As part of the 2017-2018 budget process, the Municipality of Shelburne councillors went out into the corners of their communities to find out what residents want and need the most.
“Over the past few months, council has been discussing what we believe our residents and business priorities are,” said Warden Penny Smith.
Smith said people with lower incomes were struggling to pay taxes.
To help alleviate that, council has increased the low-income tax exemption from up to $300 for those with household incomes of less than $20,000 to up to $400 for those with incomes between $20,000 and $22,500.
Residents with a total household income between $22,000 and $25,000 can also access a $100 exemption.
When councillors hit their communities to talk to residents, she added, a collective answer back was providing high speed Internet.
“The issue that most divides Nova Scotians between urban towns and rural communities is broadband or high speed Internet,” said Smith.
For communities to be sustainable and attract new residents and businesses, the issue needs to be addressed, she said.
That prompted county council to contribute $325,385 to extending broadband to 40 premises in Sandy Point, 52 in Ohio and 256 in Jordan Falls for phase one of a project aimed at expanding web access.
The municipality also included in its budget $365,000 for phase two, whicht will help bring the service to even more dwellings.
“If these two phases are successfully completed, we will have broadband and ultra-high speed coverage to 1,363 premises, or more than half of our dwellings,” said Smith. “This is an extremely ambitious initiative for our community this year, but a critical one for our future sustainability.”
Council is also setting aside $250,000 to design and cost out a new building for the municipal offices and its tenants.
The building is 114 years old, Smith said, and council will be approaching the province and federal government to cover the $11 million cost.
The municipality also has money set aside in the coming year for infrastructure improvements.
“We can easily get caught up in thinking about new developments and opportunities, but we must continue to invest in our current infrastructure,” she said.
Health care in the community remains a battle for most rural areas. To help combat that problem, $102,384 has been budgeted toward health care recruitment and retention.
“Council is confident that the priorities that have been addressed in this year’s budget and the funding set aside to implement these changes will make very positive improvements for many years to come,” said Smith.