More infrastructure spending needed, says Municipalities NL

Daniel MacEachern
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The provincial budget doesn’t go far enough to help municipalities, says the president of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador.

Churence Rogers said Thursday that while the 2014 budget addresses some municipal concerns, the money allocated — the previously announced $200 million for its three-year municipal capital works program, about half of which will go to the province’s seven largest communities — isn’t enough.

“The money that’s identified in the budget today for the 911 program, flood-risk maps — these are good things. These are all positive things. Overall, we’re pleased with what we see,” he said.

“When we see $200 million for a three-year program, it sounds like a lot of money, but when you realize that there are $800 million in requests that come in from the municipalities to the province like this past year, for example, then you realize we’re a long ways from having the kind of money we need to deal with the issues in terms of infrastructure: roads, water quality, sewer systems, these kinds of things. There’s a long ways to go.”

Municipalities look to provincial funding to supplement property tax collected, the largest single source of revenue for municipalities, said Rogers.

“We don’t have the tools at our disposal like the province has,” he said.

“You see in today’s budget, $600 million in tax cuts — great for individuals, great for businesses, but for the communities that are out there struggling to fix water systems and so on, that kind of money would have gone a long ways.”

The provincial government and municipalities are currently negotiating a new fiscal framework, and Municipalities NL also decried a “missed opportunity” for tax relief by rebating the provincial portion of the HST paid by municipalities, as the federal government does with its share.

The province eliminated operating grants for the province’s seven biggest municipalities last year, but boosted the amount of capital funding available.

Individual mayors were more positive about what they heard as Finance Minister Charlene Johnson delivered her first budget.

Paradise Mayor Dan Bobbett applauded what he called “major investments” in health care and education.

“Some good stuff for education for Paradise, expansion to the elementary schools in Paradise,” he said. “A very positive budget overall.”

As for tax relief, said Bobbett, that’s one of the aspects of the ongoing talks between municipalities and the province.

“I don’t think we’ve reached that stage yet where they’re prepared to do something as of yet; we’re still in the talk stage,” he said.

Conception Bay South Mayor Ken McDonald called it a “great budget” Thursday afternoon.

“I think it sounded like a government who are really trying to work hard to turn their fortunes around in the eyes of the electorate, and you know what? Good on ’em. If they can deliver on the things that they’ve put in place now in this budget, I think they can gain some popularity. Whether it’ll be enough or not, I don’t know.”

Municipalities already knew there wouldn’t be any tax relief in this budget,” said McDonald, who was pleased at the announcement of a new library and school for C.B.S.

“It’s all good for us, so far. Some great initiatives for lower-income families, some initiatives for seniors.”

Twitter: @TelegramDaniel

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