Mayor 'upset' over double-digit tax increase

Some residents of Fundy-St. Martins will see double-digits increases to their tax bills following local governance reforms.

Fundy-St.Martins is an amalgamation of the Village of St. Martins, Fairfield LSD, and parts of the LSDs of Saint Martins and Simonds, as a part of the province's sweeping local governance reforms.

Simonds residents will see a 20-cent increase to their property taxes, bringing their bills from 83.9 cents per every $100 of assessed value to $1.04 per every $100 of assessed value, according to figures released by the municipality.

In Fairfield, the tax rate is increasing by over 15 cents, from 88.49 cents per every $100 of assessed value to $1.0381 per $100.

The local service district of St. Martins will be increasing from 97.91 cents per $100 of assessed value to $1.0528 per $100, and the village of St. Martins is increasing from $1.25 per $100 to $1.2698.

It's something mayor Jim Bedford says is "very disheartening," and people have the right to be upset over it, especially since the town's council had no say in the budget.

"I'm upset," he said, "and so is council."

The province's department of local government and local governance reform set the tax rates for municipalities that were impacted by the sweeping reforms, which reduced the number of local government entities in New Brunswick from more than 300 to 89.

Vicky Lutes, spokesperson for the department of local government, said the municipality's budget was "created with the transition team locally," and the team "consisted of locally elected people in place at that time." Transition facilitator Bill Thompson died in November.

Before the municipality's council was sworn in last December, the mayor and six councillors weren't privy to financial information, including the tax rate and budget.

“We have not seen anything," Coun. John Cairns previously told the Telegraph-Journal when the council was sworn in. "Not a word. Nothing, absolutely nothing."

Cairns added "it's going to become very expensive within the next few years to run that village, because the government has downloaded so much of their responsibilities, which used to be theirs, to us. And we have no idea of the cost,” referring to the new mandates added to the regional service commissions.

A significant portion of the town's $2.7 million operating budget will go toward the Fundy Regional Service Commission, which has expanded mandates under local governance reform, and now covers operational and capital costs of sport, recreation and cultural venues, tourism promotion and economic development, public safety and regional transportation, among other functions.

Fundy-St.Martins will be paying $479,671 of the service commission's $10.3 million budget.

Elected officials from Saint John, Quispamsis, Rothesay, Grand Bay-Westfield, Fundy-St. Martins and local service districts all voted against passing the 2023 operating budget, but it was passed under Local Government Minister Daniel Allain's authority nonetheless.

Bedford said the tax increases will only just cover the newly mandated services, meaning there's no extra room for special projects within the municipality, like a new soccer field or walking trails.

"We thought reform would be a positive thing, with the tax base growing," Bedford says, "but the money is going right out the door."

With files from Emma McPhee

Marlo Glass, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal