Streetlights back on in North River
Mayor says decision to charge property taxes bolstering town’s coffers
After nearly two years of darkness, the street lights have been turned back on in North River.
The cash-strapped town of less than 600 residents (2006 census) was forced to cut its more than 80 streetlights in early 2008 because it couldn’t afford the roughly $20,000 yearly costs.
It was an extraordinary move that made headlines.
“ We were condemned. We were poor as church mice,” Mayor Sheila Power stated last week.
But the lights atop utility poles are once again shining onto the streets below, and no one is beaming more than the mayor.
“I’m really happy they’re back on,” she said. “ We were a black town.”
Former mayor Tony Morrissey told Transcontinental Media in October 2007 that 46 per cent of residents weren’t paying their taxes, and explained that an audit dating back three years revealed the town was owed up to $70,000.
“North River is mostly professional trades and professional people. Land is going for $60,000 dollars a lot. It’s a scenic place to live. People are employed here. The money is there, they just don’t want to pay,” Morrissey was quoted as saying.
Since it was incorporated in the mid-1960s, citizens were charged a flat-rate poll tax to pay for services such as garbage collection, fire protection and streetlights. There are no water and sewer services in the town, and the main road is maintained by the provincial government.
Council decided last year to replace the poll tax — under $300 annually per household — with a property tax, and it’s allowed the council to increase revenues. Council set the mill rate at four, which is among the lowest in the province, because “we don’t have many services to offer,” said Power.
Power was never sold on the idea of implementing a property tax, but credits the decision with improving the town’s dire fiscal situation.
Town clerk Sheila Hall noted that tax collection has also improved in recent years.
The mayor said residents became accustomed to the darkness, but she has heard from plenty of happy citizens since the lights starting being reactivated in September.
“ The town is alive again,” she stated.
Are they on to stay? Power hopes so, but cautions, “we can only have what we can afford.”
She noted the town is “still struggling,” and is committed to paying $50 annually per household to the newly formed Bay de Grave volunteer fire department.
“ We are a very small community, and the dollars are tight,” she noted.
There’s other signs of progress in the community. Work is also underway on a project to expand and upgrade the municipal building. Funding for labour and materials has been provided by the provincial government under a job creation project.
Power hopes to cut the ribbon on the project by the end of this year.
“It really needed to be done,” she said, referring to the building upgrade.
North River Mayor Sheila Power stands on the main road through the community last week.