By Belle Hatfield
For The Vanguard
Yarmouth town council presented a united front at Thursday’s regular council meeting when the budget for 2012-13 was presented for approval.
On a motion from Mayor Phil Mooney council unanimously approved a $17 million budget that holds the line on tax rates. It includes $2,131,000 from current tax revenues for capital projects estimated to cost $2,819,200 (the balance of which will come from the town’s reserve fund or from grants). For the first time in years the town will not transfer any money to its reserve fund. The $225,000 allocated for reserves was axed from the budget in order to help fund all the capital projects.
Among the capital projects that got funding approval for completion were the long-promised skateboard park and the Lost to the Sea memorial. Council approved an additional $100,000 to complete the monument project (they received a $225,000 federal heritage grant) and $197,000 for the skateboard park (in addition to the $150,000 taken from reserves and the $88,000 the town has received from other funding sources, for a total of $435,000). The price tag for these two projects alone is close to a million dollars.
Unanimity was not in evidence the afternoon before, however, when council met as committee of the whole to thrash out the details. The arguing mainly centred around two things and divided council along familiar lines. At issue was $166,000 in cuts that they were trying to make to the capital budget.
The finance department had prepared a capital budget list that included five “non-committed” items, including $100,000 for completion of the skateboard park in the town’s south-end and $145,000 to cover the purchase of the Brown Street parking lot. Council struggled to find consensus on which items should be cut from this year’s budget.
Councillor Neil MacKenzie laid down the gauntlet early on, when he said he would not support any budget that did not fund the completion of the skateboard park slated to be built next to the southend playground.
“The longer this goes the more it is going to cost. We’ve put money aside the last three years. We’ve told the community we were going to do this,” he said. “I’m not prepared to approve this budget with anything other than full approval for the skateboard project.”
Councillor Esther Dares saw it differently.
“The burning question I have is, can somebody tell me … what’s the population of the skating community that we are spending half a million dollars for? … If we build it and it doesn’t get used? … If I support that, then I should be run out of town,” she said.
Dares questioned whether the project was a priority of Yarmouth Recreation.
“This isn’t being driven by the recreation department. This is being driven by a group at this table,” she said, adding, “We have no business spending this kind of money on a recreation facility that is not being directed by the recreation department.”
In response, deputy mayor Byron Boudreau said they didn’t have hard numbers but there could be between 30 and 50 skateboarders in town. He added that the proposed park would also be used by BMX cyclers and inline skaters.
“There are many different areas where the skate park will come in handy,” he said, adding, “the recreation department has supported it from day one.”
Councillor Dan MacIsaac agreed.
“This will be part of the recreation complement that we have in Yarmouth. It could be a place people from Yarmouth, or it could be people from far away, will gather … it would be an added attraction to the downtown and to the south-end area of Yarmouth. It is a very important part of the infrastructure that should go forward,” he said.
MacIsaac urged council to defer purchase of the Brown Street parking lot.
And that brought back to the table the issue of downtown revitalization and the Yarmouth Development Corporation.
Councillor Martin Pink pointed out that revitalization of the downtown was identified as council’s number one priority when it was elected nearly four years ago.
“That’s what we’ve said as a council and the parking lot is key to that revitalization,” he said.
“Parking lot?” shot back Councillor Ken Langille. “There’s always going to be a parking lot there. There’s no rush.”
“If you want to revitalize your downtown, you have to make it inviting to all segments of your community,” Langille said. “This (the skateboard park) is revitalizing Yarmouth. We’re going to be bringing youth in here. They are going to be serving the businesses in the south end. Businesses will thrive because of those kids. They’re talking about putting on events, tournaments that will attract people into this community .… kids with the skateboards will be in the downtown. They will be shopping in our stores. Buying goodies, eating downtown. Families will be coming downtown. That’s revitalization. A parking lot to me is not part of revitalization.”
Councillor MacIsaac again raised the issue of the Yarmouth Development Corporation.
“We know that that (purchase of the parking lot) is to help the YDC. They have no money. They have an asset, so we’re going to have to buy that. The problem is that it is an item that is not really necessary in this budget,” he said.
As the lines became more clearly drawn, Councillor Dares broke the log jam suddenly, by moving to accept all the “uncommitted” projects on the table and asking the CAO to go back through the operational budget to find the $166,000 (one percent of the budget) through cost-cutting.
In speaking to the motion, deputy mayor Boudreau said, “I made my money in nickles, dimes and quarters. There is no doubt in my mind that in house we can find the money to make this happen.”
Several councillors remained unconvinced and needed further assurances that approval of the motion would result in the skateboard park being completed.
“This is part of the problem with this council. We’re always spinning our tires. He’s (CAO Jeff Gushue) just said, ‘we can find it. We can do it all,’” said Councillor Pink.
“If this skateboard park doesn't get built, all people will see is that we bought a parking lot,” said MacIsaac.
The motion finally passed. By Thursday evening, the storm had passed too.
The Town of Yarmouth’s tax rates for 2012-13 are: residential -- .0175; commercial -- .0421; resource -- .0175; business occupancy -- .0421; farm acreage – 2.47 per acre; forest acres – 2.1 per acre.
The town’s property assessment in 2012/13 is $415,494,900, up 1.11 percent over last year.