'We're not bankrupt,' Baddeck commissioner says after year of turmoil

·3 min read
Baddeck village commissioner Michele Stevens speaks at the meeting on Wednesday, June 29, 2022. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)
Baddeck village commissioner Michele Stevens speaks at the meeting on Wednesday, June 29, 2022. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)

Residents of the village of Baddeck, N.S., knew their local taxes and utility charges would be going up this year — and they did — but residents also got some good news at the village commission's annual meeting on Wednesday.

The commission's elected representatives say after a year of financial and governance turmoil, things are starting to look up.

"I think that we're going to be OK, absolutely," said commissioner Michele Stevens. "We're not bankrupt."

Last year, residents found out the village had not been collecting all its taxes or paying some of its bills.

They were also told the chief administrative officer had not been ordering audited financial statements or submitting them to the province's Department of Municipal Affairs, so they fired her and RCMP launched an investigation.

On Wednesday night, the village approved a mostly balanced budget for the coming year. The water utility will run a deficit, but Stevens said everything else is under control. "It's not rosy, but we're not bankrupt and we've chosen to go forward."

About 50 residents attended the first annual general meeting held in three years. The Municipal Government Act requires villages to hold an annual general meeting, but the last two in Baddeck were cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jerred Stephenson, a partner with Sydney accounting firm MNP, told this year's AGM that the financial statements are now mostly complete and auditing on the last three years of statements is underway.

He said the village has struggled financially, but it has a "healthy balance sheet" with lots of assets, including cash, and few liabilities.

The budget for the coming year projects general operations and the sewer utility will break even thanks to a 24 per cent increase in residential tax rates and a 20 per cent increase in commercial tax rates, and sewer charges that are nearly doubling from $2.75 per cubic metre to $5.45.

Municipalities and village commissions cannot change water rates independently, because they are regulated by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

Commission chair Ian Nicholson said a water rate study underway is expected to result in higher rates to eliminate the expected deficit of about $238,000 this year.

Stephenson said it is not possible to determine what the water rates should be right now, but based on expected expenses, the rate will likely have to climb more than 80 per cent, from 77 cents per cubic metre to around $1.39.

The quarterly base rate will also likely go up between 35 and 40 per cent, from $46.79 to around $64, he said.

Nicholson said the village has hired a new clerk and is advertising for a new chief administrative officer, a new finance clerk and a public works supervisor.

"I think we're moving forward on budget and we've put a lot of things in place to make sure we don't run into problems going forward like we have in the past," he said.

The commission will also have one new face around the table. It had expected to elect three new members on Wednesday, but only one person came forward.

Newcomer eager to help village

Gary Crowder, a real estate broker who just moved to Baddeck last fall from Ontario, was acclaimed.

Crowder said he is aware of the village's problems and is looking forward to helping out.

"I've had a long corporate life and during my corporate experience I've faced some pretty big challenges and this is just another challenge," he said.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

Due to the lack of nominations for the elections, Nicholson, whose term expired on Wednesday, agreed to stick around a little while longer.

He was acclaimed, but made it clear he intends to resign as soon as a special election can be called. The village expects that will happen later this summer to fill one remaining vacancy on the commission, along with Nicholson's seat if he resigns.

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