Editor's note: the following first appeared in the Jan. 29, 2013 print edition of The Compass.
The gloves are off in South River when it comes to the collection of outstanding taxes, Mayor Arthur Petten declared last week.
Nearly $80,000 in taxes remain owing from 2012. That's on a budget of under $500,000.
Petten said the situation is creating great difficulty for the town, and it's not fair to those who faithfully pay their bills.
During an interview at the council office last week, Petten described the town of roughly 700 residents as cash-strapped, and issued a warning to those who refuse to pay their share of the costs to operate the municipality.
"Council is going to get really strong this year against it," he said. "We will turn off water where we can. We will sell peoples' properties. Some have been notified already.
"We are going to be a council that's going to be reckoned with."
The warning comes as council enters a new fiscal year, with a new operating budget that has grown by just under 16 per cent.
Council adopted its 2013 budget last month, balancing the ledger at nearly $586,000.
The tax rate for residential property owners was reduced by .5 to 7.5 mills, but the town expects to collect roughly 19 per cent more in taxes this year because property values have spiked sharply in the town. The minimum property tax was also increased to $400, up from $350.
Petten said council would have liked to lower the mill rate even further, but had to take a cautious approach. He reminded residents that the mill rate was at nine in 2010, and this year's rate is in line with neighbouring municipalities.
"As we go through the year, we may be able to do a small adjustment," he stated.
Expenses are up in areas such as transportation services, environmental health and what's known as fiscal services. This latter category includes a $70,000 operating deficit from 2012, which is credited mainly to unpaid taxes.
Petten reiterated his frustration with unpaid taxes, calling is a "big problem" and "we have to apply pressure."
Petten announced he will be seeking re-election this fall, and committed to reducing the amount of arrears and paying off the town's debt during the next term. He suggested council will be able to lower the mill rate even further if these goals can be accomplished.
Four years ago, the town's debt ratio was nearly 50 per cent. That figure has now dropped to 10 per cent, said Petten.
But good financial stewardship is only one part of the puzzle, he added, and the town can only be successful if all taxpayers do their part.
"We can give people a break, if everyone paid their share."
On the bright side, he said the town continues to grow, with approvals granted for some 70 residential building lots over the past three years
"We have people coming to our town from all over," he said.
The town has invested heavily into road improvements, and a new community park has generated plenty of positive feedback.
Petten added that a new community hall, or improvements to the existing municipal centre, is a growing priority.
"It's badly in need," he said of the existing facility.
Here are some highlights of the 2013 budget:
• Remuneration for councillors - $14,000;
• General administration - $62,000;
• Fire protection - $20,000;
• Snow removal - $44,000;
• Street lighting - $26,000;
• Garbage collection - $65,000;
• Recreation and cultural services - $5,000;
• Debt charges (municipal share) - $54,323
• Residential property taxes -$344,000;
• Commercial taxes - $25,000;
• Water and sewer taxes - $51,000;
• Other taxes - $64,000;
• Municipal operating grant - $35,388;