© Nigel Armstrong
Councillor Randy Cooper, chair of Stratford's finance and technology committee holds a copy of the town's budget. FILE PHOTO
Stratford delivered a good news budget Wednesday, with a surplus to pay down the debt, funding for town issues like a police office, upgrades to the sewage lagoon, plus a skateboard park and no increase in utility or tax assessment rates.
It was a slightly tempered budget, however, as the town had to cope with continued frustrations of getting its share of tax revenue from the province, and an economic slowdown.
"Our revenue growth slowed in 2013 due to a reduction in development activity after many years of record-setting growth, but we managed our expenses accordingly," said Councillor Randy Cooper, chair of the town's finance and technology committee.
Stratford, like most Island communities, is still struggling with the change in provincial funding in 2008 from a tax credit to a grant.
"This change means that we have $440,000 less revenue for town programs in 2014, and a cumulative loss of tax revenue of more that $1.2 million since the change was implemented," said Cooper.
There has been tremendous growth, over 600 units of residential development since 2008, said Cooper. That is not reflected in the grant payment to the town, he said.
"Municipalities have been trying to negotiate a fair revenue-sharing agreement with the province as recommended by the Commissioner on Land and Local Governance, but after more than two years and many, many hours invested, we are no further ahead," said Cooper.
"Total expenses are up 4.2 percent over the 2013 budget," he said as he carried on with the budget. "This is due to the cost of the new library for a full year, increased costs of electricity, staff and other expenses, and targeted investments. . ." said Cooper.
The library will remain a big item in 2014, with a full year of lease costs at $73,600, much higher than years past due to its move to bigger quarters in September.
New in this year's budget is money for a civilian clerk at the Stratford RCMP detachment, to be shared with the detachment headquarters in Charlottetown, known as Maypoint. plus $300,000 in the capital budget to begin working on a new office.
More planning is needed on that project before details are presented, said Cooper. A plan to enhance the existing RCMP office has been dropped, he said.
Also on the subject of safety is increased funding for the town's Citizens on Patrol program and money for its Traffic Safety Plan that includes traffic calming changes to roads.
The capital budget includes $200,000 for a waterfront park and visual improvements at the Hillsbrough Bridge, part of it coming from hoped-for federal funding.
There is funding to expand WiFi in the town hall, and train in new ways of budgeting known as performance-based-budgeting.
Also in the capital budget is $50,000 to contribute to a skateboard park if a partnership group can be created to bring that forward.
There is $65,000 set aside to develop a park at the new wellfield site, known as Fullerton's Creek.
There is money to replace the old Bunbury Rink building with a modern change-room structure for the outdoor rink.
With funding from federal sources, some $300,000 is expected for trail development, linking and completion through the town.
For the utility, the demand for sewer and water continues to increase.
"The largest issue facing the Utility continues to be the upgrade of the sewer treatment plant which is consistently not performing to the required standard," said Cooper.
Money for a new treatment plant is a long way off, the town says.
A consultant's report said that the existing lagoon could benefit from new technology in the meantime, while a long range plan continues to be developed.
Cooper said that town staff are still assessing if that will really work but $1,500,000 is in the utility capital budget for the technology if it is deemed to work.
"We will continue to work on a longer term option to replace the existing lagoon system, but this will allow us to operate the existing plant in compliance with the effluent quality requirements and allow new subdivision to continue to be serviced," he said.
Funding will come in part from left over New Deal money.