MNL says it’s time to get mov­ing

Pres­i­dent asks government to get the ball rolling on mu­nic­i­pal strate­gies

The Compass - - PORTHTE - BY BON­NIE BELEC AND JAMESMCLEOD TC• ME­DIA

When the pres­i­dent of Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties New­found­land and Labrador (MNL) sat down with mem­bers of the pro­vin­cial cab­i­net last week, he didn’t ask for more money.

Churence Rogers said he asked for some­thing more cru­cial.

“The meet­ing (Feb. 5) was not about get­ting more money it was more about pre­sent­ing our re­quests for a new fis­cal frame­work which government com­mit­ted to in 2008-09 and we’ve been try­ing to get the province to move in en­gag­ing in that process.

“We ex­pressed the ne­ces­sity of get­ting on with it,” he said.

Rogers is the mayor of the Town of Cen­tre­ville-Ware­hamTrin­ity, as well as MNL’s pres­i­dent. He said he also told the min­is­ters it’s time to get mov­ing on a strat­egy for the mu­nic­i­pal sec­tor.

“We need a plan. There’s too many things hap­pen­ing on an an­nual ba­sis and we need a longterm strat­egy for the sec­tor,” he said, adding he sug­gested if the government wants to take con­trol of the sec­tor — be­cause it does have to­tal con­trol over it — MNL is pre­pared to work with it in cre­at­ing a strat­egy for mak­ing com­mu­ni­ties sus­tain­able in the long term.

He said mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers are well aware this is not go­ing to hap­pen overnight and it could take a year or two, but it’s time to get the ball rolling.

“We’re look­ing for a com­mit­ment to make this fis­cal frame­work hap­pen and stop talk­ing about it. If we got that I would be very happy and it’s cru­cially im­por­tant,” Rogers said.

He said Mu­nic­i­pal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Kevin O’Brien has agreed there will be dis­cus­sion on the is­sues, but didn’t in­di­cate when.

Rogers is wor­ried if mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties don’t man­age to find a more sta­ble fis­cal foot­ing, no­body is go­ing to want to get in­volved in lo­cal pol­i­tics.

“If that doesn’t hap­pen,

guess what? You just watch the num­bers come ... Septem­ber,” Rogers said, re­fer­ring to mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions across the province.

“You’ve got mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers down on the south coast that have got 20 or 30 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence. They’ve al­ready said they’re not run­ning.”

O’Brien did not do an in­ter­view with TC Me­dia, but a spokesman sent a state­ment on his be­half.

“Many groups and or­ga­ni­za­tions meet with government and com­mit­tees of cab­i­net on an an­nual or reg­u­lar ba­sis,” he said.

“Th­ese meet­ings are valu­able and al­low government to get a sense of the is­sues and pri­or­i­ties of th­ese or­ga­ni­za­tions as key stake­hold­ers in the province. I am look­ing for­ward to hear­ing from of­fi­cials with Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties New­found­land and Labrador ... and con­tin­u­ing to work with them on key is­sues.”

O’Brien’s state­ment did not ad­dress the core is­sues Rogers wants to talk about: mu­nic­i­pal op­er­at­ing grants and the fund­ing for­mula for mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

Rogers said last spring, mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties were promised a new for­mula for mu­nic­i­pal op­er­at­ing grants in 2013. He said they’re ex­pect­ing to see some­thing for cities and towns in this year’s pro­vin­cial bud­get.

“To this point, we’ve had three meet­ings, we’ve had some in­put, we’ve writ­ten a memo to the min­is­ter,” he said.

“At this point in time, we really don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen, we don’t know what’s go­ing to be an­nounced in the 2013 bud­get.”

In re­cent months, Pre­mier Kathy Dun­derdale has been talk­ing about the need for the government to “tighten the belt sig­nif­i­cantly” and make spend­ing cuts in light of lower-than-forecast oil prices, and a $725-mil­lion bud­get deficit.

Rogers said he’s un­daunted by the government’s talk of fis­cal re­straint, be­cause the bud­get prob­lems at the mu­nic­i­pal level are even worse.

Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are re­quired by law to ta­ble balanced bud­gets.

“We have towns now bring­ing in balanced bud­gets be­cause they have to, and yet they’re still on a boil or­der and they can’t fix their water sys­tems,” he said.

“So a balanced bud­get means noth­ing really, all it means is yes, they balanced the bud­get, but at what cost?”

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