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.