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Budget provides ‘sigh of relief’ for Newfoundland and Labrador municipalities

MNL president Sheila Fitzgerald. -CONTRIBUTED FILE PHOTO
MNL president Sheila Fitzgerald. -CONTRIBUTED FILE PHOTO - File Photo

Opposition Leader Ches Crosbie says province wasting money with inaction on regionalization

Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador (MNL) president Sheila Fitzgerald said Wednesday’s budget provided “a sigh of relief” for communities across the province.

“We were pleased to hear that there’s no major changes to the budget this year for municipalities.

“This has been a difficult year because of COVID. We’ve had lots of losses in terms of revenue, and we’ve had increased expenditures. So, it’s been a struggle,” she said.

Fitzgerald said communities are preparing their budgets for next year, and to hear that provincial funds for municipalities are remaining relatively stable helps with that planning.

Municipal operating grants remained unchanged at $22-million, and the provincial portion of the gas tax revenue sharing also remained the same at $7-million.

Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance Siobhan Coady. -DAVID MAHER/THE TELEGRAM
Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance Siobhan Coady. -DAVID MAHER/THE TELEGRAM

However, municipal infrastructure grants and subsidies decreased by roughly $7 million, from $50,493,100 in 2019-20 to $43,475,800 in 2020-21.

Fitzgerald said there’s questions about infrastructure money, and MNL will be asking for details from the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure. The Telegram also has a request in with the department for information.

As well, pollution prevention funds — which can include waste management — remained relatively the same as last year at around $2-million.

At a time when municipalities are faced with significant costs to upgrade wastewater infrastructure, Fitzgerald said it would have been great to have huge increases in funds to help.

“The fiscal reality right now is that we’re living in hard times, and the fact that provincial government is supporting the municipal sector to say that while we can’t give you more, we’re going to maintain what we have — we were pleased with that,” she said.

“Now, will the conversations look different in the future? Maybe.”

Overall in the budget, Deputy Premier Siobhan Coady said there’s nearly $116-million for investment to help communities improve infrastructure and enhance services, and $90-million for projects aimed at improving both.

Push for regionalization

Fitzgerald said she liked what Coady had to say about reimagining government.

“As we build on our track record for fiscal prudence and discipline in our expenditures, we need bigger, bolder solutions to address long-standing structural issues such as the high cost of providing services across a large geography,” Coady said, adding it’s something that will be addressed by the new Economic Recovery Team led by Moya Greene.

Fitzgerald said that just prior to the release of the budget, a regionalization working group was struck to discuss the idea of regional governance with the province.

Opposition Leader Ches Crosbie. -THE TELEGRAM FILE PHOTO
Opposition Leader Ches Crosbie. -THE TELEGRAM FILE PHOTO

“What impact that could mean for our communities, I think, could be great,” said Fitzgerald.

It’s a topic about which Opposition Leader Ches Crosbie was critical.

“There needs to be progress made on the front of regional government, and reducing and eliminating duplication of services,” he said.

“We’re wasting money on the municipal front — everyone agrees we’re wasting money, but ... the government never seems to be willing to act on it. It’s one of those things where they keep pushing it off into the future, not taking action.”

However, Environment, Climate Change and Municipalities Minister Derek Bennett said government is working diligently on regionalization and shared services, though he admitted: “Yes, we need to do more. There’s probably more opportunities that we need to avail of with regards to regional services, and regional governance.”

He said government will continue to work with MNL and Professional Municipal Administrators of NL to do just that.

Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Municipalities Derek Bennett. -DAVID MAHER/THE TELEGRAM FILE PHOTO
Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Municipalities Derek Bennett. -DAVID MAHER/THE TELEGRAM FILE PHOTO

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