By Chris Lewis | April 22, 2021
It may be four months into the calendar year, but the Town of Harbour Grace is still trying to iron out the details of its 2021 budget. And some councillors fear it is starting to have negative effects on the town’s future. By provincial law, municipalities have to submit balanced budgets to the Department of Municipal Affairs and then approve them in their own chambers by December 31 of the preceding year.
The status of Harbour race’s budget came up last week as councillors were discussing phase 5 of the Harvey Street rehabilitation project.
Mayor Don Coombs said the Town won’t be able to get provincial money for the already completed phase 4 section of the project until its budget is adopted, to which councillor Kathy Tetford responded that she had wanted to make a motion about the budget at the previous council meeting, but was unable to attend.
“We’ve gone on too long without an approved budget from Municipal Affairs. There’s little we can do and little that is going to come to us (in provincial funding) until we get this done,” Tetford said.
With that, she put forward a motion to adopt the budget as it had been last presented on Feb. 8. This version, she said, came with revisions from Municipal Affairs, which would all be included in her motion.
Councillor Lyda Byrne, who presented the revised budget back in February, seconded Tetford’s motion.
“In order to do the town justice, we need to adopt this budget so as we can get our funding in place, so as we can get our projects in place,” said Byrne, adding that if the Town is successful in the sale of the old stadium, it will have to do another revised budget based on new revenue, but would deal with that when the time comes.
Coombs was clear he would not be supporting the revised budget. He said the potential sale of the stadium is what will balance the budget which, as it stands, is sitting with some $290,000 in a projected operating deficit. This was discovered after the Town went through the process of a budget review with an outside consultant.
“Right now, we’re relying on the sale of the stadium to balance the budget, and to say we’re going to present a budget is misleading. There are people out there waiting for things, this budget has to be done properly,” Coombs said. “I won’t be supporting that motion. I don’t think this motion is going to get us anywhere in the Town of Harbour Grace.”
Byrne said taking the money from that asset sale to balance a budget is also not a good thing. She highlighted the fact that next year, there will be no asset to sell and the Town will still be in the same financial position it is in now.
Coombs argued in favour of using the sale of the assets anyway, claiming the Town is in a poor financial position; a fact that was solidified after they sought the help of the outside consultant.
“Why the hurry?” asked Councillor Kevin Williams.
Byrne explained that without an adopted budget, the Town cannot get any financing, and cannot have any projects looked at by the provincial government.
“Right now, there’s nobody at Municipal Affairs that’s even looking at the Town of Harbour Grace,” Byrne said.
Williams said he has seen the Town, in the past, go without adopting a budget well into the end of April.
Byrne and Tetford said this was simply not correct.
Deputy Mayor Sonia Williams said she never agreed with using the sale of the stadium to balance the budget.
“There’s a lot that don’t come to light with me,” she said. “I certainly never agreed with the sale of the stadium to pay for a deficit. That’s not a good practice.”
Mayor Coombs agreed.
But, he argued, even if the Town was to adopt the budget as presented, it would not be balanced.
The initial budget was sent back to the town by Municipal Affairs, Byrne explained, because no funds were earmarked to hold this fall’s municipal election, and no grant money was identified for work on the fire hall.
“That’s the reason it was sent back. Those two things needed to be put in our budget … Not because the budget was wrong,” she said. “Cutbacks have got to happen and they have to start somewhere. I don’t think we’re doing the next council any justice by not implementing those cutbacks now.”
After some further debate, council ultimately circled back to Tetford’s motion, with the majority of council voting against it, meaning the night ended without the budget being passed.