Unabated growth in the Town of Stratford was the main theme as the town passed its annual budget Wednesday night.
In the second sentence of the budget address, Councillor Randy Cooper, chair of the finance and technology committee said "the growth of the Town continued unabated in 2012, which demonstrates that Stratford remains the most desirable place to live on Prince Edward Island."
Building permit values exceeded $30million for the fourth year in a row, he said.
A study shows the demand will continue well into the future, council was told.
Trouble is, it's getting harder to support all that growth, said Cooper, mostly due to changes imposed by how the provincial government sends tax revenue to the town.
The town is prudent, however, said Cooper, so tax rates will not change pending "the successful negotiation of a fair revenue agreement with the province."
A tax credit based on tax collected by the town had been in place until 2008 when a system of tax grants took over. The town gets almost $400,000 less under the grant system, said Cooper. The report of the commission on Land and Local Governance recommended a return to the tax credit system but that has not been forthcoming, Stratford council heard.
The town plans to take in about $4.5 million in the coming year and spend about $4.3 million leaving a surplus of $176,300.
Cooper said that residents will feel the effect this year of an increase in the fire rate the department requested last year.
The town will fund a civilian clerk for the RCMP detachment this year. It also set aside a bit of money if the police office is upgraded, but it remains unclear if a new police office will be required.
That issue is still being studied by the town and the RCMP, said Cooper.
The town plans to find some area within the community to rent to allow the local library to move to bigger quarters.
"The circulation of books has doubled in the last five years and the number of programs and program participants has also risen dramatically," said Cooper of the library now located in a small building in Cotton Park.
There is also money planned for traffic calming in the town and for the Citizens on Patrol program.
The town's debt is going down, said Cooper, allowing just over nine percent of total revenue directed to that cause. The town is planning to hire a budget consultant to help improve the entire budget process even more.
On the technology front, the town is adding Wi-fi to the Stratford Centre and working on a disaster recovery system for data.
The budget includes $50,000 to help start working on a skateboard park, plus funding for a wireless sound system for the Town Hall gym, resurfacing tennis courts at Pondside Park and a new scoreboard for McNeill field. There is also $5,000 for a piece of public art in one of the parks.
The town also wants to help out with improvements to Glen Stewart school playground.
Cooper also announced replacement of the Bunbury Rink building, replacing it with a changing and washroom facility. There is also funding for better maintenance of the growing trail system.
The budget address included a summary of the 2011 costs to fix the Town Hall complex, a total cost of $145,825 for roof repairs, window casings and more.
In 2013 the town will hire a temporary "junior planner" to help with the required review of the Official Plan. There is $5,000 set aside to hire a seasonal bylaw enforcement officer and money for a consultant to plan and design public beach access points in the town.
The town will improve its entry and street signage.
The meeting also passed the utility corporation budget.
"As the town's growth continues at a hectic pace, so does that of the utility," said Cooper. "We now have over 3,800 sewer customers and 3,000 water customers."
There is no increase in utility rates, he said.
"The largest issue facing the utility is the upgrade or replacement of the sewer treatment plant which is not consistently performing to the required standard," said Cooper.
The utility is at the stage of finalizing and costing out options and then public consultations will begin, he said.
There is a chance based on current financial management, that rates will not be greatly affected even after this major project is completed in the future.
"We will be looking closely at our long-term utility needs in 2013 with a view to developing a long-term financial plan and rate model to ensure that rates are equitable among our customers, sufficient to meet our long term needs, stable, fair and predictable for our customers," said Cooper.
A project to test the installation of water meters will end in the fall of this year and then the town will look at the possibility of having all residents on meters, which will be a public consultation process, said Cooper.
There are plans to connect Langley Estates to the main water system, extend sewer and water service to the lower Rosebank Road (depending on federal funding), and completion of the new wellfield in the Fullertons Creek watershed.