Mayors say roads suffering from lack of commitment from province
For the past five years the mayor of Bay Bulls has asked the provincial government for the same thing, and every year he's left standing on the side of the road empty-handed.
"The wish list I always have is getting some government funding to do some of the roadwork projects we've had on our docket for the last number of years," Harold Mullowney said during a discussion about the town's 2013 budget.
Bay Bulls recently approved a $1.5-million budget and reduced its mill rate from seven to five.
Mullowney said what's frustrating about not getting road money is the town isn't asking the province to pay the full price of the work, because Bay Bulls has had money put aside for several years, waiting for a cost-shared arrangement.
"It keeps getting postponed or put off and we're told to wait until next year, it will be in the provincial budget, but it never seems to happen. I got one road in particular I've been waiting almost five or six years to see the funding come through for, and that's a terrible situation. You have a town with its share of the money ready to go and you're seeing the money go elsewhere, often to areas that have no money to lay on the table," he said, sounding irritated by the government's failure to respond more quickly to much needed roadwork in the town of 1,200.
Mullowney said money has been spent by council on roads, but once that money is gone it can't be used for other services.
With cost-shared money from the government for these projects, towns are able to take advantage of the formula of the day and free up funds for other projects such as water and sewer, recreation and fire protection.
The mayor of Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove said he feels Mullowney's pain.
"We're after them all the time for money for roads. Ours are not in good shape at all. They haven't been done in 50 years," Ron Doyle told The Telegram Friday.
"That's one of our big things, but because government is running a deficit they said there won't be any roadwork in the next couple of years. They said they're looking at water and water quality," he said.
Doyle, whose Northeast Avalon town has one of the smallest budgets and one of the highest mill rates, said running small towns is no different than running any other town and they all have the same complaints - poor roads and infrastructure.
"Trying to keep infrastructure in the ground is a full-time job. But not all towns have infrastructure. We got water and sewer. A lot of towns don't have that, and the other side of it is we don't have a lot of businesses, although it's starting to come around, but we rely heavily on residential taxes and of course that went up this year like everybody else," Doyle said, explaining why the mill rate for Petty Harbour-Maddox Cove remains high, at nine mills.
"We dropped it back to nine from 10, which allowed us to maintain the services we need to provide. But that's the reason why ours is fairly high. Plus, we have three full-time staff," he said.
Doyle said everybody in the town of about 1,000 receives water service and there's only about 20 residences that aren't hooked up to the sewer system, which is on the town's wish list for 2013.
"The ones that aren't on it are in the Maddox Cove area at the end of the junction going in Maddox Cove Road, and we're working on it now. That's No. 1 on our capital works projects we've submitted," he said, referring to the town's 2013 budget of $880,000.
"I know some towns are down to five and six mills, and I know people are saying, 'What are they doing in Petty Harbour still up at nine?' I say first of all we don't have a lot of business in the area, so business tax is not a big part of our budget where it is in Paradise, Mount Pearl ... even Bay Bulls now got some major projects on the waterfront. Plus we have water and sewer, so if you got it, you gotta pay for it," Doyle said, adding the town is in pretty good financial shape given it only has a debt servicing ratio of three per cent, meaning three cents of every dollar goes to finance debt.
Of the five Northeast Avalon towns that released their budgets earlier this month - excluding the Town of Portugal Cove-St. Philip's - the Town of Flatrock has the highest debt servicing ratio, at 18 per cent. Its budget is $935,263 and its mill rate is five.
The Telegram was unable to confirm Portugal Cove-St. Philip's debt servicing ratio.
Bay Bulls is at 16 per cent and Wabana at 11 per cent.
Portugal Cove-St. Philip's has the largest budget, at $12.8 million, with a mill rate of seven, followed by Wabana with a $2.4-million budget and mill rate of 9.5.
According to its budget, the Town of Portugal Cove-St. Philip's will spend more than $8 million on its 2013 capital works program, with funding coming from the federal and provincial governments, general revenue and some financing.
"Our commitment to protecting our residents remains a priority and we will continue our contract with the St. John's Regional Fire Department to ensure we have emergency response backup appropriate for our citizens and growing community requirements at a cost of $45,000," finance chairman Coun. Moses Tucker stated when reading the budget.
Wabana's 2013 budget highlights an investment in a drinking water unit, an additional well and pumphouse, upgrades to most of the town's remaining pumphouses and fire hall and replacing the fire tanker.
Flatrock is spending the majority of its budget on providing basic services to its residents by spending $90,000 on garbage collection, more than $60,000 on recreational and cultural services, and more than $60,000 on protective services and planning and development.
The town will spend more than $200,000 on fiscal services, which includes debt charges.