These are the issues that I believe need attention in Torbay (they are not listed in priority order).
For anyone attending Council meetings, I am sure you can confirm my total commitment to protecting our environment and increasing awareness of all aspects related to it. I have been Council’s liaison to the Torbay Environment & Trails Committee (TETC) for the last several years. I also served on theprovincial executive of the Stewardship Association of Municipalities (SAM) for a few years.
Development and the environment have to go hand in hand with the Town taking the upper hand when it comes to making sure enough open space is protected in perpetuity. We do have a Stewardship Agreement in place but we must ensure what we signed on for is enforced. I firmly believe we can do a better job in that regard.
In the last municipal election one of my platform items was to bring the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) to Torbay. Although it was a long journey, I can now confirm that the NCC did acquire a small parcel of property in the Gully area. That is only the start of their acquiring more private properties which we have identified as needing protection under their umbrella. This is a great step forward!
Protection of open space
A five year review of our Municipal Plan is currently ongoing. Hopefully, once approved this Fall, it will not only include even further protection of our prime open spaces but will also clarify regulations pertaining to subdivision open space allotments which was a major issue during this current term of Council. For larger subdivisions, there should be no question that 10% land be put aside for open space use. Our Open Space Management Strategy should be followed as this is a very important document with great recommendations.
When anyone refers to our slogan Beautiful Torbay, the first image that comes to mind is our Bight and Torbay beach. Have you visited our beach lately? The raw sewage is only one major problem there. Our beach land area itself is a mess! However, in response to me making this an issue in the Council Chamber, town staff recently did some great work to help with a badly needed facelift. I consider this beautiful place should be our central focal point for our own residents and any other visitors that pass through our community. This is a natural park that needs a major cleanup and makeover.
We should utilize funding from our own Town budget and tap into provincial and federal grants to help bring this area up to a standard all of us can be proud of. New signage, improved bridge and trail upgrades, a boardwalk along the river to the beautiful falls and beyond, removing large rock boulders from the beach itself, are only a few improvements badly needed. Also, any type of vehicular traffic beyond the parking area should be strictly prohibited. As soon as I am elected, a Beach Committee made up of town residents and staff will be established and a budget line will be listed to help get some of these improvements and work completed in 2014. Also the Torbay Harbour Authority will be asked to get involved to help establish a long term vision for this area.
Torbay town center
With our rapid growth this Town badly needs more facilities for their residents to enjoy. Currently our community provides many programs but with space limitations, many of them restrict user participation. Behind our town hall we do have plans to construct new public buildings which our community is sadly lacking. However I feel this area can also accommodate business ventures such as small retail stores, restaurants, seniors housing; and outdoor recreation and festival activities. Many times the question is asked after a scheduled Torbay event - why don’t more Torbay residents come out and support their own town? Major central town facilities may help solve that problem. With a view of the Bight in the background and having new facilities for all age groups, this area will finally help resolve this problem and hopefully this question will no longer be asked. We have to start soon since it will be an ongoing project for many years to come.
Community involvement and volunteers
We are blessed with many volunteers in our community. New families and residents with various backgrounds and skills are moving into Torbay. We need to immediately engage these people and introduce them to all aspects of what Torbay has to offer in order to get them involved with us. There is so much more work to be done to make Torbay even more beautiful.
Second ice pad for Jack Byrne Arena
This arena has proven to be a great investment for our region. It is a multi use facility and our community has utilized it for town events more than any of the other partners. With the additional infrastructure now in place in that building which allows floor conversion from ice to dry surface, various events can be scheduled any time throughout the year. However minor hockey participation has grown tremendously and it is now time to help that organization expand its ice time availability by working with them to build a second ice surface not only for their use, but for private rental to other groups as well. Our new Council under my leadership would encourage the Jack Byrne Arena Board to carry out a feasibility study for such a facility which I believe would not add to the tax burden of any of our partner towns or their citizens.
Waste water treatment
Less than 40% of our town is serviced with sewage infrastructure which is running into our harbor untreated. This is our contamination and we must take responsibility for this major problem. Money to resolve this mess amounts to multi millions of dollars which we cannot afford on our own. We have cooperated with other levels of government and soon will be in a position to release a report on the type of treatment plant this town requires. At this point public consultation has not taken place even though important questions are being asked. For example: will all residents be expected to foot the bill for this major expenditure, even the ones not hooked into the system? Won’t the user service fee increase substantially when it comes into operation? Getting this facility up and running must continue to be a top priority but through public consultation all citizens must understand the implications that come with such a service. The sooner our “bubble” disappears it will complete our vision for making the beach area the focal point of our Heritage District and tourism development.
Increased water service
Within this current term of Council we have studies completed on the potential of hooking Great Pond up as another watershed supply. If activated, this service will also cost multi millions of dollars. Where will the money come from or are there other options? This town did have South Pond zoned as another potential watershed supply but unfortunately contamination is preventing us from utilizing this pond. However, the residents of Torbay did not cause this contamination which is having a tremendous negative impact on future residential and commercial development, costly us millions of lost tax revenue. The contamination coming from outside our town’s boundaries is now the responsibility of the Federal Government and we must make a case to get compensation for the damage caused to our community. Any additional monies received can be applied to expand our infrastructure for both a new waste water treatment plant and new water service. Working with the provincial government, we are looking at three options in order to service all of Torbay in the future: a) hook up to the St. John’s system; b) bring Great Pond on line; or c) establish a regional water service for all of the Northeast Avalon area. Before we go any further all of Council must discuss the future of this issue and again through public consultation, engage our taxpayers and get their opinions. Your new Council must pursue getting a resolve to our water service woes during their term. The issue has lingered too long!
Planning and development
A little history: during the early years when Torbay was incorporated as a town, one of our first Councils had the vision of preserving open space around our Bight by creating a conservation zone. At that time residents were paying a poll tax for taxation purposes. Later when our Town introduced the property tax system, landowners within the conservation zone only then found out the negative impact this type of zoning had on their properties. Before this zoning came along, they had title to the most valuable lands in the community, but that value then dropped dramatically when rezoned. Not only did this zoning prevent any type of development on these private properties, in return owners received absolutely no compensation and were even asked to pay minimum property tax. Everyone is now enjoying this fantastic open space at no cost to them or the Town. In other parts of Town residents permitted roads to be widened and Town infrastructure easements through their properties, again with little if any compensation. For all the development that has occurred throughout the Town, how much land was the town forced to expropriate in order to allow growth for future servicing and increased tax revenue? I estimate the Town got off pretty well financially for what residents gave up. This leads me to my position on development and the Town guidelines on issuing permits. I believe if there is a historical factor (as above) that might impact an application for any type permit, then this should be considered by Council before they vote to allow or reject. Our Municipal Plan governing development is in place for ten years and has a five year review update midway through. Over the years many amendments have taken place, particularly concerning rezoning, anywhere within that ten year plan period. I strongly believe there should be no rezoning entertained (unless it is absolutely essential), outside of the 1st and 5th year reviews. In that way both the Town and developers can plan and sustain the growth of our town in a timely manner. I do feel very strong regarding preserving conservation lands. Properties which have conservation zoning status right now should retain that status into perpetuity.
In 2010 Tract Consulting Inc. was contracted to do a complete comprehensive report on all aspects of our Town, including a review of our Municipal Plan and Development Regulations. This report was never made public although it contains many recommendations on how town administration, development and planning should move forward. There is also an interesting section on “Taking Planning Public”. A new Council should revisit this report as part of their strategic planning sessions and release it to the public as soon as possible.
Within this current term of Council I have strongly lobbied for the establishment of a heritage district. I recommended that this area include all lands on the east side of Torbay Rd. opposite Fleming’s Hill to Thorne’s Lane but also include conservation lands around the Bight to Tapper’s Cove on the North Side and below the Town Hall on the South Side. What will this mean for landowners and homeowners within this area? I can assure you it will not negatively impact any current homeowner. Unfortunately there are no other structures in that area that can be designated Heritage. There are two (Codner House and St. Nicholas Church) already designated and also the Old Anglican Cemetery. There will however, be guidelines established and enforced pertaining to new home construction within the District.
Having a Heritage designation will allow the Town to be able to tap into federal and provincial grants which can be used to improve our oldest street, Lower St., all the way around Moore’s Valley Rd. as well. The Torbay Battery already has a National Historic designation, but how many of our residents know this? Again this area has so much potential but will cost taxpayers so little to improve. As Mayor I would encourage Council to immediately establish a Heritage District under a new policy and reactivate our Heritage Committee to help Council administer it.
The number of small businesses continues to grow in our community and our Economic Development Division is playing a great role advising new entrepreneurs to set up in Torbay. Increased business tax revenue is a major factor in diversifying our economic growth and plays a key role in determining the level of taxation from residential development. Our studies regarding a Business Park continue and once complete it will determine the feasibility of bringing larger companies here, again impacting the level of taxation you pay. By the time a new Council is elected, a consultant will have an “EconomicDevelopment Strategic Plan” completed for us. This important document will help guide us into the future for sustainable business development and growth.
One of the main reasons your property assessment went up last year was due to the high assessment rate not only on your property, but your neighbors as well. Growth in this town is at a high level, but just look at the type and value of homes people are building. Are we becoming a town for higher income earners only? Large lots, large homes, and small families. Do we have any room for other types of development in our community for low income people, especially seniors? We must diversify our needs by incorporating various types of housing into our regulations for developers to implement. Apartment units, duplexes, row housing, etc., are in dire need and we must accommodate people who are looking for these types of shelter. We must engage provincial bodies such as the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation in our discussions and planning.
In section 7.0 of our Open Space Management Strategy, land management and how the Town can obtain properties for their needs and requirements is covered. Many properties in this community do not have clear title and therefore may be viewed by the Province as being Crown Land. A new Council should put a freeze on all crown lands in Torbay in order to make a determination on future use of this open space. Also there should be a full review of taxation on conservation and agriculture zoned lands. As Mayor I will establish a special committee of Council to deal with Land Management.
This is an issue that has been discussed for far too long and the town must draft a plan to phase in sidewalks on our main roadway, Torbay Rd., over the next decade at least. It is not a cheap venture but for safety reasons alone in our growing, high volume traffic Town we have to start as soon as possible. How about the first phase include from Mahon’s Lane to the Town Hall where many students and seniors walk each day? For new serviced subdivisions, sideways are now mandatory for the developer to install. However we do need to look at having new un-serviced subdivisions have sidewalks as well.
In order to access funding from higher levels of government, getting together with neighboring towns to share services and facilities is seen as the only way to go within our economic climate. It is very important that we build on our current cooperation within the Northeast Avalon by meeting with our MHA, MP and other Councils on a regular basis, bringing all issues to the forums. Again consultation is the key.
When residents talk about what their taxes are spent on in this Town, it seems the infrastructure and volunteer manpower we have in place for their protection in time of need is never mentioned. The fire protection service in our community is second to none in this province. Last year we invested (without the help of the provincial government) in a new pumper unit for the Torbay Volunteer Fire Department because we saw it was a necessity for the safety of our people. We should continue our investment in this service and remind everyone that although they may never have to call 911, there will always be someone answering the emergency when required. However at the same time we must get our MHA involved in bringing area towns together and talk about a Northeast Avalon Regional Fire Department. With a mix of full time and volunteer firefighters providing this necessary service, all towns involved will continue to have the protection they need.
Property assessments now usually dictate what our mil rate should be. Last year’s higher assessments did increase our revenue, but on the other side development did slow down. With new subdivisions slated to get started in 2014 and beyond, our current level of taxation should be sufficient unlessemergencies arise. Every year there should be public consultation with residents as part of our budget process.
Credit card payments
A few years ago Council eliminated the use of credit cards when paying your tax bills. There were two reasons for doing this: loss of revenue from processing fees charged to the town and the cost of staff time doing the processing. Some residents, especially with high bills, felt they lost an opportunity to gain substantial credit card points when the Town changed their policy. I feel the sooner a resident pays their bill, the sooner this money ends up in the Town’s account where it will gain interest revenue which will offset the above losses. As Mayor I would like us to look at the option of bringing back the use of credit cards - only for one time payments to be made before March 1st of the current taxation year. This time limit will then allow staff to process the transactions in a timely manner before the rush of other payments come along at taxation year end. In 2014 a pilot project should be initiated to determine if this can work without too much cost to our Town.