Huge hike in fire fee sets phones ringing at Bay Roberts town hall

By Mark Squibb/February 3, 2022

Bay Roberts CAO Nigel Black says the town has received several calls, e-mails and letters about the increase in fire protection fees for unserviced areas just outside the town boundary.

The area includes Port de Grave, Bareneed and portions of Otterbury.

The chief administrative officer laid out the details during last week’s public council meeting.

He explained that when it comes to fire protection in unserviced areas, there are only two rates: commercial or private.

Commercial buildings include churches, post offices, and harbour authority buildings.

“So, when you increased the rate from $200 to $1,000 for commercial buildings, it increased the rate for all of these types of buildings, and that’s where these letters are coming from,” said Black. “I just told anyone that called in or contacted myself or councilors, to put in some correspondence and we would consider what we intend to do.”

“I got some calls on this, as I guess everyone else did,” said councilor Silas Badcock. “I made a few notes. For some, this was a 500 percent increase. And I guess any of us, if we received a bill with an increase like that, we would near pass out. So that was the biggest concern. Some of them weren’t happy with the major increase. And I guess you can’t really blame them.”

Badcock asked if not-for-profits, specifically churches, pay taxes.

“It’s a bit of a mix,” replied Black. “Churches do not. Some of the not-for profits, like the Lion’s Club, and the Legion, and places like that, will pay water and sewer, but they don’t really pay taxes.”

Councilor Dean Franey motioned that the decision be sent back to the finance committee for further review, and Deputy Mayor Geoff Seymour seconded it.

Franey had ardently argued for the fee increases, but said that he didn’t know that churches would be hit too.

“I called CAO Black today on this just to get some clarification on the church one, because I was one of the ones during our budget meetings that said we should look at increases to our unincorporated areas for fire protection because we have our businesses and residents in Bay Roberts paying fairly high fees, and these other areas getting away pretty good, to be honest with you,” said Franey.  “I’m not going to lie; I didn’t think a church fell under a commercial building at the time. So, I know it’s going to the finance committee, and being a member of the fire department, I’d like to say that I have no problem on the church end, looking at it. Because like I said I called the CAO today and the first thing I asked was, ‘What do we charge churches in Bay Roberts?’”

Councilor Perry Bowering voiced his agreement that churches should be in a different category.

“I agree with Dean, I think that churches should be in a different category all together,” said Bowering. “I don’t care where they are to, in the town or out of the town. A church is a church boys, and it just should be held to a different standard in my books.”

Councilor Frank Deering argued that all non-profit organizations should get equal benefits.

Seymour said that while the amount of the increase may be unwarranted, those outside the service area should still pay a fairer amount for fire protection services.

“They are outside the boundary, so we have to keep that in mind,” said Seymour. “It’s the taxpayers of Bay Roberts that are subsidizing this. So, that has to be kept in mind. It doesn’t have to be that much, but we have to realize, that we acknowledged in our budget meeting that there had to be an increase for these services.”

Councilor Ross Petten added that, from what he had seen of the letters, most of the complaints were not about having to pay a fire protection service fee, but just that the fee was increased so much, and with no warning.

Mayor Walter Yetman moved to conclude the discussion by saying the matter will go to the finance committee for an in-depth look, and that hopefully the committee will have recommendations for the next meeting.

Seymour added that, regardless of the rationale and whether the increase was warranted, the town should have communicated better with folks to let them know it was coming.

Franey said incidents like this show the need for more provincial government policy on how local service districts (LSDs) and unincorporated areas are serviced — and taxed.

“I think this goes back to getting on the provincial government to look at these unincorporated, LSD areas, so as municipalities, we’re not subsidizing this kind of service, and piecemealing policies,” said Franey. “They have to get their act together in the Confederation Building with these LSDs and unincorporated areas, no doubt.”

Council voted unanimously to send the matter back to finance for further discussion.

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