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Cities to provincial candidates: we need you to step up more than ever

St. John's Mayor Danny Breen said the prior for his city with the next provincial government will be addressing the fiscal structure. — TELEGRAM FILE PHOTO
St. John's Mayor Danny Breen said the priority for his city with the next provincial government will be addressing the fiscal structure. — TELEGRAM FILE PHOTO

Mayors say they need MHAs who support their cities

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

With Friday’s call of a provincial election, the race is on to see who takes seats, and which party will form the next government.

Among those keeping a close eye — and ear to the candidates’ promises — are the province’s two largest cities, both reeling from a dismal 2020, with Snowmageddon and the COVID-19 pandemic, and looking to the province for help.

“The stakes are pretty high,” St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen said Friday. “We’re got a lot of issues here that need to be dealt with. Governments at all levels need to work together at this point in our history even more than ever before.”

On top of the city’s priority list, he said, is to address the fiscal structure of the city and look for ways to reduce the city’s reliance on property taxes for residents.

Property taxes account for 75 per cent of the City of St. John’s revenue, he said.

“As the economy goes and property taxes go, that’s where the revenue goes,” he said. “You still have to maintain the level of services that the residents have come to need, want and appreciate.”

Breen said in the past, Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador (MNL) has looked at ways for the city to collect more revenue, such as having the provincial government pay a grant in lieu of taxes or to pay some property tax on buildings owned by the province in the city.

“All the city properties (owned by the province) here don’t pay taxes, and services of the city are being used,” he said.

Breen said there are also taxation issues.

For example, Metrobus pays 16.5 cents in diesel tax to the provincial government for public transit. That amounts to about $300,000 per year. Breen said the province exempts all the city’s fleet from that diesel tax, except for public transit.

“That road tax is meant for upkeep of roads. Well, the roads that Metrobus travels on, the upkeep is the responsibly of the city,” he said. “We should be encouraging people to use public transit, not being penalized.”

Breen said the city is also looking for an updated City of St. John’s Act to allow the city more flexibility to enforce bylaw regulations.

He’s also keeping a close eye to see what the province’s plan is to help the city economically recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and if the province will help with the $300-million replacement of the secondary Riverhead Wastewater Treatment Facility.

“Working with provincial government is huge,” Breen said.

“We need to have a really good relationship and we need to have MHAs who are supporting the city in government.

“We’re in difficult times and that’s the time when we need to all work even harder together to get out of this.”


Mount Pearl Mayor Dave Aker said he hopes that whichever party forms the next government, it won't raise taxes. — FILE PHOTO
Mount Pearl Mayor Dave Aker said he hopes that whichever party forms the next government, it won't raise taxes. — FILE PHOTO

 


Mount Pearl Mayor Dave Aker said he hopes residents won’t have to face increased taxes.

“I think we’re all suffering from a lack of tax revenue and nobody really wants to increase taxes, but we can work together to make our municipalities operations more efficient,” he said.

“We’re just a bit concerned that if there’s any downloading coming from the province down the road, that download would encompass more tax burden on the residents of the city of Mount Pearl and other municipalities.”

Aker also has concerns about economic development.

“Look at Mount Pearl. We’ve got Donovans Industrial Park up there, which is a major tax base for the city, and a great portion of the tax base there is related to oil and gas,” he said.

“So, if the oil industry doesn’t recover and we get more shutdowns or more reductions in output, some of those properties are going to become vacant and we’re going to lose our business tax base here in the City of Mount Pearl.

“Growing the city is one thing. Maintaining and preventing erosion of our tax space is going to be the key challenge for the City of Mount Pearl in the years to come.”

Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador CEO Craig Pollett admitted these are uncertain times for everyone. However, he said whichever party comes to power needs to address key issues with municipalities.

Along with municipal fiscal framework (how towns make money) and infrastructure (focusing on new ways to build and maintain it with rising costs), he said regionalization and having municipalities have a say in how government spends money in them are their main issues in this election.

Pollett said a regionalization system is desperately needed in the province, as municipalities struggle to raise enough money for services and often can’t find enough people to run for municipal elections.

In terms of having a say in government expenditures, Pollett said there have been times when they find out about amounts of expenditures for municipalities at news conferences, when it’s made public.

“The municipal sector is not involved in these discussions,” Pollett said. “That just can’t continue. It’s not fair and it ends up, in my estimation, with agreements that really don’t reflect what the sector was hoping to do.”

Pollett said he will keep a close eye on to the election and what candidates have to say.

“This one is a big one for municipalities,” he said. “The (word) we keep hearing is reimagine. We’ve been through a crisis and now there’s an opportunity for big changes and big ideas. The sector has big ideas. We need the province to work with us on these big ideas. We’ve got solutions and we need them to work with us to make sure they get implemented.”

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