MONTAGUE – The Town of Montague is going land hunting.
After waiting four years for provincial action, eastern P.E.I.'s largest town is launching an effort to expand boundaries following the introduction of a 2013 “penny pincher” budget here Monday night.
“Our town is struggling to increase the revenue side of the ledger and with such a low predicted economic growth; we must do something,’’ said Montague Mayor Richard Collins in a sombre address before the approval of a $1.25 million balanced budget.
The only way to balance the budget was to raise the commercial tax rate by two cents. It was a step that disappointed councillors who introduced a substantial tax decrease last year to both residential and commercial properties.
The town was quick to point the finger at the province for burying the four-year-old Judge Ralph Thompson report that recommended 74 unincorporated regions across the province become part of 16 larger municipalities to ensure equitable tax distribution and revenue for communities to grow.
“We are still waiting for action on this and it is becoming totally unacceptable,” said Collins. “We were promised by Finance Minister Wes Sheridan an equitable revenue sharing program.”
Councillors were steadfast the town will apply to acquire land in the unincorporated community of Victoria Cross. The Queen’s Road, outside the town, to the Victoria Cross corner at MacLean’s Ready Mix consists of about 30 properties and the town will seek to expand boundaries to include those homes and businesses.
“We can apply to the province and go through the procedure,’’ said Montague CAO Andy Daggett. “We have not tested the waters and don’t know if people affected will oppose the idea. We hope they don’t.”
“We are not whining about this, but feel people should know how we were used (by the province) and why some services have been reduced,’’ - Montague Mayor Richard Collins
Mayor Collins called the 2013 budget the “tightest” of all time and it has left the town with little wiggle room to do anything beyond paying operational costs.
The mayor said the provincial government has cut the town another $50,000 from municipal funding and council insists it’s because the town altered an RCMP contract last year in which the town would only pay for one officer instead of three. The province had to pick up the price tag on the other two salaries. The town said it took such action because the former 20-year arrangement had Montague taxpayers footing the entire policing bill for the entire region which paid nothing.
“We are not whining about this, but feel people should know how we were used (by the province) and why some services have been reduced,’’ said Collins.
Despite the tight situation, the council confirmed it was still funding the waterfront, museum and other town cultural and sporting centres. The Artisan on Main Street will get $12,000 to operate for its second summer. The town is also hiring a full-time event coordinator cost shared by Skills PEI.
Judge Thompson’s 2009 report entitled Commission on Land Use and Local Governance recommended a comprehensive land-use policy to enable sustainable and consistent development. He said in areas outside municipalities, decisions of individual landowners prevail over the public interest. Ninety per cent of the province is not incorporated.