Bridgewater projecting budget deficit

Deputy Mayor said he’s shell shocked by news

Bridgewater’s February 9 town council meeting ended with some bad news concerning the third-quarter budget.

Dawn Keizer, the town’s chief financial officer, explained the town projects a deficit of $114,000.

“I’m shell shocked,” said Deputy Mayor, Bill McInnis after hearing the details of the shortfall. “This ruined my Sunday dinner, but we’ll deal with it.”

Ms Keizer outlined the report.

She said billed taxes were short $77,000 because there were more adjustments and allowances than the town predicted before appeals on property assessments were made. This amount also included less transfer tax revenue than expected.

Even with subsidies from the Explore South Shore grant revenue from recreational programming, pool fees, hockey and ice rentals was down. Revenue from services such as parking meters, fines, and building and development fees were $18,000 short.

One of the higher expenses came from paid vacations for administration. The total was $20,000.

“The budget took into consideration that some people would take vacations that have been accumulating and some of these were unable to be taken,” said Ms Keizer.

Ken Smith, chief administrative officer, claimed responsibility for that.

“I’ve been trying to bring down vacation banks in a phased approach,” he said, adding that sick leave got in the way of some employees using their vacation time.

Other general government services had provided savings. Liability claims were under budget and the regional enterprise network hasn’t started yet.

Meanwhile, the police cut $152,000 mostly in compensation. More junior officers took positions budgeted at a higher rate of pay, and officers took time off instead of being paid in lieu. Legal fees were lower and the hours of the janitorial staff were cut back. Fewer lockups and detentions saved their budget $18,000.

Engineering administration expected a $98,000 loss. This was due to several long sick leaves and departmental reorganization, according to Ms Keizer.

Roads and streets saved $106,000 thanks to the Victoria Road retaining wall not needing repairs.

“The engineering department was hoping it would be able to put the extra pavement management money in a reserve at the end of the year,” said Ms Keizer. “But given that we’re projecting a deficit they aren’t doing that.”

Sidewalk maintenance saved $15,000. Street cleaning was in the clear as the sweeper caught fire and has been out of commission.

“Street lighting – I’m a little surprised that’s over budget. All the LED lights I’m seeing around town are supposed to save money,” said Councillor Andrew Tanner in response to the expectation of a $14,000 shortfall.

Councillor Wayne Thorburne pointed out this expense may have been incurred from taking over Haven and Sherwood drives.

Regardless, in agreement with Nova Scotia Power the town doesn’t have to purchase any new lights, and rates will be kept flat for the next seven years.

Sewage collection and disposal were short about $92,000 in a number of areas. This resulted in putting the inflow infiltration program on hold.

Hurricane Arthur increased the tree removal budget by $13,000.

“I think the expenditure is probably not significant enough to qualify us,” said Ms Keizer of receiving federal funding to help with this cost.

The Bridgewater Memorial Arena’s expenses are expected to be approximately $32,000 over budget because of increased salaries and unanticipated ice repairs, and the Lunenburg County Multi-Purpose Centre Corporation is expected to be over budget by around $74,000.

“They’re projecting a deficit for 2014-15, and also the 2013-14 surplus was smaller than was anticipated,” said Ms Keizer.

The library was about $14,000 over budget, as the rent in the new location is higher than expected.

Parks and playgrounds saved $41,000 through less vehicle maintenance, although some work was not finished.

Councillor Thorburne cited 12 items from the capital budget not completed this year being transferred to the next.

“Every year we struggle with the budget, and if there’s items in that budget that isn’t going to get done it shouldn’t be in that budget,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, a budget should pretty much all be spent by year’s end. Because I don’t think we have the workforce to carry over $6,000 or $7,000 every year.”

Debt venture interest charges saved $18,000, as no temporary financing has yet been done.

Transfers to other reserves included a council approved write-off of $20,000 for 463 King Street, which is to be sold at tax sale.

The town spent $227,000 on snow removal to the end of January, with $167,000 left, and a reserve of $87,000.

“Much can change. It’s just the first of February and senior managers will be watching their expenditures in the coming months,” said Ms Keizer, adding that some new accounting regulations, which haven’t been taken into consideration may impact the $114,000 projection.

As originally published in LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin

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