Sussex-area communities wary of raising taxes to save civic centre
PotashCorp left the centre with about $250,000 last year as a parting gift
A proposal to raise taxes to save the civic centre in Sussex is being met with caution by neighbouring communities that would have to foot the bill.
In the local service district of Studholm, Tony Raymond, who sits on the LSD advisory committee, said a tax increase might be a difficult ask in a region still hurting from the closure of the potash mine.
"I'm just not sure how much more people can stand," he said. "I think their wallets are pretty well empty at this point in time."
Raymond said he also expects the local economy is going to soften further.
"This next year is really when we're going to see the fallout from that mine, when the severance packages are gone and their unemployment's gone," he said.
Closing in September
The PotashCorp Civic Centre, named for the mining company that donated $1 million to its construction, is scheduled to close its swimming pool for maintenance on Sept. 4.
If its board of directors can't find a way to finance operations without running an annual deficit, the pool may have to stay closed and the rest of the facility, including a walking track and exercise room, would also see drastically reduced hours.
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PotashCorp did leave the centre with about $250,000 last year as a parting gift.
That money was included in a $5 million community transitional fund, aimed at helping laid-off workers seek training and education.
It was also meant to support local business development as a way of softening the blow of the mine's demise and the more than 400 jobs that evaporated with it.
Bridget Ryan, the civic centre's board chair, said PotashCorp's money did help keep the wolf from the door but the problem is bigger.
"The closing of the mine affected the assessment of all the housing in the region, not just housing but businesses as well," Ryan said. "So all of a sudden, you've lost those assessments that play into your funding.
"You're going from people that were earning $100,000 to earning maybe $50,000 to $60,000 that stay in the region. And then a lot of people of course, moved out of the region. It's like a perfect storm."
Support from taxpayers
The board said its proposal will need the support of taxpayers in four service districts, including Studholm, Cardwell, Waterford and the Parish of Sussex.
The villages of Norton and Sussex Corner are also being asked to pitch in.
Sussex Corner deputy mayor Catherine MacLeod said she had a membership at the centre and enjoyed taking yoga there.
She said her heart goes out to the people who want to save it.
I have to look at the facts and the figures. I'm looking to protect our civic centre and our citizens.- Catherine MacLeod , Sussex Corner deputy mayor
"I thought we had a world-class, top-notch facility," she said.
But MacLeod said town council will want to study the financials before making any commitment.
"I have to look at the facts and the figures," she said. "I'm looking to protect our civic centre and our citizens."
Norton Mayor Juliana Booth expressed similar concerns.
"Will they have to come back for more money?" she asked.
'Always playing catch-up'
An unaudited statement provided to CBC News by the civic centre showed it earned $402,140 last year from membership fees.
Fees collected for aquatics, fitness programs and room rentals, helped boost total revenue to $558,973. Meanwhile, last year's expenses amounted to $714,648.
Salaries and benefits accounted for $375,000.
General Manager Alex Coffin said the centre employs about seven people working 30 to 40 hours per week, and as many as 30 more part-time employees in the summer.
The other big line item was electricity, at $130,000 last year.
We're always playing catch-up. We never have enough cash flow to operate.- Bridget Ryan, board chair
In the past, the board had to go to local governments to reimburse it for its deficits.
"We're always playing catch-up. We never have enough cash flow to operate," said Ryan.
"We can't continue to operate in this matter. We have a financial crunch and we need to address it. And we need to address it quickly."
Department of Environment and Local Government Minister Serge Rousselle did not respond to a request for a statement about the request to change the tax rate in the local service districts.
In New Brunswick, individual municipalities and rural communities determine local property tax rates during their annual budget process.
But it's up to the provincial government to determine the local property tax rate to be levied on property within individual LSDs.