HARBOUR GRACE, NL - Former Harbour Grace mayor Terry Barnes is displeased with rumours he’s heard since the previous municipal elections.
Barnes lost his seat in the mayor’s chair to Don Coombs, a political veteran who served the town for 18 years as mayor prior to Barnes defeating him in 2013.
On Sept. 28, Barnes held one last council meeting, alongside fellow councillors who he had spent the past four years sitting beside, with one goal in mind - to quell rumours.
“There’s a lot of rumours going around this town since elections,” said Barnes during the meeting. “There’s a lot of people in this town saying that I have the town put in the hole, $515,000. Cash on hand, as of today, is $455,878. Money still to come in before the year is out? $672,499. We’re far from in the hole, and I want that to be known.”
Barnes also spoke on rumours that he would be receiving a $50,000 severance upon leaving his position as mayor, which he said was also far from the truth.
Barnes also spoke with The Compass after the meeting and presented documents stating that by the end of 2017, when all monies have been collected, the town of Harbour Grace would be up nearly $1.3 million.
While he was on the campaign trail, Barnes was disheartened to hear people tell him he had put the town in the hole, noting there were several instances where he was told that it was the sole reason he did not have their vote. Barnes identified fellow mayoral candidate Coombs as the driving force behind the rumours.
“You got Don going around with a piece of paper saying the town is in the hole. It showed $515,000 deficit, but didn’t go four pages over, where it would explain the rest of the town’s financials, and show that we’re doing good” said Barnes. “Then you got everyone thinking the town is half a million in the hole, when we’re really not, but try and explain that to someone who’s already convinced it’s true. It’s not gonna work.”
Documents given to The Compass showcase that, as of Sept. 2, 2017, the town of Harbour Grace had $455,878 on hand, with another $672,499 left to collect, coming to a total of approximately 1.2 million after gas tax deductions.
“It’s hard to be out campaigning, and focusing on the good you’ve done for the town in the past four years, when you’ve got that kind of propaganda going around,” said Barnes.
The Compass contacted Coombs for comment on the matter. He denied placing blame directly on Barnes for the town’s financial situation, and added that, with only a couple weeks under his belt as the new mayor of the community, he has not had the opportunity to get his hands on the proper financial documents just yet, but hopes to do so in the near future.
“The town’s financials have always been one of my top goals, I’ve made that very clear from the start,” said Coombs, noting that the topic was one of his main priorities that he outlined in previous conversation with The Compass during the campaigning process. “I saw an issue, and I made it clear that I wanted to resolve that issue if I was elected. I never put that blame directly on Terry, but I made sure that people knew what I wanted as mayor, and that was to ensure the town was in a good place financially.”
Coombs went on to note that as of Thursday morning, he had not yet received physical documentation stating the town’s financial position, but would be coming forth with a public statement on it when that time comes.
The town's financial position did come up during the first public meeting of the new council, held Oct. 10. Finance committee chair Coun. Kathy Tetford reported just over 66 per cent of the town's budget for 2017 had been used, with over $332,000 in the bank as of that date. She noted the 66 per cent figure did not include expenditures for September, which would likely increase that to around 70 per cent.
"Collections seem to be good, bills are being paid," she said at the meting. "Just (taking) a quick look through everything, it seems everything is good. No problems."
Barnes, though disappointed to be leaving his position as mayor for the town of Harbour Grace, told The Compass that he looked back on the last four years as some of the most successful the community has seen in a while.
“We’ve got things like the stadium, the Grace Centre, and now Harvey Street is in the works — lots of good things have happened over the years,” said Barnes. “I’m not saying I started any of those things - in fact, I know Mr. Jerome Kennedy played a big part in getting a lot of it. All that was in the works for many, many years, but this council was the one that got the ball rolling, and made major steps towards improving the town.”
Barnes added that although his position on council was over, he would be keeping a close eye on thing over the next four years.
“Now I’m on the other side of the room during council meetings,” said Barnes with a chuckle. “It’s going to be interesting, for sure.”
— With files from Andrew Robinson