MNL says it’s time to get moving
President asks government to get the ball rolling on municipal strategies
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?”