“Tonight Was The First Time Any Of Us Were Seeing The Budget,” Says Lunenburg Mayor On Day Of Vote For Operating Budget



At the April 23 meeting of Town of Lunenburg Council, when Council had an agenda item to vote on whether to approve the 24/25 Operating Budget, Mayor Jamie Myra announced it was his first time seeing the budget which had been publicly available for more than three weeks.

The 24/25 draft Operating Budget is the largest in Lunenburg’s history at $10,825,000. The vote on April 23 was deferred, and Council is expected to vote on approving the budget at their upcoming May 14 meeting.

Lunenburg’s biggest budget sees $395K increase in revenue from residential property tax

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This year’s proposed Operating Budget is balanced with revenues and expenses at $10,825,000, an increase of 8.4 per cent from the 23/24 budget at $9,902,620.

Overall property tax revenue in the 24/25 budget shows a growth of 8.4 per cent from the 23/24 budget, from $8,676,520 in 23/24 to $9,406,000 in 24/25.

Residential property tax revenue increased by $395,600 from 23/24 based on increases in the taxable assessment value of homes in Town.

Residential and commercial tax rates are unchanged, as they have been for the previous four years.

The residential tax rate is 1.376 per cent, and the commercial rate is 3.358 per cent.

The budget shows the town employs forecasts having 39.3 full time employees in 24/25 with budgeted salaries and benefits of $3,722,600.

One new position representing a $70,000 increase in the budget is a Bylaw Officer.

The budget shows an increase of $65,500 for the Town’s policing contract with the RCMP, with no change in service.

You can see the entire draft budget in the following document.

Evening prior to budget vote, Mayor says on Facebook there will not be a budget vote – corrected, says, “We’ll see what happens”

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On April 22, The Barnacle published the story Town of Lunenburg Scheduled to Vote On 2024/25 Operating Budget This Tuesday, previewing the April 23 meeting.

Barnacle Editor-at-large Sal Falk shared this story to the Lunenburg Community Bulletin Board Facebook group, with the caption: “Did you know town is presenting AND voting on the budget tomorrow night? Read up before the meeting to be in the loop.”

An exchange ensued with Mayor Myra where he denied this.

Myra replied to the post, writing: “No we’re not. Read the agenda. It’s states it’s a placeholder so I am assuming we will send it back after we hear from people and we also need to discuss and debate as a council.”

Falk responded with an excerpt from the linked story that indicated The Barnacle confirmed with Town Staff that the vote on April 23 indeed was scheduled to be a vote to approve the budget.

Myra replied, writing: “I would be disappointed if we invite public input and pass this the first time it’s being discussed by any of us. This should be the most important document we approve every year.”

I replied, reiterating that Town Staff explicitly said the vote was intended to approve the budget.

Myra replied: “okay. This is much different than we did when I was here before. We never approved the budget the first time discussing it.”

He followed up with another message: “we’ll see what happens but I would be disappointed if we pass it tomorrow night”

Barnacle Editor-in-chief gives speech addressing Mayor saying Barnacle story is inaccurate

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During the public input session, I gave a speech describing the Barnacle’s budget preview story and the Facebook thread referenced earlier in this story, to put on the record that I found it concerning the Mayor attempted to correct our accurate reporting.

Mayor Myra replied to say that his comments on Facebook were intended to express his surprise that a vote was intended, and the present meeting was his first time seeing the budget.

I said: “With all of the Town’s public channels and the Municipal Clerk telling me yesterday and today that there was an intention to vote on approving a budget tonight, and the Mayor acknowledging that this is a possibility yesterday when I told him that the Municipal Clerk said this is true, it’s accurate to say that the intention existed to approve a budget tonight in item 11.3.”

“I needed to put this sequence of events on the record because I’m disappointed and concerned the Mayor challenged the accuracy of my news report.”

“It was factual for me to write that Town staff confirmed the budget was intended to be voted on tonight, but he wrote, ‘No we’re not,’ which was inaccurate. If anyone told me I had got a fact wrong, or something was told to me that was wrong, it would be different. But in this case, I published something accurate, and the Mayor said that it was not.”

Myra replied, saying: “Thank you Jesse, and like I said, I responded last night because I was shocked to see that it was going to be a motion made.

The way things were always done in the past, and I guess we’re not in the past, so we have to look forward, and that’s what I was planning on doing tonight by making the opening statement, but I think that a lot of things changed in the budget process during COVID quite frankly, and a lot of processes changed during COVID, that hasn’t changed back to the way it used to be. 

And I guess my point was, tonight was the first time any of us were seeing the budget, or discussing the budget. So I would have hoped there’d be some comments and questions made that we’d push it forward to the next public meeting. 

I talked to my colleagues, most of my colleagues, between this afternoon and tonight, and that’s what we decided to do. 

So that’s all I was stating last night, that I was shocked to see that. 

When I saw the placeholder, I thought that meant that it was there for that reason – that if we wanted to, we could, but I didn’t think there was any intent to do it tonight. 

So, that’s why I stated what I said at the opening part of the meeting. 

So, I apologize if I upset you or said something that was inaccurate, but that’s why I said it, Jesse. So, thank you.”

While public input on the budget was different during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns when Council meetings were held digitally, last year, there was a meeting of the Committee Of The Whole for Council to review the budget with senior staff in public. This meeting preceded a Council meeting where public input was followed by a vote on the budget.

On the Mayor’s claim that it was “the first time any of us are seeing this budget,” the Town website shows the draft Operating Budget was initially published to the public on March 28, 26 days prior to the April 23 meeting.

Council skips agenda item for budget vote

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At the April 23 meeting, Council had three agenda items regarding the budget:

  • The first was to receive a presentation on the 24/25 operating budget from senior Town staff.
  • The second was a public input session on the budget.
  • The third was a vote on whether to approve the budget.

By all indications, the third item explicitly was an item to vote on whether to approve the operating budget, based on multiple sources.

Item 11.3 in the agenda, titled “2024/25 Town General Operating Budget – Approval Placeholder”, was an item to vote on whether to approve the budget as it appeared in the agenda. 

  • This was confirmed with The Barnacle by Town Staff on April 22. 
  • It was also laid out in one of the Town’s own social media posts on the afternoon of April 23, which read: “[…] After the presentations and public input session, Council may feel that they have sufficient information to pass the operating budgets at tonight’s meeting.”
  • Additionally, the way the April 23 agenda items regarding the budget are written matches the way the January 9 meeting’s agenda items were written regarding the Capital Budget. At that meeting, the Capital Budget was presented, had public input, and was voted on in the same meeting.

    At the January 9 meeting, the item to vote on the Capital Budget read: “2024/25 Town General Capital Budget – Approval Placeholder” – just like the item on the April 23 meeting for the Operating Budget.

Additionally, at the very beginning of the meeting, Council approved the agenda as it stood, with the motion to approve the budgets intact.

However, when the meeting reached this first budget agenda item, Myra announced that there would be no vote on the budget that evening. 

He said Town staff would be directed to review the input they receive during the meeting following the public input session, saying, “Tonight is not to pass the budget, so I just wanted to make that clear before we start.”

Then, when the meeting got to the point to vote on the budget, Myra said: “11.3, we moved to the next scheduled meeting. And we’ll move on to, 11.4, we’ll do the same,” and said they would vote on these items at the next scheduled meeting on May 14.

It is unusual for Council to completely skip voting on a motion present on the agenda. Typically, when Council is not prepared to make a decision on a motion on the agenda, a Councillor will make a motion to defer the item to a future meeting, and they vote as a group to move the item.

In this case, the Mayor simply skipped over the item without asking Council to address the item. The Town’s policy for Council And Committee Meetings and Proceedings gives the Mayor, as Chair of Council meetings, leeway to ignore the agenda like this if Council consents.

The policy says “The Chair shall decide all questions of order or procedure subject to an appeal to the Council.”

Mayor Myra responds to emailed budget questions

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Mayor Jamie Myra responded to emailed questions from The Barnacle regarding the budget on April 24.

Barnacle: “Last year when you spoke to council regarding the 23/24 operating budget presentation, you said Council should reduce the blended tax rate by 1%. This reduction is not present in the 24/25 operating budget, and you did not make any comments on the possibility of reducing the budget yesterday. Why has your perspective shifted on this?”

Myra: “This year we presented a much leaner budget from a spending perspective. We don’t have any 60+% increases in any part of the budget. Most of our increases are uncontrollable increases. Last year I spoke about all the consultants expenses and increased staff to certain departments. This is an entirely different budget, that’s why I think there wasn’t as many public presentations.”

Barnacle: “Additionally, last year when you spoke to Council regarding the 23/24 operating budget presentation, you asked ‘Why do we need all this staff’ regarding the budget that showed the Town had 40 FTE staff and intended to hire two more. How has your perspective on the appropriateness of the number of staff employed by the town changed over the last year?”

Myra: “We have actually reduced the number of staff through retirement, quitting, etc. and if you listened to what I stated about certain departments I stated that the new council will have to look at making tough decisions soon.”

Myra’s statement that there are no 60 per cent increases in any part of the budget is not accurate.

While it’s an arbitrary metric to simply look at the percentage increase of any individual line item on the budget without considering that in context, there are more than eight items with more than a 60 per cent increase, including:

  • “Repairs To Building – Old Fire Hall” – from $500 to $40,000, a 7,900% increase
  • “By-Law Enforcement Officer” – from $10,000 to $80,000, a 700% increase
  • “Economic Impact Study” – from $50,000 to $187,000, a 274% increase
  • “Emergency Management Planning” – from $12,300 to $25,000, a 103% increase
  • “Accessibility Plan Development” – from $4,000 to $8,000, a 100% increase
  • “Repairs – Backhoe” – from $10,000 to $20,000, a 100% increase
  • “Traffic Signs and Posts” – from $3,500 to $6,000, a 71.42% increase
  • “PW Labour – Facilities” – from $25,000 to $42,000, a 68% increase

What did Councillors say and ask about the budget?

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Following senior staff’s presentation on the budget, Councillors were presented with the opportunity to speak to the budget and ask questions.

Councillor Ed Halverson was not present

Councillor Ed Halverson did not attend this meeting. His absence was not remarked upon by the Mayor or Council.

Councillor Peter Mosher had no questions

Councillor Peter Mosher started with comments on the budget, saying: “Nothing particular from me, I’d just like to thank staff for their work.”

Councillor Melissa Duggan had no questions

Next after Mosher, Councillor Melissa Duggan said: “I would also like to thank staff for all the work they put into this year’s budget.”

Councillor Jenni Birtles asks about RCMP spending, new Bylaw Officer position

Councillor Jenni Birtles was one of two Councillors to ask questions of staff about the budget.

Birtles started by raising her concern with the budget’s $65,000 increase in the budget for the RCMP without any change in service. CAO Jamie Doyle said the Town is researching alternatives to the current RCMP contract, including consulting with the Town of Bridgewater, but that escaping the current contract would be “incredibly costly.”

For more details, read our full story, Lunenburg Councillor Raises Concerns On Increase In RCMP Spending – Town Researching Alternatives.

Birtles also asked about the new bylaw officer position, and whether it is costing $70,000. 

CAO Jamie Doyle replied: “Yes, this is a completely new position. One of the things we consistently have been hearing through the town, especially during tourist season, is a complete disobedience for parking, if I can use ‘disobedience’.

So this new bylaw officer would help educate folks through that new process, as well as begin the process of hopefully generating some more revenue for those that continue to park illegally.

Not necessarily at a meter, but this is where folks or tourists are parking in intersections, completely blocking driveways. Completely blocking fire hydrants, or in handicapped spaces.

It’s things like that where we’re really going to be educating, and then of course, fining as we see fit.

We’ve had some complaints, certainly, of illegal parking near the hospital.

The new bylaw officer will be able to go have some conversations with folks and also issue a series of tickets so we can start to go help curb some of those actions.”

Birtles asked about the hours the bylaw officer will be active. Doyle said there is an obligation to work events, weekends, and evenings.

Mayor Jamie Myra said he thinks this position “will pay for itself if it hasn’t in the first week or two already.”

“I think, for example, during Folk Harbour Festival Weekend, if our staff person gets out like they have been, definitely during those four days, it will cover their wages for the year, so it’s great,” said Myra.

A parking ticket in Lunenburg is $66. As the position represents an increase of $70,000 to the Town budget, to cover the cost of the bylaw officer over the Folk Harbour Festival Weekend, the bylaw officer would need to issue 1,061 tickets over four days – 265 tickets a day.

Councillor Susan Sanford asks about mowing, shares suggestions for crosswalks and Town-owned buildings

Susan Sanford asked if the Town could employ an additional seasonal labour for 26 weeks, from May to October, for mowing. She said that staffing shortages caused difficulties last year for mowing in town. 

“I’m wondering if we might not go back to looking at it being more viable to maintain the mowing to the standards the community is looking for,” said Sanford.

CAO Doyle said staff would revisit the mowing contract and understand if there is a cost benefit to hiring a seasonal labourer. He said they would also look at the value of having in-house staff versus a contractor perform mowing.

Sanford also asked about where income from the Lunenburg Board of Trade Campground would go.

Lisa Dagley said the money falls under revenue from leases and rentals. She says it is not allocated to anything specific.

Sanford also shared these suggestions:

  • Painting fading crosswalk lines and parking lines in Town.
  • Opening public washrooms one month earlier and closing them one month later.
  • Move forward with a building condition assessment for the Old Fire Hall, because the Council following this October’s election will need “information and understanding from a building assessment for the Old Fire Hall in order to plan for the future of the Fire Hall and how the Town needs to respond to it.”

Deputy Mayor Stephen Ernst had no questions

Deputy Mayor Stephen Ernst followed, saying: “My colleagues spoke very well on a lot of the matters, so I don’t have much more to add except I want to thank staff for a very thorough budget.”

Mayor Jamie Myra had no questions, addresses facilities insurance challenges

Mayor Jamie Myra addressed the budget with these comments:

“I’d like to just start by thanking staff. The budget was very detailed, very well-done, there’s not a lot of changes that can be made. We’re very limited with our funding resources at this point. So again, thank you very much.

I do have a couple comments I want to make. One is, it’s very nice for the government [sic] to take away $73,000 worth of payments that they’re going to now take over, but increasing our education and RCMP costs by $190,000, so – we’re still in the negative $113,000, but it was very nice of them to take that over.

So, again, it’s still costing us more money in the end. 

The other thing is, if you look through the budget, this council, or maybe not this council but a future council very soon is going to have to take a hard look at our recreation facilities and the community centre building, in my opinion. We can’t just keep bleeding money in that facility. 

And now with our insurance companies cracking down on us and telling us we need someone on site at all times, no exceptions, blah blah blah – all of a sudden, we’re renting that building for, say, I’ll just use a [sic] – 25 bucks for a birthday – and we have to have a staff person there before it opens, during the event, and afterwards. 

So we’re not really ahead of the game. 

So it’s something we have to look at moving forward. 

Obviously, not in this budget, but moving forward, that’s going to be a serious discussion a future council’s going to have to have. 

You know, maybe there’s other options with that building. But with insurance costs, as you can see in this budget, in almost every category, rising, and making it tougher and tougher for us to do things, i.e. we have to have more staff available because we have to have people in that building when there’s an event there no matter what it is, so it’s costing us much more money, and that was just, we just, you know, found that out in the last couple months. 

They treat municipal governments different than they do private businesses, insurance companies do, so that’s where we’re liable more, to a bigger degree, so that’s something that a future council’s definitely going to have to look at.

Last thing I’d like to say, this is sort of a volunteer thing – I think that would be kind of cool, for Council and the Mayor, maybe some Saturday, paint some of the lines and some of the crosswalks in the town. 

I think that would be a great bonding exercise for us all, and Tyson would get us some stuff – I’d love to do that, so, if you guys are all game, we’ll see if (Town Engineer Tyson Joyce) Tyson can help us organize it, and we’ll do that some Saturday and probably end at 2 Lincoln Street.”


Comments

2 responses to ““Tonight Was The First Time Any Of Us Were Seeing The Budget,” Says Lunenburg Mayor On Day Of Vote For Operating Budget”

  1. Paula Rennie

    Always instructive to see which councillors have no questions. No questions on a $10 million budget.

  2. Mellissa

    How was this the “first time councillors were seeing” the proposed budget? According to the Town’s website a public presentation of the draft budget was made April 23 at Lunenburg Town Hall. According to the advertisement, a copy of the budget was available online at the time they made the announcement April 17th. So is the Mayor claiming that council members didn’t bother to attend the presentation or review the documents, or is he saying that no discussion by council was officially had in chambers yet?? Those are two very different scenarios and the first one seems to show a lack of due diligence in my opinion.

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