Mayor de­fends coun­cil de­ci­sion on tax rates

The Compass - - OR­THTE -

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.

Health is­sues

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.

Fatherly ad­vice

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.”

edi­tor@cb­n­com­pass.ca

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