Mayor of Fundy-St. Martins rankled by large tax increases

Jim Bedford, mayor of Fundy-St. Martins, is disappointed in the budget imposed on his newly expanded village by the provincial government. (Facebook/Jim Bedford - image credit)
Jim Bedford, mayor of Fundy-St. Martins, is disappointed in the budget imposed on his newly expanded village by the provincial government. (Facebook/Jim Bedford - image credit)

New Brunswick's municipal reforms were touted as a way to give more say to rural residents who never had representation before, but the mayor of Fundy-St. Martins says some residents of his recently expanded village are feeling powerless in the face of big property tax increases.

"It was handed down to us," said Jim Bedford, who got his first look at his community's budget in mid-January, but is getting a better idea how residents are affected, as bills begin to arrive in the mail.

Even he is at a loss to understand the exact reasons behind the tax hikes.

The rates in some areas of the village, located in southern N.B., are going up by 15 to 20 cents, which will cost an average homeowner about $200, said Bedford.

The most disappointing thing in his view is that residents had no input. "It's, 'Pay it and have a good day,'" he said.

"'Here it is. This is what it's going to cost you.' And we get nothing in return."

Because of the timeline of municipal reforms and elections of new councils, this year's municipal budget was formulated by the provincial government.

"It kind of blindsided us that we would see this much of an increase," said Bedford. "It would have been nice even for the previous council to have had some input into it."


Under local governance reforms by the province, many factors could be at play with respect to higher tax rates, said Phillippe Ouellette, CEO of the Fundy Regional Services Commission, of which Fundy-St. Martins is a member.

A lot of change is happening, said Ouellette, and there are "challenges."

One factor is that local government entities are new or expanded. That means they have higher operating costs, but it also means they are providing services to residents who previously didn't have them.

Fundy-St. Martins is by no means alone in that. For example, said Ouellette, Hampton, which is also a member of the commission, has doubled in both size and population under the reforms. That would certainly have an impact, he said.

Fundy-St. Martins does have new administrative costs, said Bedford, such as a new chief administrative officer and council pay. But a large chunk of its $2.7-million budget is going to the regional service commission, he said.

The commission is getting more funding to go with its broader mandate, said Ouellette.

It used to deal with land planning and the regional landfill. Now, it has six new areas of responsibility, as well: economic development, tourism promotion, regional facilities, regional transportation, regional public safety and community development.

Municipal council members may not be able to point to exactly what they're getting for their higher taxes now, but the commission will provide a forum to work a lot of that out, said the CEO. The model is intended to empower each local government, he said.

Phil Ouellette/LinkedIn
Phil Ouellette/LinkedIn

With the exception of economic development and tourism promotion — which have been contracted out to Envision Saint John — committees will be set up to deal with every other commission responsibility, with representation on each from across the region.

The mayors, who make up the commission board, will be able to collaborate on decisions about big ticket items, said Ouellette.

The transportation committee, for example, might propose a trail system that spans the region, if they decide that should be a priority, or initiatives surrounding train safety, which many communities seem to share concerns about.

Amalgamation is "probably good," said Bedford, but "mandated services" create "a burden."

He suspects the highest tax-rate increases in his community were imposed on areas that previously opted out of contributing to operate a rink in St. Martins and that now everyone in the new community is being required to pitch in.

Bedford said he hopes council will have more say in the municipal budget next year, but he is expecting another tax hike as contributions are mandated for other regional facilities.

Regional facilities are one of the higher cost factors in the commission's budget, Ouellette acknowledged. But if the Fundy-St. Martins tax increases have anything to do with the St. Martins rink, it's not related to "regional facility" contributions.


There are only five designated regional facilities under the purview of the Fundy Regional Services Commission — TD Station, the Saint John Arts Centre, the Saint John Trade and Convention Centre, the Canada Games Aquatic Centre and the Imperial Theatre, all in Saint John.

Community development is the broadest new governance mandate, said Ouellette. It encompasses social inclusion, newcomer settlement, diversity promotion, affordable housing and healthy communities.

Some of those are big ticket items, but Ouellette said they also provide many opportunities to "drive value" to residents of the Fundy region.

There will be other budget pressures in Fundy-St. Martins, said the mayor.

It currently has a "break-even" budget, and no money for capital repairs. The fire station is outdated, for example, but the community can't afford to replace it, said Bedford, unless it borrows the money or raises taxes again.

"We certainly don't want to do that," he said.

Bedford said the new council will have to be creative, but he's optimistic they'll overcome the challenges.

CBC News contacted the provincial government for more details on the factors behind the tax hikes in Fundy-St. Martins. No response had been received by publication time.