Halifax plans for 6.3% municipal tax increase

Halifax municipal councillors have settled on a 6.3 per cent tax increase. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Halifax municipal councillors have settled on a 6.3 per cent tax increase. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

Halifax councillors have finalized the extra items they will fund  — or cut  — from this year's budget, landing on a 6.3 per cent increase to the tax bill.

A report before the Halifax Regional Municipality budget committee Tuesday said municipal staff had moved funds around to land at an eight per cent raise to balance the 2024-25 budget.

But the Nova Scotia government recently confirmed Halifax no longer has to collect taxes for housing and corrections, a deal that was announced for all other municipalities in October. It doesn't mean more money for the municipality, but it did drop the overall property tax bill increase to 6.2 per cent.

"We believe the recommendations put forward today balance a concern for affordability with a reasonable level of municipal services," CAO Cathie O'Toole said during the meeting.

The city's booming population, major development, and aging infrastructure all play into the tough financial picture, O'Toole said. Halifax is also taking on more debt to handle large-scale items like the Cogswell District redevelopment, with about 45 per cent of the capital plan being funded by debt — meaning higher payments in future years.

New firefighters headed to Hammonds Plains

Some of the items include over $2 million across both capital and operating costs to convert the Hammonds Plains Road fire station to have career firefighters around the clock supported by volunteers. A class including the 15 new firefighters for the station will begin in August and see graduations before Christmas.

Fire Chief Ken Stuebing told councillors they will now figure out exactly what's needed to improve the fire station, but firefighters could be in there for early 2025 as upgrades take place.

Halifax RCMP will get six new officers: four in general duty and two focused on high-risk domestic violence cases. There's also more than $700,000 to build a civilian-led crisis response model to respond to mental health calls, and a mobile outreach and transportation service that could take people who are homeless or intoxicated to hospital, services or appointments.

Coun. Pam Lovelace was among multiple councillors who said they understand any increases are hard to take amid a housing and cost-of-living crisis, but she said there's a long list of priorities past councils have neglected in order to keep taxes artificially low over the years.

"[Halifax] hasn't … funded rural fire service or suburban fire service efficiently, underfunded suburban transit, has underfunded complete communities in general," Lovelace said.

After some debate, Halifax Transit fees will also go up 25 cents to $3 for an adult fare this year, with the other passes and ticket bundles rising proportionally.

Parks funding brings hike to 6.3%

Coun. Waye Mason said he'd like to see the city better protect low-income people from these raises, which will likely have to continue over the next few years. He suggested reviewing the city's criteria for low-income tax relief, as well as Halifax Transit tools like senior or low-income bus passes.

Staff had incorporated most of the requested items on a budget adjustment list into a 6.2 per cent raise, but councillors did add another $388,000 for more parks and recreation staff to bring the total increase to 6.3 per cent.

Coun. Patty Cuttell said the money will ensure proper pruning and garbage bins along trails, and maintenance for sports fields that staff said have seen an increase in bookings.

"They're essential for people to walk safely around our communities, to be active, to access our parks," Cuttell said.

That 6.3 per cent increase will mean slightly more than the $185 extra a year on the average tax bill that staff had calculated for 6.2 per cent.

The overall budget will be passed on April 23.

Council approved an 5.9 per cent hike in 2023-24, which meant the average single-family residential tax bill went up $128 this year to a total of $2,288.