Stratford's budget hones in on new high school campus and waterfront park

·3 min read

STRATFORD – Balancing this year's operational budget for the town was no easy task, Mayor Steve Ogden said.

"It's a challenge every year, but this year especially."

Coun. Gail MacDonald, chair of the finance committee, said the town's financial challenges are partly due to population growth and limited revenue options. That's why changes, including a property tax increase, were introduced this year and last year.

"It's hard to keep up," she said. "It requires us to be forward-thinking."

Stratford's 2021-22 operating and capital budgets were ultimately approved during a special council meeting on March 24 – with a tight surplus of about $800.

A growing town means community infrastructure is taking the focus this year, including allocating about $2.7 million to finalize the land purchases for the planned community campus and high school. Its building and site design will also be outlined.

And now that Stratford's wastewater pipeline to Charlottetown is complete, the other main focus is to decommission the lagoon this summer and convert it into a park space. The town is open to possibilities for what to do with this space, and members of the public are invited to submit their ideas online by March 29, MacDonald said.

"We'll see what we can get for $925,000."

Other projects budgeted for this year include adding an active transportation path along the water-facing side of Keppoch Road, paving the trail from the Hillsborough Bridge to the underpass connection on Glen Stewart Drive, and expanding the trail network at Fullerton's Creek Conservation Park.

Investing in trail networks and increasing their connectivity is often one of Stratford's top resident requests, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic, MacDonald said.

"Many residents discovered (Fullerton's) for this first time last year."

The town is also investing in additional portable speed humps, speed radar signs and electric vehicle charging stations, as well as more public art displays.

The Corish Sewer Lift Station and Pondside Water Station will see upgrades, which is important as the new pipeline will reduce the amount of surface and groundwater seeping into the systems, MacDonald said.

For the average Stratford resident, property tax rates will rise to $0.45 per $100 of assessed property value. That will amount to about $15 extra for the whole year and was determined during last year's budget, MacDonald said.

"(Because) there are certain expenditures that have grown a lot, such as police and fire protection," finance director Kim O'Connell said.

There's no change to utility rates because the plan is to gather data for a year to gauge the new pipeline's impact.

For non-residents with seasonal houses, rates will rise to $0.90. Micheal Coady, who falls in this category, believes this is unfair considering there are under 200 non-resident property owners in Stratford, he said.

"I'm not saying we shouldn't contribute. We should. We should pay our fair share," he said during a draft budget presentation on March 8. "But doubling? That's wrong."

During the presentation, MacDonald noted the new tax structure is still below average compared to similar municipalities such as Charlottetown and Cornwall. Stratford also isn't eligible to count non-residents when applying for funding, she said.

Twitter.com/dnlbrown95

Daniel Brown, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Guardian