Northern Peninsula and Southern Labrador presents needs at pre-budget consultation
© Adam Randell photo
Municipal Affairs minister Steve Kent addresses area mayors and attendees of the 2014 pre-budget consultation in St. Anthony on Feb. 24
The 2014 Northern Peninsula pre-budget consultation was, on all accounts, a success compared to last year.
While not one participant registered for the 2013 session, six speakers from across the Peninsula, and one from Southern Labrador, gathered at the Haven Inn on Monday to give their thoughts on how provincial government can best place northern funds for the upcoming budget.
Because Municipal Affairs minister Steve Kent oversaw the meeting, a number of individual community points were raised, but at times multiple speakers spoke with the same voice – better roads and a fixed link across the straits to name a few.
The following are a few of the issues area mayors spoke to:
Terry Ryan, Port Saunders Mayor
Mayor Ryan advocated the need for better roads for the entire Northern Peninsula, not just his area.
He also said its time for the provincial government to seriously look at moving a fixed link forward.
“The ferry conditions this past winter have been deplorable,” he said. “The ferry has been off my harbour for days on end waiting to get into Corner Brook, and that’s not good in anybody’s book.”
Keith Billard, Flower’s Cove Mayor
Mayor Billard had a number of issues to speak to.
He thinks provincial government should introduce a better rate for borrowing for municipalities.
“There should be a full review for small towns like us,” he said. “What we are paying should be a blended rate, cost of borrowing plus a little more for government to do so. That way the savings is passed onto the town instead of having to struggle through 20 years of paying back interest charges.”
Billard took particular issue with LSDs and unincorporated communities receiving services, such as pavement and snow clearing, for free.
“I’ve often asked myself how much is it costing government to do this type of work?” he said. “The argument is it’s part of the general tax, if that’s the case, than maybe incorporated towns should get some of that help.”
Adding, receiving services for free there is no incentive for un-incorporated communities to regionalize.
“They ought to be charged something for the service. If you want savings, that’s the way to go and it will help people see the need for regionalization.”
Gerry Gros, Anchor Point Mayor
Mayor Gros said municipalities have limited revenue resources. He suggests provincial government turning over one per cent of the Newfoundland and Labrador personal income tax.
“It can yield a 20 per cent increase in revenue for municipalities,” he said.
Gros is also requesting provincial government lobby federal government to reinstate the Northern Residents Tax Reduction.
He said the Northern Peninsula has the highest fuel cost in the province, limited transportation and a lack of major competition when it comes to goods, and the tax reduction can help offset those costs.
“I know it impacts on provincial revenue, but that’s what you have to do,” he said.
Gros also reiterated Billard’s need to introduce service fees to unincorporated towns, and sided with Ryan on the need to move the fixed link forward.
Ernest Simms, St. Anthony Mayor
Mayor Simms opened with the need to push a fixed link forward as well.
He said there has been a lot of funding go to St. Anthony, but continued investment in capital works is a must to maintain services.
Noting roads as a major concern, Simms said the town is moving forward with new pavement and would like to see provincial government make a commitment to have it’s portion of the road within the town paved.
“The cost to do so isn’t extravagant, and we would like to see it take place,” he said.
The town is also looking at hydrant restoration and a new fire station for its regional department.
As a province, he said, the fishery needs stronger investment and processing is a must.
“Seal processing licenses as it stands right now needs to be open to more than one company,” he said. “We have a local person here buying seal right now but has no processing licenses. He’s tried but hasn’t been able to obtain one. We’d like to see that change so we can take advantage of some of the different pilot projects.”
Simms also advocated enhanced service for the hospital.
“The bleeding must stop,” he said. “The injury was caused by government, and therefore they should be somewhat responsible for fixing it.”
Rudy Porter, Englee Mayor
Mayor Porter spoke to the town’s ongoing infrastructure needs and the limited revenue resources to put such infrastructure in place.
He advocated the need for provincial government to provide necessary funding through a percentage of the province’s personal income tax, as stated by Billard, that Conche is still without pavement, Main Brook needs a wharf, and Holson needs investment to get back on track.
But the biggest concern brought forward by Porter was the property of the town’s former fish plant.
Provincial government paid for the removal of the dilapidated plant and gave the former plant owner until 2021 to repay the cost.
Until then, he said, the prime piece of tied up property is hindering needed development within the town.
“We believe the least the province can do is to help us gain clear title to the property so it can be developed for economy,” Porter said.
Dale Colbourne, St. Lunaire-Griquet Mayor
Mayor Colbourne said the town has two fire halls and needs funding to make one main hall for the Department – one new and one old.
The old one is falling apart but is needed to store machinery, as the new building doesn’t have the doors to house the fire truck, response truck and town-owned ambulance service.
“It’s costing the town approximately $17,000 per year to maintain both buildings,” Colbourne said. “This is a major thing for our fire department, they are going around fundraising just to keep the lights on and the buildings heated.”
She would like to see the funding come through so doors can be purchased and installed to house the vehicles in the new building.
Furthermore, Colbourne said a four kilometer section of road is deplorable and more than 40,000 tourists have to drive over it every year.
Christopher Mitchelmore, Straits-White Bay North MHA
Liberal MHA Mitchelmore brought several concerns to the table, many of which were touched on by the mayors, but offered new insights as well.
One of a number of health care issues was the need to provide more dialysis in the area.
“There should also be a review about the possibility of satellite dialysis at the Strait of Belle Isle Health Centre and the White Bay Central Health Centre, because we have people traveling in severe weather conditions to receive treatment and it has resulted in multiple accidents.”
Under education he said the St. Lunaire-Griquet public library should be reopened and extending the hours of operation at the St. Anthony library.
He also said road improvements, cellphone service enhancement and the ferry service needs to be upgraded.
Lisa Dempster, Cartwright-L’Anses au Clair MHA
Liberal MHA Dempster started by stating her disappointment that no pre-budget meeting was taking place in Southern Labrador.
When it comes to roadwork, Dempster said repaving of Southern Labrador is essential, along with the blacktop surfacing from Red Bay to Cartwright. Until such a time, she said continued gravel resurfacing needs to take place.
“Calcium to keep dust down is needed as well,” Dempster said. “Minister McGrath said it was cut for environmental purposes. Which is more important the environmental repercussions or the impact that the dust we are living in is having on the lungs and respiratory system.”
When it came to accessing Labrador via water, she said schedule change is a must.
She was please to hear the Northern Peninsula talking about a fixed link, and she also advocated the need to build services offered at the St. Anthony Hospital.
“We have a historical connection with St. Anthony and I believe it’s imperative that we not see St. Anthony go down to a cottage hospital.”
Steve Kent, Municipal Affairs minister
Minister Kent said a number of issues hit home for his department, and hopes some of them can be addressed through the fiscal framework that is occurring.
“We are looking at all of those issues and more, everything is truly on the table,” he said. “I was very interested to hear the discussion around a fixed link, I think it’s an interesting concept that warrants further discussion…and I encourage you to continue talking about it.”