Lane targets council with petition against Holyrood budget
By Mark Squibb/March 3, 2023
Former Deputy Mayor Mark Lane is continuing his crusade against council’s decision to raise taxes in Budget 2023.
“In a post-pandemic world, where we’re seeing inflation at it’s highest rate in 30 or 40 years, you see the cost of food, which is exorbitantly expensive in Newfoundland away, now increased 11.4 precent due to inflation, we see a rise in the price of gas and home heating, the whole gambit and so we’re all feeling a crunch in our wallets, we’re all doing our best as individuals, as families, to cut back or to adjust to this more expensive world we live in following COVID,” said Lane. “So, when the rest of the people in Holyrood are adjusting their own expenditures accordingly, the Town of Holyrood reaches further into the pockets of residents.”
Lane’s petition was posted online February 25 and has garnered over 300 signatures as of Thursday morning, including that of councillor Bruce King, the lone councillor to vote against the budget. The petition calls on the Town to end what Lane deems ‘non-essential’ spending, reduce residential and commercial taxes, and “right-size” expenditures.
“I’ve reached out to councillors and staff and I’ve said, ‘Now is the time to be really innovative, lets figure out how we can reduce expenditures without cutting programs and services, or maybe even cut some programs and services, that are non-essential, so that we don’t have to increase taxation,” said Lane., “And the Town has said they have increased taxation because there was no other choice. But I think they had many, many choices.”
Lane said the petition is in response to a circular issued by the Town to justify the tax increases, adding council has underestimated the level of discontent in regard to the budget.
“I don’t think the municipal councillors understand the gravity of the impact of raising taxes in a town with many, many seniors on fixed incomes,” said Lane. “So, we said we’re going to show them, numerically… (in case) council thinks ‘Oh, it’s only a few disgruntled residents on social media, there’s six or seven of them, ignore them and they’ll go away.’”
Currently the petition is only available online, but Lane said he and other “concerned citizens” will it door to door in the coming weeks to reach people who don’t follow social media.
He hopes councillor Bruce King will present the petition to council.
Mayor Gary Goobie, meanwhile, said Wednesday he hasn’t seen the petition, and is avoiding social media as the “misinformation and exaggerations” have become “overwhelming.”
“I don’t know how many names are on there, I don’t know where they are from, I have no information on it whatsoever, none,” said Goobie. “People are free, certainly, to partake in any form of petition. That’s democracy, that’s fair game.”
Goobie does wonder whether there isn’t an ulterior motive to some of the protests.
“There are a group that seems to be intentionally trying to throw gas on the fire to exacerbate the situation to make things more complicated for council, who are trying to reach out to the community and explain the reason and the rationale of why we had to make that very difficult decision, at the worst possible time, given the economic conditions of the province and the increase in gasoline prices, inflation, and high interest rates,” said Goobie. “We unequivocally said, this was a very, very difficult time in which to make that tough decision. But we went through a very thorough and exhaustive process in preparing this budget over several months, and at the end of the day, our revenue stream came up short simply because our cost of running the Town is no different than running a home, and I would venture to guess that our overall expenditures increased probably 20, 25 percent.”
Goobie said councillors and staff have been flooded with e-mails, messages, and phone calls from residents.
“We are not ignoring the public at all, despite some comments that are being made,” said Goobie. “We’re trying to process the questions coming at us. I’ve had several, good, productive conversation with residents. We’ve agreed on some points and disagreed on others. But it was a respectful and cordial conversation. But, unfortunately, there’s others that, for whatever reason, want to really make this difficult. Very difficult.”
He said staff has to determine what information can be released to the public due to privacy rules, and has hired legal help to do so.
He added that if the person putting questions to him “has no intention of hearing the truth and the facts,” there’s no point to have the conversation in the first place.
Goobie also said that a warning to a resident to be careful with what they say in their electronic communications, lest they end up in legal trouble, has also been taken out of context.
“And then this person was all over social media with the loose lip,” said Goobie. “And I said, if he continues with this tone, he is going to end up in legal hot water with the things he’s saying.”
He said one resident has sent over 50 questions, and each one has to be reviewed before a response can be sent.
Goobie said many residents have told him personally they understand council’s rationale for increasing taxes.
Though not specifically mentioning Lane by name, he noted that a former deputy mayor, who he described as a vocal opponent of the budget, did not protest a mil rate increase back when he was on council.
“That’s chalk and cheese,” said Lane of the mil rate comparison. “This is post-pandemic, and the actual fact is that taxes have tripled in the last 10 years, because it’s based on the value of your home. The property values in Holyrood during the oil and gas boom a number of years ago tripled. So, regardless of the mil rate, I’m still paying triple the tax I did 10 years ago — for the same, or less, services.”
Councillor Bruce King, meanwhile, said he may have signed Lane’s petition accidentally.
“I didn’t sign it intentionally, but I had hit a button to see who else had actually signed it, but I guess however it set up, the minute you hit the button, your name automatically goes into it,” said King.
He did allow, however, that he likely would have signed the petition intentionally anyway as he agreed with much of the contents.
“Ninety percent of what’s there in the reasons why the petition was started in the first place, are the reasons I didn’t vote for the budget anyway,” said King. “Like I told Mark Lane, and I told two or three more of them, I said, ‘If you listen to the reasons, and it’s still there on the tape of the council meeting we did the budget in December, I listed all the reasons why I didn’t vote for the budget, and a lot of those reasons are in the petition.’”
King said that he has already told Lane he intends to present the petition to council in the future.
He added that he stands by the decision to vote against the budget, and has asked Goobie whether council couldn’t consider a revised budget should the Town come into unexpected monies later in the year.