Street­lights back on in North River

Mayor says de­ci­sion to charge prop­erty taxes bol­ster­ing town’s cof­fers

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY TERRY ROBERTS

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.

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