Town calls for merger

Terry Roberts
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Bishop's Falls unveils four-step plan for coping with closure of paper mill

One of the towns hard hit by the loss of the paper-making industry in Central Newfoundland sees greater regional co-operation as a central plank in any strategy to overcome the economic setback.

The Bishop's Falls town council has unveiled a four-step plan for consideration by the provincial government.

One of those steps includes a co-operative merger with its larger neighbour, Grand Falls-Windsor.

"We feel like we're a part of Grand Falls-Windsor. Now how do we make that more meaningful?" Bishop's Falls Mayor Jody Fancey said Wednesday.

One of the towns hard hit by the loss of the paper-making industry in Central Newfoundland sees greater regional co-operation as a central plank in any strategy to overcome the economic setback.

The Bishop's Falls town council has unveiled a four-step plan for consideration by the provincial government.

One of those steps includes a co-operative merger with its larger neighbour, Grand Falls-Windsor.

"We feel like we're a part of Grand Falls-Windsor. Now how do we make that more meaningful?" Bishop's Falls Mayor Jody Fancey said Wednesday.

Not a chance, according to Grand Falls-Windsor Mayor Rex Barnes.

"We've got more important things to worry about," was Barnes' reaction when asked about amalgamation.

The idea of a merger has been discussed many times, and was most recently rejected by Grand Falls-Windsor nearly two years ago, fueled by concerns over the high debt and infrastructure needs of Bishop's Falls.

In addition to amalgamation, other priorities include: increasing commercial land in the town; ensuring revenues from the Bishop's Falls power plant benefit the region; and an increase in municipal operating grants to offset the loss of a yearly grant from AbitibiBowater.

AbitibiBowater operated the Grand Falls-Windsor newsprint mill until its permanent closure last week, resulting in the loss of roughly 750 jobs in the region and some $48 million in annual payroll. The closure will also affect the supply and service sector. The closure means an $800,000 loss in tax revenues to Grand Falls-Windsor, and some $110,000 for Bishop's Falls.

Fancey is a big proponent of regional co-operation and wants the ministerial task force established by the provincial government last fall to take a close look at the merger idea.

Stronger together

She described Bishop's Falls as the "bedroom community" of Grand Falls-Windsor, with residents of her town working, shopping, eating and utilizing services there. With amalgamation, she envisions a stronger community that is better positioned to face the difficult challenges that lay ahead.

"We can move forward together," she stated.

But with a debt of roughly $5 million and serious infrastructure needs, including a proposed $10 million sewage treatment plant, Bishop's Falls comes with plenty of baggage.

There are fears in Grand Falls-Windsor that a merger will place an unnecessary financial burden on residents, resulting in an increase in taxes and a deterioration of services.

The provincial government has offered financial incentives in the past, but nowhere near what's needed, Barnes said.

'Not interested'

"This council has made it clear. We are not interested in amalgamating at this time. After the next election, the new council may consider it. But I don't think it's in our best interest right now," Barnes said.

Unlike St. John's and Mount Pearl, the two towns don't exactly share a boundary. But residential development along Grenfell Heights in Grand Falls-Windsor has stretched to within 100 metres or so of Bishop's Falls.

Bishop's Falls has a population of roughly 3,400 residents, while Grand Falls is home to about 13,500 residents.

Fancey argues that a merger would be more palatable if the provincial government helped ease the town's debt and invested in infrastructure like it has done in other mergers.

She believes such a merger could result in increased services, and reduced taxes.

Ex-mayor pushes co-operation

The former mayor of Bishop's Falls, George Saunders, agrees. He said the loss of the mill will be devastating, and he panned Barnes and other leaders in Grand Falls-Windsor for lacking the vision to recognize the benefits of co-operation.

"If there was ever a time when we needed to be together as a municipal entity, it's now," he said.

Municipal Affairs Minister Dianne Whalen was unavailable for comment Wednesday. The provincial government has repeatedly stated it will not undertake any forced amalgamations.

troberts@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Falls town council, AbitibiBowater

Geographic location: Grand Falls, Grand Falls-Windsor, Central Newfoundland St. John's Mount Pearl Grenfell Heights

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Recent comments

  • Frank
    July 02, 2010 - 13:33

    Until there is a plan to rejuvenate the economy in that region, amalgamation will not really mean much, except additional tax revenue for Grand Falls-Winsor.

    People will still lose their homes or move to other places to find work.

    Deal with the problem, not a symptom of the problem.

    I really thought Danny Williams had a plan, but we have not seen it.

  • speedy
    July 02, 2010 - 13:32

    Boy, it sure seems like Rex Barnes truly believes in helping his neighbours!!!!!!!!

  • Robert B
    July 02, 2010 - 13:32

    Don't you say anything obout our dear Rex.

    He may not be able to express himself clearly, but he speaks for all the people of GFW.

    Explain to him the benifits of becoming mayor of a larger town.

    More people mean higher pay for top management. More perks for top management. More trips for top management. More departments for top management.

    Now let him go check with the real people who call the shots and interview him again on this subject.

    Our Rexy really got a handle on the issues.

  • jim
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    ok bishop's falls, go right ahead and merge, then watch your town go down the tube, just like my home town the former town of windsor. take main street for example: its a ghost town. the only thing missing are the tumble weeds. shame on politicians to allow this to happen.

  • Ken
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    Bishop's Falls is riddled with debt. What happened to the rail money they received? It was squandered. The Mayor did nothing to try and convene this govt. that Abitibi was worth saving. She jumped on the bandwagon and now that there is a smell of money the town of BF wants their hand in the cookie jar. There are more important issues facing the region than amalgamation. Poor timing indeed. Oh yes wasn't her picture in this paper in front of the mill last week scoring cheap political points. Sad but its reality of what is happening in Central.

  • Funky
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    Why would you cry for help if things are ok? That's just ridicalous.

  • Randy Coady
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    Funny thing that years ago these same people were crying foul over any thoughts of amagamation!! SAme old attitude in small-town Nl., when things are OK,leave us alone, but when we're sinking, cry for help!!

  • H
    July 02, 2010 - 13:13

    Mr. Barnes sure does know how to make an impression.

  • Frank
    July 01, 2010 - 20:22

    Until there is a plan to rejuvenate the economy in that region, amalgamation will not really mean much, except additional tax revenue for Grand Falls-Winsor.

    People will still lose their homes or move to other places to find work.

    Deal with the problem, not a symptom of the problem.

    I really thought Danny Williams had a plan, but we have not seen it.

  • speedy
    July 01, 2010 - 20:21

    Boy, it sure seems like Rex Barnes truly believes in helping his neighbours!!!!!!!!

  • Robert B
    July 01, 2010 - 20:21

    Don't you say anything obout our dear Rex.

    He may not be able to express himself clearly, but he speaks for all the people of GFW.

    Explain to him the benifits of becoming mayor of a larger town.

    More people mean higher pay for top management. More perks for top management. More trips for top management. More departments for top management.

    Now let him go check with the real people who call the shots and interview him again on this subject.

    Our Rexy really got a handle on the issues.

  • jim
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    ok bishop's falls, go right ahead and merge, then watch your town go down the tube, just like my home town the former town of windsor. take main street for example: its a ghost town. the only thing missing are the tumble weeds. shame on politicians to allow this to happen.

  • Ken
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    Bishop's Falls is riddled with debt. What happened to the rail money they received? It was squandered. The Mayor did nothing to try and convene this govt. that Abitibi was worth saving. She jumped on the bandwagon and now that there is a smell of money the town of BF wants their hand in the cookie jar. There are more important issues facing the region than amalgamation. Poor timing indeed. Oh yes wasn't her picture in this paper in front of the mill last week scoring cheap political points. Sad but its reality of what is happening in Central.

  • Funky
    July 01, 2010 - 19:56

    Why would you cry for help if things are ok? That's just ridicalous.

  • Randy Coady
    July 01, 2010 - 19:55

    Funny thing that years ago these same people were crying foul over any thoughts of amagamation!! SAme old attitude in small-town Nl., when things are OK,leave us alone, but when we're sinking, cry for help!!

  • H
    July 01, 2010 - 19:51

    Mr. Barnes sure does know how to make an impression.