Halifax regional council has voted in favour of allowing finance officials to prepare next year's budget based on an 1.9 per cent increase to the average homeowner's tax bill.
Finance manager Bruce Fisher told councillors debating the issue Tuesday that the hike was necessary because of declining revenue and increased salary awards for police and firefighters.
Slower growth in the commercial sector means property tax revenue is poised to be $4.5 million less than expected, and transit fares are also expected to decline by $1 million.
Meanwhile, an arbitration award for the police means their salaries will total $8.5 million next year. Since firefighters automatically get 95 per cent of whatever police officers are paid, they will also be getting a bump in the last year of their contract that amounts to $1.4 million.
Council also agreed to a new standard that requires four firefighters per engine. The change alone means $3 million in additional costs.
The tax proposal comes after city staff trimmed $8 million in order to balance next year's books. Those efforts will continue, said Jacques Dubé, HRM's chief administrative officer.
"I don't know if we can find more savings, so we're being conservative," he said.
The 1.9 per cent increase will raise the average homeowner's tax bill by $35. The average single-family homeowner pays $1,874 in annual property taxes.
Council was already expecting the budget for 2018 to include a tax increase of 1.6 per cent.
The vote to direct staff to prepare the 2018 budget with the increase was 14-1, with Coun. Shawn Cleary being the only councillor to vote against the proposal.
"There's one well," said Clearly. "And there's only so many times different levels of government can go to that well."
Mayor Mike Savage and Coun. Steve Adams were absent from the chamber at the time of the vote.
Given the arbitration award for police and the related hike for firefighters, Coun. Steve Craig thinks the tax increase is unavoidable.
"We're in the $14- to $16-million range for no change in service," said Craig. "So to say we'll hold the line on taxation or find savings to cover that, I don't think that's realistic."