Harbour Grace council vents over budget
Mayor meeting with justice minister, other municipal leaders
Members of Harbour Grace’s town council are not all that thrilled about the contents of the recent provincial budget.
And those concerns do not entirely revolve around the announced closure of Harbour Grace Provincial Court, expected to happen this August at the earliest. During last Thursday’s council meeting, a letter was tabled from the Department of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development informing the town it would not receive a $5,000 grant for the local visitor information centre.
“These are things that when the budget came out, you didn’t see,” said Coun. Kathy Tetford. “There’s cutbacks there in black and white, but then there’s things behind the scenes that you don’t see.”
Coun. Hayward Blake noted that while the letter from government highlights the fact its trying to maximize the value of regional assets to engage visitors to Newfoundland and Labrador, the budget itself failed to address the ongoing issue of towns providing regional services to unincorporated communities where residents are not paying their fair share of taxes.
He went on to suggest there’s a legitimate cause for concern about the future of the town’s public library in light of funding cuts buried within the budget.
Responding to correspondence from Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador that said “the municipal sector weathered this initial storm fairly well,” Blake disputed the basic premise. He also noted the president of MNL who authored the letter, Labrador City Mayor Karen Oldford, sought the nomination in the Labrador West District for the governing Liberals.
“My response to her was, with the closing of courthouses, the closing of medial clinics, money taken away from tourism, and the list goes on, how can one say the municipal sector has indeed fared fairly well?”
Blake said it’s not just about the funding municipalities received from government, but also what services are provided to those communities.
“When we saw that schools weren’t being built and other infrastructure pieces were not added to communities … then I don’t believe it’s fair to say we’ve — how did she put it again? — we’ve weathered the storm fairly well.”
As for the court closure, Mayor Terry Barnes talked with Justice Minister Andrew Parsons about the department’s decision, which — along with three other court closures — is expected to save government $1.3 million annually starting next year. Barnes was scheduled to meet with fellow mayors from the area Monday, April 25 before going to St. John’s two days later for another chat with Parsons.
“We are in talks with the government,” said the mayor. “We’re hopeful we can get it overturned. We’re trying our very best.”
The same day he’s meeting with Parsons, the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees is staging a lunch-hour rally outside the Babb Building, where Harbour Grace Provincial Court is currently located.
As of 2013-14, Harbour Grace Provincial Court was the third busiest in the province, with a caseload of 1,776. The 8,937 adult appearances that year represented a 25 per cent increase over the previous year. Similar increases were experienced yearover-year in youth, small claims and family appearances.
Harbour Grace Coun. Hayward Blake, seen here standing next to Deputy Mayor Sonia Williams at last Thursday’s town council meeting, is not impressed with the provincial budget. Also pictured is, from the left, acting town clerk Sean O’Brien and Mayor Terry Barnes.