Municipal leaders throughout the province gathered at Gander, May 2, for the Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador symposium.
SaltWire asked them about their expectations for the next provincial government.
The leaders were asked the same four questions: What do you hoping to get out of the election? Have these concerns been addressed? What is the biggest issue in your municipality? And, how can government help?
Here are some of their answers.
MNL met with all party leaders just before the election was called.
The organization approached the parties about a one per cent share of sales tax and a one per cent share of income tax for municipalities.
This, Keats said, would allow communities to address infrastructure needs easier.
“(Municipal) budgets are to the max and getting the work done, that needs to be done, takes money,” Keats said. “We can’t just depend on property tax, it’s a regressive tax.”
Regionalization was another topic of discussion. With declining populations in rural Newfoundland and Labrador, Keats said sharing of services can help ensure needed resources remain in place.
MNL is also seeking a seat at the table when it comes to municipal funding decision making.
“For instance, we just had the bilateral agreement signed by provincial and federal government for monies for capital works and municipal funding programs,” he said. “We were not at that table, but it’s monies that’s needed to make changes in our communities.”
The parties heard MNL’s concerns, but Keats said there was no commitment of action at the time.
“They were receptive to the questions but never gave any fine detail of where they’re coming from or what they are doing.”
The biggest issue facing the province’s municipalities, as Keats sees it, is clean drinking water and waste water treatment.
He has served on Dover’s council for 27 years.
“The very first meeting it was water and waste water issues, and we’re still talking about it,” he said.
Keats said the province needs to hear what municipalities are saying and help find solutions to a common concern.
“We can put in beautiful systems that cost millions of dollars, but if we have to maintain them at high cost, for small communities especially, it’s a waste of money,” he said.
“We need affordable solutions.”
Every time an election rolls around, Scott sees it as an opportunity to highlight municipal concerns.
Scott said the issues in this election similar; water and waste water being the big items.
“The way the regulations are right now, they don’t fit a particular municipality,” he said. “We need some flexibility.”
Scott feels clean drinking water, waste water treatment and municipal revenue streams are all on the radar of the parties.
Something, he said, is greatly needed.
“It seems every year (municipalities) are responsible for more and more stuff - roads, recreation, water and sewer, garbage – these big items come with big price tags and for the most part the municipal property tax pays for it, which falls directly on residents,” he said. “If we can get the one per cent proposal, would represent a lot more money.”
Scott said having one per cent of the HST and income tax going back to municipalities would represent approximately $3.6 million for Torbay.
“For me, to raise the equivalent of that in property tax, is a 56 per cent increase, it’s significant,” he said.
Torbay’s biggest concern right now is clean drinking water and waste water.
“We are at capacity so we need to find new sources of water and that has been difficult,” he said. “We are under the gun with waste water treatment, our sewer flows out into the bay.”
To bring the town of approximately 8,000 on par with regulations, Scott said, would require a treatment facility estimated at $12-16 million. Treatment and upkeep cost are estimated to be half-a-million-dollars annually.
“That’s a new expenditure to put on taxpayers, and in trying to find that extra money other services are going to suffer,” he said. “We need to figure out how we are going to address that.”
The solution, he said, requires government flexibility.
“There are cheaper technologies out there that are being used in other jurisdictions that haven’t been approved for use in Newfoundland and Labrador yet,” he said. “We need to have the flexibility to go out and look for those solutions, get them streamlined into the process so we can start using it.”
Labrador City mayor
No matter the outcome, Button is for reform to the medical travel program for his area.
Medical treatments outside of the Labrador City area require travel to hospitals on the island. Button said the province’s medical travel program doesn’t always guarantee full coverage and the reimbursement period can be lengthily.
“It’s been brought up in discussion in debate between the two (candidates). The incumbent has been working on it with a team of people, and I think change may be coming, but nothing solid or official yet,” he said.
The biggest municipal issue for Labrador City is aging infrastructure.
The western Labrador community was founded on a mining town, which Button said was built at a rapid pace over a span of five to 10 years.
“Unlike an older, big city, which has a mix of older and younger buildings, everything aged at the same time for us. There’s no layering for replacement, it’s everything at once,” he said. “It’s really hitting us hard now.”
To ensure the municipality stays on top of infrastructure replacement, Button said, provincial government grants have to be more flexible.
For instance, he said, Labrador City has its contribution in place to move forward with a $36-million wellness centre.
“It’s in the bank, siting there,” he said.
However, they are still waiting on a provincial and federal commitment to get the project underway.
Trinity Bay North mayor
Blackmore hopes the election can create dialogue with the candidates.
She says there’s a lot of work left to be done industry wise – tourism and the fishery for her area in particular. Innovation is needed, she said, but development can be hard when everyone isn’t on the same playing field.
“We are fortunate to have high-speed internet and cellphone service, but that’s not the case for some of our neighbours, and it doesn’t really speak fairness throughout the province," she said.
As of May 2, Trinity Bay North was faced with a significant leak on its water main.
Blackmore said it speaks to the infrastructure challenges municipalities face with drinking water, waste water and road maintenance.
“As much as we would like to get into more of a community economic development role, the bulk of resources has to go the basic pieces of infrastructure,” she said.
Trinity Bay North is looking to expand its tourism season.
There’s icebergs in the area, but other land based services aren’t yet operating.
Blackmore added, the provincial government can play a role in fostering economic growth.
Tax incentives and job funding, she said, could be a motivator.
“If we could find ways to support small businesses and not for profits so they could be open earlier or later,” she said. “I think there are opportunities for provincial government to play a role, if they want to meet with us and talk with small business about what can be done.”