Some consider the Town of Harbour Grace’s move to once again increase the fee charged to Bristol’s Hope residents for fire protection services a form of punishment.
That’s what the chairman for the Bristol’s Hope Development Association is hearing from many fellow residents after learning the town voted last week to increase the fee from $75 to $92.
“Every resident down here feels the same; that it’s nothing more than an attack on us because we don’t come under their taxation,” Richard Johnson told The Compass late last week.
At last Wednesday’s council meeting, Coun. Pat Haire introduced a motion to increase the fire protection fee, which is now the same for residents of Bristol’s Hope as it is for folks in Harbour Grace.
“With all the housing (development) that’s going on down there, this is an increased fire load,” Haire said. “It costs the Town of Harbour Grace a lot to send fire trucks down there, because you have to be trucking back-and-forth to get the water and everything like that. And most any time you went down there, you had damage to either tires or hoses or something like that, so there’s an extra cost.”
Several councillors, including Gordon Stone, spoke out in favour of Haire’s motion.
“If you’re going to get the service, you’ve got to help pay for it,” he said. “You can’t expect to be subsidized.”
“Towns like Bristol’s Hope need to understand that if they want the services, then they have to pay for them the premium that’s paid by the residents of the towns that provide those (services), and there aren’t any freebies,” added Coun. Hayward Blake.
Johnson contends this problem could have been avoided if Harbour Grace elected to let its volunteer fire department look after the collection of fees from Bristol’s Hope, as it did for many years prior to 2015.
“For X-number of years, we had a great working relationship between the fire department and residents of this community,” Johnson said. “Each year the fire department would come down here on a specific date, they would drop off a letter stating what they are looking for the coming year, and they would follow up, come back in a week or two to collect it. There was never, ever an issue with regards to that mode of delivery for invoice and collection.”
Not all residents aware of fee
According to Johnson, after the town took over collecting the fee, flyers were left at the community mailboxes. He noted that not all residents have received notice of what they owe the town, as some still get their mail at post offices in Harbour Grace and Carbonear. Over two-dozen homes in the community have been vacant since late last fall due to residents either vacationing elsewhere or only using their property in Bristol’s Hope as summer homes.
There are approximately 130 properties in Bristol’s Hope, and Johnson believes 49 have paid the fee so far.
Johnson sees further evidence of the municipality being unfair to Bristol’s Hope residents through the new 2016 tax structure. Residential building permits in Harbour Grace now cost $0.20 per square foot. For unincorporated areas outside the municipal boundary, an extra $250 fee is charged on top of that.
“What for? These are the things this town is doing, and they’re putting the people of Bristol’s Hope, they’re putting their backs against the wall and antagonizing people,” said Johnson.
When the town was considering increasing the fee last fall to $100, the development associated arranged to meet with Mayor Terry Barnes and the former town manager. That discussion convinced the town to lower the increase to $75. No such discussion took place prior to Wednesday’s council meeting.
“They don’t even have the courtesy to call down here themselves, the councillors, the mayor,” said Johnson. “He knows where I am. He’s called down here before once to ask me something. I don’t think it’s the way to do business.”
Last Wednesday’s motion was approved by all council members excluding one — Coun. Kathy Tetford.
“My issue with it is it started out last year at $50. Then it went to $100. Then it went back to $75, and now it’s going back to $92, with us sitting on council,” she said.