Senior Gerald Manning, who has lived in Torbay his whole life, is on his way into the drugstore as cars whiz back and forth along the main road.
© Rhonda Hayward
Taxes and roads are issues of concern for Gerald Manning in the upcoming election in Torbay.
Once a rural community adjacent St. John’s, over the last decade or so the town has been bustling with suburban sprawl.
For Manning, that sprawl is showing its wear on the streets — which need an overhaul — and the main road, which needs sidewalks for safety.
Then there’s the taxes — driven up by property values from bigger homes and demand for housing.
The growth of the town and the need for infrastructure — including the need for a new source of drinking water and solution for sewage that goes into the harbour — are driving many of the election issues for voters such as Manning in Torbay.
“I would like to see the taxes kept down,” Manning said, referring to adjustments in the mill rate to compensate for the rise in property values.
Robert Smith moved to Torbay about a year ago after returning to Newfoundland to work in the oil industry here. He had been in Calgary for nearly 20 years.
Smith said he’s getting to know who the candidates are and believes there is some desire for a change in the town. He also said council should be more visible in the community.
He’d like to see more concentration on recreation, such as walking trails. And he agrees the roads are in bad condition.
Smith is not fond of the barrage of bold commercial signage on the roadsides and thinks that should be regulated.
He likes Torbay. In fact, he thinks it’s a great place to live.
But as a new homeowner, Smith is not sure taxpayers who aren’t on town water and sewer are getting the best bang for their buck.
Basically, he said, residents like him are getting street lights and garbage pickup for the same levy as those on city services.
Smith would also like to see more concentration on preservation of the land.
“Development is the key driver. There needs to be a balance,” Smith said.
Overlooking Torbay Bight, the dairy cattle on the Ryan farm have a million-dollar view. The farm’s silos are a marker on the landscape.
Billy Woods, another lifelong resident, is reading a tractor manual and stops to consider the upcoming election.
A fiery issue, said Woods, is the location of the town’s depot.
“No one wants it in their backyard,” Woods said.
It’s currently located behind the town hall, and the province has approved a site off the Torbay Bypass Road opposite Quigley’s Lane. The council is also assessing a location on Indian Meal Line, where residents are opposing it.
And the council is proposing a town centre for the depot’s former location.
While some decry the lack of recreational facilities in the town — it has the Jack Byrne Arena, but no swimming pool — Woods isn’t bothered one way or another.
But he said the outfall into the harbour and concerns about the water supply are on people’s minds.
The farm’s owner, Leo Ryan, hopes council will give farmers a better tax rate on agricultural land, as property values have also put pressure on them.
“It’s not council’s fault,” he said. “It’s the Municipal Assessment Agency.”
Ryan was born in Torbay, and said he’s noticed an impact on local businesses by people from nearby communities bypassing Torbay and shopping on Stavanger Drive.
Two councillors — Ralph Tapper and Brian Whitty — are challenging incumbent Bob Codner for the mayor’s job.
Whitty, who retired from teaching Grade 6 in Pouch Cove this spring, is campaigning on a platform that includes balancing development with environmental concerns.
And Whitty wants to try to combat the level of bureaucracy that towns face in dealing with Municipal Affairs, which he describes as “stifling.”
Whitty agrees the main roads are unsafe for pedestrians.
“I was out last night campaigning. … To walk across the road is taking a chance on your life,” said Whitty.
“People are really concerned.”
Affordable housing is another problem, he said, especially with the big homes that are going up.
As for the depot issue, Whitty said he can understand the concerns and is advocating for more public consultation on issues.
“If you just see us once every four years, what input are you getting?” he said.
Whitty said for the town of 8,000 to sustain a swimming pool, it needs to get together with neighbouring communities as it did on the Jack Byrne Arena.
The water supply in the town is pretty much maxed out, the candidates say. And there will have to be a decision about whether or not to go with the St. John’s Regional Water Supply or try to source another body of water.
Codner has been mayor of the town for 12 years, winning three elections.
He’s heard about big and small issues in his door-to-door travels.
He acknowledges the issues like the sewage treatment and roads, and said council is working on it.
“If someone has $50 million or $60 million they can access with no burden to the town to pay back, great,” he said.
Codner said the town has dropped the mill rate to offset property taxes, but pointed out that it draws 94 per cent of its taxes from residential properties.
“Basically it’s a bedroom community,” said Codner, who added the rate should be 70 per cent residential and the rest from commercial. He wants the town to get a business park up and running.
Codner said the best option for the town’s water woes is the regional water supply.
And as for streets, he said, the town did an assessment in 2009, ranking the roads for repairs.
“That takes the politics out of it,” he said.
The problem of sewage going into the harbour was the norm in the 1960s and ’70s, but in this day and age, it’s despicable, said Codner, a retired manager with the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp. who was also a land surveyor and appraiser.
He said the town hopes to tap into the federal infrastructure fund, which requires a third share from each level of government.
Tapper has spent two terms on council and is making his first run at mayor.
He said he’s responding to a desire among voters for change.
The town is in good financial shape and he supports the new wellness centre.
Tapper acknowledges development is a worry for many residents, and he supports new trails and the protection of wetlands.
But while new residents are moving in and express concerns, Tapper said they may not realize there is a lot of open space still left in the town.
Housing affordability and accommodations for low-income seniors are other priorities that Tapper agrees with.
“The (property) assessments had a great impact last year on everybody,” Tapper said, adding the town needs to make sure there’s a mix of housing.
Like Whitty, Tapper is frustrated with Municipal Affairs.
He said council approved work for two roads — Convent Lane and North Pond Road — months ago.
“It’s coming on October and (Municipal Affairs) still hasn’t given us the approval to go after the tendering process,” Tapper said.
He said he was in favour of putting the depot on Quigley Lane — the site approved by the province — but was defeated by council at its last meeting, so that’s held up now until after the election.
Tapper spent 37 years at the Queen Elizabeth II library at Memorial University — he retired as facilities manager.
Besides those running for mayor, the following candidates are seeking election to council: Marlene Carroll, Geoff Gallant, Thomas Hall, Jim Lacey, Ken McGrath, Peggy Roche, Craig Scott, Carol Ann Smith, Mary Thorne-Gosse and Wanda Tobin-Hammond. There are seven seats on council, including mayor and deputy mayor.
Like all towns, residents vote Tuesday, with voting between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.