CBS Mayor says town will continue on path of seeking savings and improving infrastructure and services in 2020
By Chris Lewis | Vol. 32 No. 41 (Dec. 23, 2019)
The Town of Conception Bay South is looking forward to a busy year in 2020, to rival even this past year, which saw a bevy of road work and upgrades on sides including the major thoroughfares of Fowlers Road and Legion Road.
In a year-end interview with The Shoreline, Mayor Terry French, said the need for infrastructure improvements was often a matter of discussion right back to the time leading up to the 2017 municipal election season.
“One of the things we did in the early days, some of us even did this during the election, was commit to upgrading the infrastructure that we currently had, and we made no bones about it,” French said. “We announced it in our very first budget that we would be targeting the infrastructure deficit.”
With some 400 linear kilometres of pavement on the community’s byroads alone, there was a lot of work that needed to be done, he added. “So, we started in year one and we’ve continued on that right up until our current budget,” said French.
The 2020 town budget sees a further $1-million committed for mill and fill programs, as well as sidewalk construction, with each category taking up about half the pot.
With nine schools and some 6,000 students throughout Conception Bay South, French said one of the major goals going into 2020 is to continue with the work of building sidewalks in those areas, especially for those students who fall within the 1.6-kilometre “walking” distance from their schools, and who cannot rely on buses to get them back and forth.
“With our infrastructure (funding) we got last year, we were able to commit $8.2-million in road upgrading,” said the mayor. “Last summer we saw 60 roads completed in Conception Bay South, which is a banner year for us. I don’t know if there’s ever been a year with that amount of pavement over roads that really, really needed to be done.”
Even still, there are more left to do, with work on those set to start up again in the 2020 construction season, he said. That includes the remaining upgrades to Fowler’s Road, which was intended to have been completed in 2019. “It’s important to us to get these main thoroughfares up to grade and in good shape so people can access Route 2, whether they’re coming or going,” French said.
From a financial perspective, said the mayor, 2020 will mark the third year in a row that the Town has managed to keep residential and business taxes the same, and avoid any increases. This budget also saw no increases in water and sewer taxes.
French credits the town’s aggressive debt management strategy for helping with that.
“We’ve been going after people who owe a significant amount of taxes, and that’s going to continue because everyone has to pay their fair share, even though we all grimace about it,” he said.
French said the Town also managed to find some savings in-house to help with its numbers. “That allowed us this year to put a one-year elimination on the building permit fee,” he said. “That’s designed to help people who are making decisions on residential construction to build more homes here in Conception Bay South.”
The town is also boosting its use of technology. This past year, it began the preliminary steps in adding a number of online services to help residents, including online event booking, permitting applications, and payment capabilities. French hopes to see this all roll out in 2020.
Council will also begin livestreaming council meetings in the new year in an effort to become more accessible to the many residents who find themselves unable to attend meetings in person.
In other changes, one of the bigger services that rolled out in 2019 was the town’s automated waste collection.
French said the decision to do it was not made lightly by council. He said he’s glad to see it having a positive impact, even resulting in a big reduction in the number of rodents and pests.
“The reality is, it’s working very well,” said the mayor. “It’s all about reducing out footprint on the earth, but also from a financial perspective, we’re hopeful that it will reduce out tipping fees … If we recycle more, that means less in waste, and that means less we have to pay as taxpayers.”
Recreation also saw some big improvements this past year, beginning with the approval of a long-awaited community park in Long Pond, French said. The park will feature a ‘recreation surface’ that can switch from a splash pad in the warmer seasons to a skating oval in the winter months.
Work on that will hopefully get underway in the spring of 2020. The park is located in Long Pond, just behind Dominion Supermarket.
French said that in the past, the Town did well in building sports-centric infrastructure, and it was about time for the community to see an open, community-oriented space.
The new town library also saw some progress this past year, French added.
“That’s something I’ve been lobbying for for most of my elected career,” said French, who was a long serving MHA for Conception Bay South district before leaving provincial politics in 2012. “We’re hoping to see shovels in the ground in 2020, and we just had three different groups who had been bidding on this piece of work.”
Town staff are reviewing the bids and an announcement will be coming in the new year regarding who gets the tender, he noted. The library is set to go up in the same area as the CBS town hall.
This year also had some surprise changes to a longstanding tradition in the community – the Christmas parade.
Following a conversation with the RNC, it was decided that the Kiwanis Club of Kelligrews, which had been handling the parade for the last 62-years, could no longer take it on by themselves. This resulted in the town organizing it, which French admitted felt like a slippery slope at first.
However, the parade went off without much of a hitch on Saturday, December 7, and French said he has heard nothing but positive reports from residents. Next year, he added, the town will more time to iron out any kinks and improve upon the event.
Overall, French said, 2019 was a relatively smooth year for the town, with things going according to plan for the most part. This was achieved, he said, by staying on track with the strategic plan.
“We had a strategy right from the get-go to make us more efficient as a town hall, to reduce our spending, to keep taxes under control, and to look after the infrastructure. That was our goal, we let everyone know it, and that’s something that we’ve stuck to. I believe we’ve delivered on it,” French said. “And, it’s something that we’re going to keep following. We made a commitment on this, and if we can do it at all, we’ll continue down that same path.”
French said he would like to close the year by offering his best wishes for a merry Christmas, happy holidays, and happy new year to all residents.