03/28/2013 11:30 EDT | Updated 05/28/2013 05:12 EDT

Nova Scotia to raise user fees, bringing $11.6 million to government coffers

HALIFAX - Hundreds of user fees are going up nearly six per cent starting Monday as the Nova Scotia government looks to increase revenues before next week's budget.

Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald said Thursday most of the 1,400 user fees will increase by 5.8 per cent, generating about $11.6 million in revenue for the government.

The increases will affect a range of services and programs including museum admissions, sport fishing licences and driver permits, though some won't take affect until 2014.

MacDonald said it's a move made necessary by the increasing cost of delivering services as the government prepares to table its budget. It is the first fee increase since April 2011.

"Revenues are soft and departments don't have the capacity to absorb the cost of delivering services and improving the services they deliver," she said.

However, MacDonald said some of the increases will not meet the cost of delivering the service, citing ambulance fees as an example. Under the increase, regular resident ambulance fees are jumping from $134.51 to $142.30.

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said the move amounts to a tax increase ahead of a promise to balance the 2013-14 budget and it's a signal the government is "going to be scrambling for money."

"A few months ago they were looking at roughly a $300 million deficit," said McNeil. "Of course they need the money."

Progressive Conservative Leader Jaimie Baillie said increasing fees will make the province a more expensive place to live.

"Birth certificates, funerals, ambulance services, campground fees are all going up by an amount that bares no resemblance to the ability of Nova Scotians to pay any more," he said.

MacDonald said a "handful" of services will be exempted in an attempt to keep costs down for those on lower incomes. Those include pharmacare fees and rent services for seniors in public housing.

Fees for government service organizations, such as school boards and health authorities, will also not be affected.