Mayor defends council decision on tax rates
What’s even more unique is that Alice Cumby, the town clerk and Blundon’s “right hand” when it comes to municipal matters, has been working for the town even longer. She will mark her 45th year on the job next month.
Their imprints on this quaint town of roughly 375 residents is unmatched, since Blundon is also heavily involved with the harbour authority and the recreation commission.
Combine all this with his 25-years as a teacher and school administrator in the area (he retired in 1993), and few can say they’ve played such a role in the development and maturing of a town.
“It’s been an exciting life,” Blundon said last week during an interview at the town council office.
His wife Shirley, though always supportive, didn’t always agree with the many hours he contributed to the town, but Blundon felt an obligation to do his part.
“If you’re here, you have to give your time and the people … appreciate it,” he offered.
And he sure didn’t do it for the monetary rewards. Unlike most towns, Heart’s Content has never paid any remuneration to its elected officials.
“My own feeling is that it’s a volunteer job. I’m here to help the town as much as possible. I felt that if I was getting paid for something I enjoyed doing, I didn’t see the benefit. The majority of the others feel the same way,” he said, referring to his council colleagues.
Nearly two generations of Heart’s Content citizens have matured with Blundon as mayor, and it will be the end of an era when elections are held on Sept. 24.
For the first time ever, the name Donald Blundon will not be on the ballot, and he’s fine with that.
“It’s time to step down and let some of the younger people come in and get a taste of it,” he said.
There’s another reason he’s stepping aside. Blundon has been battling cancer for the past seven years, but noted quickly, “I’m doing pretty good overall.”
He undergoes regular chemotherapy treatments, and feels his health challenges are interfering with his ability to serve the town.
“It does not allow me to get involved in the town’s running as readily as I could in the past,” said Blundon.
Alleged cash grab
But don’t get the impression he’s lost his passion for the town. There’s still plenty of fight in Blundon, and he shows it on this day.
Blundon and the rest of council came under fire late last year because of a decision to hold firm on the town’s tax rate of eight mills, while most other towns in the region dropped their rates because of a spike in the assessed value of properties.
Some 120 citizens signed a petition to council, alleging the town was making a “cash grab” on the back of taxpayers, most of whom are senior citizens and on a fixed income.
The story made provincial headlines when CBC News sent a television reporter to the town, and the issue continues to simmer. During a visit to the council office last week, one resident complained that his property assessment increased by 47 per cent, meaning he’ll be paying considerably more this year in property taxes.
“I don’t know where I’m going to get it,” the man stated.
In response to the criticism, council distributed a newsletter to residents, explaining the rationale for its decision.
Blundon steadfastly repeated that message last week, saying council needed the extra revenue in order to pay the bills and fund the projects — waters and sewer upgrades, backhoe repairs, a new pickup, etc. — undertaken by the town.
He said council was exercising responsible financial stewardship.
Blundon also acknowledged something that few politicians ever do — mistakes have been made.
When the current council was elected in 2009, some on those on the ballot campaigned on a pledge to lower taxes. As such, the mill rate was later lowered from nine to eight, which was about a point lower than towns within close proximity, including Heart’s Delight-Islington, Heart’s Desire and Old Perlican, Blundon explained.
Blundon said this wasn’t a wise decision. While citizens enjoyed some tax relief, he said the town suffered.
“We jumped the gun, and we’ve been struggling to make ends meet over the last three years,” Blundon explained. “We’ve had a lot of expenses and challenges.”
When this latest round of property assessments came out last fall, these neighbourig towns lowered the mill rate from nine to eight. Blundon said the tax rate in Heart’s Content is once again consistent with its neighbours.
And by holding firm with the mill rate, the town will collect an extra $24,000 in revenues in 2013, mostly from the roughly 250 residential property owners. That’s on an overall operating budget of just over $386,000.
“We didn’t think we were in a position to lower the rate because we have expenses, the town has to operate, and all the other towns did not lower their rates three years ago. That meant they were getting the benefit of the three years we lost,” Blundon said.
Meanwhile, Blundon said his long tenure as a town councillor was a “good challenge,” and he’s proud to say Heart’s Content has many of the amenities of much larger towns, including water and sewer, streetlighting and an “excellent” volunteer fire brigade.
He also spoke highly of the 50-plus club, which boasts well over 100 members.
As for his successors, Blundon offered the following advice.
“Be dedicated to the job, and keep the interest of the people in mind,” he said.
“And what more can I say. Heart’s Content has treated me well.”