Harbour Grace defeats revised budget motion, agrees to hire outside consultant

By Chris Lewis | Feb. 25, 2021

A revised budget motion in Harbour Grace led to another falling out among some members of council earlier this month.

The members initially discussed the 2021 budget on Jan. 14, but couldn’t agree on passing the financial plan, which called for an increase in spending of about $20,000 bringing the blueprint to nearly $3.6 million.

At the most recent meeting of council, a revised version of the budget that included stimulus money from the province, as well as $9,000 earmarked for the 2021 election, was raised.

For the second time it did not meet with the full approval of Mayor Don Coombs.

“I voted against the budget (at the last meeting) and therefore I will be voting against the revised budget,” Coombs said. “I still think we should get some extra advice in here to help us do the budget. That’s me giving my opinion up front. I cannot vote for the revised budget if I did not vote for the original budget.”

This view was echoed by Deputy Mayor Sonia Williams and councillor Kevin Williams.

Councillor Kathy Tetford, as she did the first time, voiced her support for the budget.

She said the only way to change a budget is to raise taxes or decrease expenses, and the latter move would mean laying people off.

Councillor Shawn Vaters, who voted in favour of the budget the first time, said he saw some benefit in having an outside consultant review the document.

That, Tetford and councillor Lyda Byrne pointed out, will cost money.

Tetford said she did not see any suggestions coming from a consultant other than to raise taxes, something that councillors across the board were vehemently opposed to.

“How would we increase taxes anyway?” Tetford asked, noting the town’s mil rate of 7.75 is the highest in the area. “We haven’t got a whole lot of business base, and you can’t overtax your businesses either. So, it’s either one or the other.”

Currently, the Town is owed about half a million dollars in unpaid taxes from 2019-2020. Tetford said efforts should be made to bring that money in, as opposed to trying to re-order the limited money they already have.

The motion to accept the revised the budget was defeated with a final vote of 4-3.

Coombs said it will go back to Municipal Affairs, so a strategy will be devised on how the Town can move forward.

“We have to be able to secure our money, and secure capital projects,” Coombs said. “I said it at the last meeting: we should have a five-year vision in place to get the Town straightened away.”

Councillor Vaters suggested the Town get a second opinion on the revised budget before sending it to Municipal Affairs. The money, he said, could come from Come Home Year celebration monies.

That idea did not sit well with Tetford, who said she was fed up with what she perceived as Coombs poking fun at the celebrations.

“I’m sick and tired of you (Coombs) making fun at the Come Home Year celebrations,” Tetford said. “That $5,000 is there for what will hopefully be a concert, put off at the stadium. It’s been planned, with money spent on it by Jed Blackmore, Terry Andrews, Anne Whelan. It’s been ready to go. I’m sick and tired of you making much less of what people have put into the Come Home celebrations.”

Tetford pointed out that last year there was $15,000 budgeted for the celebrations. This year, it was cut down to $5,000.

“To go out and spend money on a consultant now is just totally, totally ludicrous and irresponsible,” she said.

Her remarks did not sit well with Coombs.

“I’m not making fun of anybody,” he said. “I’m here for the taxpayers of Harbour Grace, and you can smile all you want but one more insult like that and you’re barred from the meeting.”

Tetford replied that as an elected official she had a right to speak.

Coombs said she also had a right to respect the Chair.

The conversation then turned back to the motion at hand.

Vaters’ motion to hire an outside consultant using Come Home Year funds was carried.

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