Council Approves $18 Million Budget that Includes $8 Million Investment in High Speed Internet
The Municipality of Pictou County has approved an $18 million operating budget for this fiscal year.
The County expects its tax revenue to increase by 3.8 per cent in this fiscal year and its overall budget has increased by 4.1 percent in both its revenue and expenditures.
Council was able to maintain its tax rate of .81 cents residential and $1.82 commercial. It also approved a $28-million capital budget that includes an investment in a major telecommunications project for $8.2 million this fiscal year that will see high speed internet delivered to homes and businesses in rural Pictou County. A borrowing agreement of $24 million was approved by Council for upfront costs of the total project, but Council is hoping that provincial and federal funding will be approved to offset the project’s costs in the future.
Now that funding has been secured, Council is negotiating on a contract with a broadband consortium and once approved, work will begin on the project.
“This is a major initiative by this Council. It has been worked on for two and half years and I fully accept we have to be very good at doing our due diligence,” said County Warden Robert Parker. “We investigated what happened in other municipalities and learned lessons from what happened in other areas and will go forward. I have great confidence this will succeed. It is badly needed in this County. A lot of people do not have high speed internet and it was the main issue during the last election.”
Parker said the Municipality of Pictou County has to make sure it gets its share of provincial and federal funding for this project. He added that people are also concerned about the lack of cell service in rural areas, but Council has been assured when the high-speed is in place, cell service will follow.
“If we are going to keep our rural areas from emptying out, we have to have good high-speed internet and cell service or people won’t buy homes in rural areas. We are hoping to have a majority of the County covered in two years and we believe our projections will make it sustainable. I feel quite confident this will succeed, but we have to move carefully every step of the way,” Parker said.
The Municipality of Pictou County also approved emergency funding for five rural fire departments that are struggling to meet their operational needs and have a limited taxable assessment for fire protection.
The County’s Fire Liaison Committee said the funding formula for fire departments needs to be reviewed, but as a short-term solution it recommended temporary funding be approved by Council for this fiscal year. Council budgeted $150,000 to be shared equally among Barney’s River, Pictou Landing, Blue Mountain, East River St. Mary’s and East River Valley fire departments.
Parker said this funding was a “one-year patch” for fire departments and not a long-term solution.
“We need to use this year to come up with a fairer way of funding for everyone, so our money gets properly spread around,” he said. “My bottom line is everyone deserves good fire protection and we need to make sure our volunteer fire fighters are safe when they go to a fire. We also have to be assured by doing this study, we can answer some questions.”
Parker said when the review takes place it will be important for all the rural departments to be involved in the discussion.
Council also approved $407,000 in funding for grants that will support community projects such as renovations to halls, recreation programs and community events. This is in addition to $49,798 approved for municipal service grants that will assist community organizations with purchases, maintenance projects and programs.