French unsure about running for second term
By Chris Lewis | Jan. 21, 2021
Conception Bay South is continuing to grow in all the right ways, Mayor Terry French says in a year end interview from 2020 and a look ahead at the coming 12 months.
Last year brought a number of challenges, allowed French, who described it as one of the most trying times to run a municipality. Still, he said, much turned out okay in the end, and he has high hopes going forward.
With council’s four-year term ending in September, French said he is pleased with the progress council was able to make over those years, and in 2020 especially.
“We see ourselves as having probably the lowest residential tax rates of any comparable municipality on the Northeast Avalon,” French said. “Our business taxes are on par with many of our neighbours too, so we believe we’re creating quite an attractive community to come and live.”
Keeping taxes affordable was a commitment of this council from day one, he added, and he is glad to see it panning out the way they had envisioned.
The Town did experience some financial hits throughout 2020 though, most of it related to the COVID-19 pandemic. French said the extra cleaning and extra staffing cost nearly $400,000. Stacked on top of that were significant losses in revenue due to pandemic restrictions related to the town’s recreational and other facilities, which he said came to about $600,000.
Property values also took a dip this past year, while the Town’s water consumption increased. This resulted in about a $1.1-million reduction in the Town’s property revenue, and an extra $300,000 extra in water costs, respectively.
French said the Town was able to cut costs in other areas, and with the help of provincial and federal government grants managed to keep things balanced.
“It was quite an accomplishment when you’re faced with some of these hurdles that we’ve had this past year,” French said. “Obviously it’s not lost on anyone that the province and the feds stepped up to help the municipalities last year, and we’re glad they did. Without that, we’d never have been able to absorb these costs without significant tax increases.”
Another part of council’s four-year commitment from the get-go was to address what French referred to as an “infrastructure deficit.” Many of the Town’s roads were in disrepair, he said, and council made it a goal to do something about it. Four years later, he is glad to see new pavement on some of the community’s main thoroughfares.
French said there have been about 21.5-kilometres worth of paving done at this point along 36 streets, as well as 128 streets being given some rehabilitation work – mill and fill, as he termed it. The Town’s school zones also saw about 3,000-metres of sidewalks installed.
“We made a four-year commitment to the people of Conception Bay South, as council, and we’ve kept ticking those boxes, even over the last year,” French said. “This term, we’ll have spent $24.5-million on roads and sidewalks, which is a big chunk of change.”
This year, French said, Minerals Road, which is a link to Peacekeepers Way, will get work.
Phase one of a new community park is now done as well, said French, listing it among the highlights of the past year. With an inclusive playground installed and some trail work completed, phase two will see a dual-purpose water park and ice rink installed. As well, a stage and changing rooms are on the to-do list this year.
“It’s a beautiful location, and it’s something that people with young families have been looking for for a long, long time,” French said.
Construction on the new public library is something French also hopes will come to fruition this year. It’s a project that was first promised by the provincial government back in 2014. French assured that residents can expect a sod-turning ceremony in the spring.
The cenotaph in front of the Town Hall will also get an addition this year, French said, to recognize Canada’s role in more recent peacekeeping roles and conflicts, such as Afghanistan. With a monument being donated by a resident of the community, French said the Town went out in search of monies to re-do the entire front of the Town Hall.
“We’ve talked about trying to incorporate a Memorial Park – that’s what I’m calling it, anyway,” he said, adding that this is an idea that’s been passed between councillors for a while now. “We’d like to create some kind of park where people can set up vigils to anything, whether that be Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) or the Purple Ribbon Campaign, or whatever the case may be. So, on top of the new monument, we’re going to see the whole front of the Town Hall turned into more of a town square – especially once the library gets up and running.”
In the midst of all that will come the municipal elections. French said he is unsure whether his own name will be on the ballot. Pointing out that his initial four-year commitment is approaching its end, French said there are some important conversations he must have with the people around him before he commits to running for another four.
But he is encouraging people to put their names in the council hat when the time comes.
“It’s a real balancing act, and I think people should volunteer themselves so they can see that,” French said. “It’s a lot easier to speak on decisions when you’re on the outside, I can guarantee that. I was once one of them, too, so I know all about it.”