‘The crisis is in front of us’

Dave Bartlett
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Northeast Avalon municipal leaders want new fiscal deal with province

St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe met with various regional mayors and council officials at the Mayor’s Lounge at St. John’s City Hall Wednesday afternoon to discuss regional co-operation and, more importantly, provincial-municipal fiscal relationships. Pictured (clockwise from left) are Mount Pearl Coun. Dave Aker, Torbay Mayor Bob Codner, Pouch Cove Deputy Mayor Kevin Connors, Bay Bulls Mayor Harold Mullowney, Paradise Mayor Ralph Wiseman, Paradise chief administrative officer Rod Cumby, O’Keefe, St. John's city manager Bob Smart, Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove Mayor John Kenndy and Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s Mayor Bill Fagan. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

Municipal representatives from the Northeast Avalon gathered at St. John’s City Hall Wednesday to discuss how they could work together to pressure the province to come up with a new fiscal arrangement for municipalities.

As the mayors and councillors gathered for lunch, there was lots of good-natured chatter about the capital’s decision last week to focus more on regional co-operation and less on amalgamation.

When the meeting ended about an hour and a half later, the group spoke to reporters about its common focus.

St. John’s Mayor Dennis O’Keefe said the group represents 165,000 people  in the greater metropolitan area.

He said everyone at the meeting agreed municipalities can’t continue to provide the services expected  by their residents, and replace and build new infrastructure, under the current funding arrangement with the province.

There were some differences, but O’Keefe said the group agreed on two key points.

“One is a rebate of the provincial segment of the HST (harmonized sales tax) so that we have additional revenues,” he said.

“And the other is we’ll be asking the province to rebate, to towns and cities across Newfoundland and Labrador, a share of the current provincial gas tax.”

O’Keefe said if the province grants these requests, municipalities will be in a much better financial situation.

“Under the current property tax regime, meeting the needs is absolutely impossible and we simply cannot continue down that particular road,” he added.

When reporters asked if he thought the province would comply unless it can be shown there is a crisis looming, O’Keefe put it this way:

“The disaster scenario is there. It’s in the decay of the metropolitan infrastructure.

“The crisis is in front of us.”

But so is the solution, he added.

He said if province doesn’t listen, municipalities will be faced with serious problems; they won’t be able to afford to replace aging — and in some cases crumbling — water pipes, roads and other infrastructure.

“The disaster is coming,” agreed Paradise Mayor Ralph Wiseman. “The federal government is willing to do it. They’re giving us the two cents on the gas (tax) and they’re giving us back the (HST). It’s only fair that the province would do the same.”

Wiseman noted that eight cents of every tax dollar in Canada goes back to municipalities, while provinces get about 42 cents and Ottawa claims the remaining 50 per cent.

“The current fiscal arrangement is not working for any of us, big or small,” added Bay Bulls Mayor Harold Mullowney.

He said municipalities have told the province what the problem is and how to fix it, and now the government has to act.

Mount Pearl Coun. Dave Aker, who was pinch-hitting for Mayor Randy Simms, said with amalgamation now off the table, municipalities of the region can work together to find the common ground needed to have a united front on a new fiscal arrangement.

Representatives from Torbay, Pouch Cove, Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s and Logy Bay-Middle Cove- Outer Cove were also at the meeting.

The towns of Conception Bay South, Bauline, Flatrock and Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove were unable to attend, but Wiseman said he couldn’t imagine any of those towns not agreeing with the direction of the rest of the group.

And the issue isn’t just on the radar of towns and cities on the Avalon.

Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador president Churence Rogers told The Telegram late last year that a new fiscal arrangement with the province would be the most important issue facing his members in 2012.

dbartlett@thetelegram.com

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: Northeast Avalon, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada Ottawa Bay Bulls Torbay Pouch Cove Portugal Cove Logy Bay Middle Cove Conception Bay South Bauline

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Recent comments

  • Brian Collins
    January 12, 2012 - 11:08

    I am compelled to comment on the ever-whining Dennis O'Keefe and other municipal leaders about getting even more of their taxpayers' money from the Province. It's the same taxpayers from whom they keep increasing taxes. The City has given - and I don't begrudge the employees- larger wage increases to their own emplyees and to those of Metrobus, than provincial employees will likely receive over the next few years. Yet they want the Province give them more. It's too ironic .And not only do the council vote themselves another increase, but they all are eligible for pensions which they don't even contribute to. And you think MPs have it good. My advice is to run your operation more cost effectively and leave the taxpayers alone.

    • Eli
      January 12, 2012 - 15:12

      Good points Brian. While we're on this subject how about revealing some municipal administrative salaries. Let's hear from the Minister of Municipal Affairs.

  • Political watcher
    January 12, 2012 - 10:19

    One has to ask why we need so many politicians staff and administration costs for just 172,000 people. We all use the same streets, public facilities and services yet we need a seperate body to send us out our tax bills? This is just too silly and needs to be addressed; we have more councillors and Mayors than the city of Toronto; a city of over 5 million.

  • AngryDalty
    January 12, 2012 - 09:49

    Considering the city councillors just gave themselves a raise, I don't think they should poor mouth about crumbling pipes...

  • Jon Murphy
    January 12, 2012 - 09:17

    Is having all of these mayors and councillors for just under 200,000 people really necessary? Cut some of them out and their salaries can be put back into providing services for citizens.

  • Bill
    January 12, 2012 - 09:10

    Time for the Province to get realistic with respect to the infrastructure needs of municipalities. I pay lots of Provincial taxes and expect a reasonable portion to be returned to my community so they can maintain infrastructure essential for community growth. With most communities unable to sustain themselves by property taxes as they have only residential assessments to rely on, they are being forced to raise municipal taxes to heights that are damaging to most households.

  • Maurice Rogers
    January 12, 2012 - 08:41

    The towns are in trouble because their planning is based on a pyramid scheme where new development pays to maintain existing infrastructure. But when new development can't keep up with rising maintenance costs they decide to ask the province for money rather than adjust their planning models. So how many schools or hospital beds should we close because town councils won't accept that their planning models are flawed.

  • Sclip
    January 12, 2012 - 08:18

    Wow...not only that... How does it cost $800.00 to go to Bonavista?? i could do it from town on $100, including a lunch in Clarenville i expect.

    • DD
      January 12, 2012 - 10:27

      Perhaps he stayed and dined at the Bonavista Delta. Beats fish & chips at Chess's.

  • DD
    January 12, 2012 - 07:04

    The problems are indeed in front of municipalities but they could help themselves too if they exercised more control over their spending. Was a trip to Bonavista at a cost of $800.00 really necessary for CBS mayor Woodrow French to see Capt. Bob Bartlett's boat tie up to the dock?