Managing municipalities

Andrea Gunn
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First of six consultations for municipal fiscal framework held in GFW

Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador president Churence Rogers, left, and provincial Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Stephen Kent, speak with media in Grand Falls-Windsor on Saturday after two days of meetings with municipal delegates from the Central region. The consultation was the first of six discussing the new fiscal framework for municipalities, set to be completed by 2015.

Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador (MNL) and the provincial Department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs are partnering on a series of consultations with municipal leaders across the province to discuss the financial future of municipal governments.

The first of six regional consultations was held in Grand Falls-Windsor at the Mount Peyton hotel on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon.

Fifty-five municipal delegates from the Central region participated in this weekend’s meeting. Consultations will be held other regions across the province over the next several months.

MNL President Churence Rogers, Vice President and Grand Falls-Windsor Mayor Al Hawkins, Small Towns Director Tony Keats, and Minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs Stephen Kent spoke with media on Saturday afternoon to discuss some of the highlights.

Rogers said he was pleased with the discussion at their first meeting.

 “The questions that are being asked specifically are about the sources of revenue and whether you can you can generate your own source of revenue or whether to expect more help from the province or the feds or so on,” he explained.

“It’s all about delivering services. Right now, as we’ve been saying for a long time, municipalities are stretched to the max in being able to deliver more services. In fact many of them are balancing budgets by curbing services, and that’s not a good thing.

“If we’re going to continue providing services that our residents need and deserve then, obviously, we need to generate different sources of revenue rather than the current system which is simply broken and not working.”

Minister Kent said his department is glad to be working closely with municipalities to develop a new fiscal framework that will see sustainability for all communities of the province.

He said he was pleased with the dialogue and level of engagement at their first consultation. Kent also said the items that emerged from the meeting were no big surprise

“Some of the concerns we’ve been hearing for awhile (were) expressed. There’s a desire by municipalities to see a HST rebate implemented, there’s a also been a lot of discussion on grants in lieu of taxes, and payments that come from the province to municipalities for services that the provincial government receives within municipal boundaries. Everything is on the table.”

Kent said he was pleased to hear that municipalities have a keen interest in collaboration and regional cooperation.

“I think that’s going to be an important piece in whatever we do as we look at how municipal services are shared, how they’re delivered and how they’re paid for throughout Newfoundland and Labrador.”

 

Unique challenges

With communities of so many varying sizes in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, each faces its own unique challenges when it comes to finances.

Mayor Hawkins said while larger towns like Grand Falls-Windsor have more revenue-generating capacity than smaller communities, there are also issues that come with growth.

This won’t happen overnight, there’s lots of work to be done but we want to be thorough and we want to do it right. Minister Stephen Kent

“There’s more infrastructure being added to our community, and (that means) we have to service more. Right now in the town of Grand Falls-Windsor we have 110 kilometres of roads that we’ve got to maintain. With growth comes with the challenges of maintaining that growth and the infrastructure,” Hawkins said.

“For us as a larger community it’s looking at opportunities whereby we can have predictable funding going forward and I think that’s part of the whole fiscal framework piece.”

Hawkins said he would like to see the elimination of the payroll tax, as well as a rebate on some of the $1.4 million Grand Falls-Windsor pays in HST.

Keats said there are about 240 communities that fall under the small town designation that have their own financial challenges that he hopes are addressed within the new framework.

“Right now we’re looking at infrastructure problems. There’s a lot of small town problems like outmigration and stuff like that,” Keats said. “If we had a new fiscal framework with a plan in place, if we knew where we were going and what we have to go with, it would mean a lot to us.”

 

Engaging the public

Kent said while these consultations will provide key information from municipalities about what their needs are, both MNL and his department will be seeking input from other sources as well.

“We’ll be doing consultations with groups that have a keen interest in local government, (groups) like recreation providers, law enforcement providers and so on,” he said.

Kent said he also urges the citizens of municipalities of all sizes to get involved and share their thoughts and ideas.

“We invite input as well from anyone in the province who receives municipal services. We also want to hear from people in Local Service Districts and unincorporated areas,” he said.

More information about the consultation process is available on the Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs website.

“We also want people to get in touch with us electronically, in writing, the people of Newfoundland and Labrador can get in touch with us anytime if they have views they’d like to share with us.”

Kent said the province and MNL are looking at a timeframe of 18 months to complete the new fiscal framework, but they will report on findings of the consultations in the Spring.

“This won’t happen overnight; there’s lots of work to be done but we want to be thorough and we want to do it right.”

The next consultation will be for the Eastern region, and will take place in Clarenville Feb. 7 and 8.

For more information about the fiscal framework, regional consultations, or for contact information, visit Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador’s website at www.municipalnl.ca and the Department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs website at www.miga.gov.nl.ca.

Organizations: Department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs, Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs Stephen Kent, Mount Peyton hotel Local Service Districts

Geographic location: Grand Falls-Windsor, Newfoundland and Labrador, Eastern Clarenville

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