Anyone on the Zoom calls during last year's COVID-19 recast city budget meetings will tell you it was a grim time. The pandemic's arrival and impending impacts to HRM's revenue on things like transit and rec programming had councillors holding their breath as they made cuts to the budget and approved a 1.4 percent increase to the average tax bill—a hike of about $27.
All the warnings at that time were "hold your breath for next year." But we're here at the end of next year and not much breath has been held. Thanks mostly to Halifax's hot-as-hell housing market delivering $30 million extra in deed transfer taxes to the city's bottom line, not only was council able to add some nice-to-have purchases to its inventory—including an extra $230,500 for Halifax Regional Police—but it voted to keep the tax rate increase lower than the rate of inflation, and to lower it past staff's recommended rate.
In the grand scheme of things—whether the change keeps $17 or $46 in your pocket—this ends up being a much bigger loss for the municipality.That could be 10 splash pads, about 70 people working on HRM's anti-Black racism project, a doubling in the amount of work to be done toward bike lanes in HRM this coming year, funding to save 20 Bus Stop Theatres, 72,000 e-books or a fabulous combination of a zillion things that are of value to residents of Halifax.
Tax increases have such a dirty reputation that councillors and the mayor are vehemently committed to whittling down the modest rate each year, while staff warn from the wings that HRM's ambitions are consistently surpassing its resources.
If and when the housing boom busts, that extra $30 million in revenue will disappear, and taking lower tax rates in years where money is flush could lead to budget discussions that involve real, hard decisions—not just performative debates where everything is approved anyway.
This analysis is based on the urban tax rate. In HRM, tax rates vary slightly based on location (urban/rural/suburban), proximity to Halifax Transit—yes, you pay less if you live further from transit—and a few other factors.