to be honest, so that's why we don't have a current investment policy, but it's certainly something that we should have given the circumstances that we're finding ourselves in now," she said.
Other highlights from the year-end financial statements include:
The water utility had a surplus of about $2.6 million.
CBRM's overall debt stands at about $69 million.
The reserve fund is growing, but still below the provincial target.
Debt-servicing costs are improving.
Uncollected taxes are improving.
The Port of Sydney lost about $330,000 last year.
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