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Cumberland considers how to redirect reserve funds as relief

Council still needs to adopt property tax rates by the middle of May

Cumberland’s council held off adopting tax rates for the year at the April 27 meeting to consider some reserve funds it is putting aside to one day pay for the police costs.

The Village of Cumberland has to adopt its tax rates for the year by May 15, but council decided it needs to consider in more detail whether it should redirect some of the emergency and public safety reserve fund money in ways to help the community through the COVID-19 situation.

Council will consider the 2020 property tax rates in more detail at a special meeting on May 4, 2020 at 2 p.m. which will be lived streamed via Zoom.

As the Village’s population creeps toward 5,000 - the benchmark at which communities in the province have to start paying for police costs - council and staff have had to put aside reserve funds, as opposed to bringing in a large tax increase at once. Village chief financial officer Michelle Mason said she does not anticipate the community will hit 5,000 for the 2021 census.

“It’s a matter of balancing off the risk,” she said.

The current economic instability from the pandemic prompted members of council to look at using reserve funds for help in the short term in the community.

While the amount varies and some property classes saw larger increases, the tax rates are increasing by 4.62 per cent over 2019 rates which should amount to about $178 more for an average single-family home. This figure, Mason told council, includes $42 for the utility rate and frontage tax hikes.

“It’s not all property taxes,” she said.

RELATED STORY: Cumberland council plans for tax, utility increases

Members of council commented that while the timing of an increase was unfortunate, the Village had committed to some large capital projects, some of which like the new fire hall, are underway.

“We don’t have a lot of options when it comes to deferring capital projects,” said Coun. Jesse Ketler, pointing out some communities had chosen to put off some capital projects. She proposed considering the police reserve funds for one year to offer some relief for taxes.

“I really think it’s important that we try and bring down the tax as much as we can for this year in light of what’s happening with everyone’s finances,” she said.

Mason later estimated using the surplus funds would result in an average reduction to the proposed hike of about $30 if this is spread through all property classes. The staff report notes the Village budgeted about $47,770 in new residential growth taxes as revenue and a reserve transfer, but with the revised roll, the amount was more than $107,000. With the planned transfer to the reserve, there is a remaining balance of $59,700.

Some on council suggested it might make sense to put this money aside to help with potential COVID-19 relief in the future, especially if there is another wave of the virus.

“I’m interested in putting the money somewhere different for a rainy day,” said Coun. Sean Sullivan.

Ultimately, council wanted to know what the tax implications would be and asked staff to prepare a report for the special meeting, so they can discuss the matter before making a final decision at the next regular meeting.

“I think it would benefit us to show the residents that we looked at it,” said Mayor Leslie Baird.

(The special council meeting was slated for May 4, after this story went to press. The item should be on the agenda for the next regular meeting set for May 11 at which point council needs to adopt the property tax bylaw.)

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