Pouch Cove mayor says town's finance committee will take another look at the numbers
When Dave Snow learned his campground in Pouch Cove faced a 500 per cent municipal tax increase for 2021, he was not alarmed by it as such.
“It was more disbelief,” Snow told The Telegram.
Snow opened Marine Park, located a half-hour drive from St. John’s, through his company Lakewood Development Corp. in 1997. He initially leased the decommissioned provincial park from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, but with capital investment ongoing for years, he elected to purchase the land from the province in 2018. The site also has a recreational vehicle dealership, Parkside RV, handling sales and rentals, and a convenience store with a Liquor Express outlet opened in 2016 at the mouth of the park. Combined, those businesses employ more than 50 people annually.
Snow admits he’s had his share of disagreements with the town council over the years, but by the end of 2020, Snow felt his relationship with the municipality had improved. A large tax bill was settled with late fees waived, and Lakewood Development received permission to proceed with some capital projects.
The 1,100-acre property had a previously assessed value of just under $697,000 and Lakewood was charged at a business tax mill rate of 14 mills. But according to Snow, the town requested a reassessment of his property twice in 2020. The Municipal Assessment Agency subdivided the property, valuing the convenience store at $279,230, a warehouse area at $138,282 and the park along with other buildings and some undeveloped land at $978,636. The new combined value of the Lakewood properties is just shy of $1.4 million. Snow intends to appeal this assessment.
Then in mid-December, Snow received a supplemental 2020 tax invoice that updated him on how the 2021 tax fee structure would apply to Lakewood. The convenience store will be taxed at 14 mills as a general business, the warehouse space at 20 mills under industry uses, and the park at 70 mills as a commercial recreation park. The latter mill rate represents a 500 per cent increase. Snow has not received a tax bill for 2021 from the town, but a quick calculation would suggest Lakewood will be charged almost $75,179. Previous years, Lakewood’s municipal tax bill was about $10,000.
“It’s extremely disheartening,” Snow said.
This too comes after Marine Park and its related businesses experienced a very difficult 2020. There was a late start to the camping season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the business lost 100 seasonal clients, each representing $2,000-to-$3,000 in revenue, according to Snow.
“100 families said, ‘I just can’t do it anymore.’ They bought land. They sold their trailer. They gave up.”
They stopped admitting day-use visitors for the swimming area as a safety precaution and tent camping was eliminated. RV sales and rentals plummeted as well.
“That business has been affected by six or seven figures,” Snow said with respect to Parkside RV. “And now the town wants to do this.”
Snow went on to highlight the fact his businesses do not use town water or sewer. Garbage collection is handled privately, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure handles snow clearing for the park. He added the mill rate for the park is almost triple what the City of St. John’s applies to campgrounds.
Snow believes the town is singling out his businesses and does not want them to succeed, but Mayor Joedy Wall told The Telegram that’s not the case. Like Snow, he felt relations between the two sides had improved in 2020.
Council approved the 2021 municipal budget and tax fee structure at its Dec. 7 regular meeting, the last meeting of 2020 and most recent one up to now — council’s first meeting of 2021 is scheduled for Jan. 18.
“We heard from other business owners as well and their concerns with the level of taxation of a small business versus a large business,” Wall said. “We took all that into consideration.”
The town did not have the reassessed values for the properties until after that meeting (the supplemental invoice sent to Snow indicates the town received notice of the reassessed values Dec. 14).
“I understand why Mr. Snow is upset — I firmly do,” Wall said, indicating he was also aware of Snow’s recent letter to the town dated Dec. 31. He said the finance committee will hold a meeting later this week to discuss the matter ahead of the next council meeting.
“We did not know the level of increase the Municipal Assessment Agency was going to come back with on Marine Park — we had no idea,” Wall said. “We’re very open to discussing this and making changes for Mr. Snow. This is no malicious intent whatsoever. This here was only a matter of timing. ... Now we are privy to the information. We weren’t back on Dec. 7.”
Wall said council will look to adjust the mill rate to result in a level of taxation “that’s going to be much more reasonable and logical for the business owner.” He added council recognizes Snow is the town’s largest employer and that Marine Park is the main reason people from outside the community choose to visit Pouch Cove.
“That’s why we worked with him so well over the last couple of years, and I don’t want to see that relationship diminished,” Wall said.
Andrew Robinson is a business reporter in St. John's.