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Questions and answers with CBS at large candidates

Folks will likely experience déjà vu when they cast their municipal ballots this Tuesday, September, as it was only a week ago folks cast their ballots in the federal election.

While federal candidates vote on programs and policies that affect Canada nationwide, your local members of local council vote on matters that affect you on a daily basis.

We asked at large candidates in Conception Bay South their thoughts on some local issues. Here are their responses in full.

1)  What should the Town do with the Gateway off Legion Road?

Barrett, Joshua – If I’m elected, one of the first things I plan on doing is to get information on all initiatives that have led to the development of the Gateway to date, such as what offers we made to companies, and why they chose not to follow through. I believe we need to reconceptualize what the Gateway could look like. This could involve building on existing infrastructure up there, such as the arena, or establishing an indoor performance space, attracting more restaurants, or establishing other community facilities. In terms of attracting new business, it’s clear there needs to be further incentives in place. My hope is by pursuing an economic development strategy and engaging residents and other partners, we can develop the Gateway as being a competitive advantage for businesses. I see providing tax breaks and land to startup businesses, or other local ‘made in Conception Bay South’ businesses to help get them off the ground. But first is to understand why other attempts have failed in the past and how we can improve it.

Butler, Christine – It is very important that the town continue to promote the Gateway. Businesses interested in coming to CBS contact town staff for information on what’s available and Town staff also attend conventions specifically to sell your town as a place to set up your business. I feel that the town could offer tax incentives, infrastructure requirements, lower pricing on the parcels for sale. Who knows, maybe with the right investor and proposal the benefits would far outweigh the cost of
infrastructure or the price of the property. Also, the Gateway doesn’t have to be retail or food. It could be partially commercial/industrial, i.e. warehouse, storage units. There could even be residential development, seniors complex, affordable housing. The town could also build on this land, i.e. community centre or an RV park. I believe once new development starts it will spur interest for new tenants. We need a revitalization plan, something the new Council can move forward on with input from the business community and residents as to what they would like to see, their suggestions/ideas.

Caines, Judy— I would like to see the town entice developers to the Gateway so we can start to develop businesses there.  In return it would help with paying the taxes and creating  economy here in Conception Bay South.

Cluney, Warrick— The town needs to make the Gateway more attractive to businesses. There are a few things that can be looked at. Residents have been asking for an ATV trail. If an ATV trail was located close to the gateway, this would bring more traffic into the area and entice business development. i.e. gas station, convenience store, motel, community center.

Dawe, Jason— What should the Town do with the Gateway off Legion Road? This can no longer be a White Elephant and the town has to actively pursue businesses and other interests to the location.  Currently, the Irving deal for Kent has some very restrictive covenants that limit new businesses that narrows your field of prospective newcomers.  If anyone does decide to develop, then any future sales of business change are equally limited. Any business needs increased incentive to overcome these factors some of which are but are not limited to, a more aggressive tax strategy that lets the businesses obtain a return on investment quicker, tax incentives for sourcing products and services to existing businesses in the town.

Eason, Steve— My suggestion for Gateway is the first thing would be sports and recreation and entertainment facility, which will allow residents of CBS to avail of our facilities rather then heading to other municipalities for their needs. This in turn would drum up more interest in box store businesses and restaurants etc., which obviously creates more revenue for our town.

Hillier, Rex— The Gateway development has been controversial since its early stages some 15 years ago.  The Council of the day decided to develop it on their own.  They gathered together some 200 acres of land, serviced it and declared themselves open for business.  Since then, we have seen a limited uptake in business but that doesn’t mean there are no positives.   The site does not cost the Town anything and we own over 200 acres of serviced land. For the immediate future I don’t think we should make any major changes to the concept.  We should continue to market it as a commercial center.  In the past decade we could not have envisioned a global recession, a pandemic, and the price of oil going into free fall.  As we come out of this pandemic, we must be ready to step back out into the marketplace with a renewed plan for marketing this asset.  Some would have us sell the property wholesale.  However, this a the only large tract of land that our Town owns and will eventually be developed to the benefit of generations to come.

O’Dea, David— In my opinion, the Gateway has stood almost empty for far too long. The whole area needs to be developed. We need to attract businesses large and small and we also need to consider the area as being a spot for a community center that would bring people to the area.

2) The province has a big deficit, and it’s likely it will try again to download responsibility for maintenance and snow clearing of Route 60 onto the Town. Should the Town take over Route 60? Why or why not?

Barrett, Joshua— We continually see municipalities across the Province struggle with new roles and responsibilities downloaded to them. More often than not, it comes with short term incentives (such as a lump payment) yet over the long term municipalities do not have the adequate capacity or resources to manage these new responsibilities effectively. It would not be prudent for the Town of Conception Bay South to take ownership of Route 60. Our current road infrastructure is demanding enough to maintain. I do not foresee any short term incentive that would make it worthwhile for the Town over the long term. That being said, however, I have lived on Route 60 for the past five years and understand and appreciate the issues of the roadway firsthand. All other issues aside, my very first priority for Route 60 is to continue developing our sidewalk infrastructure, particularly within 1.6km of schools. There are many, many schools on this stretch of road and we need to ensure continued safety for our children is at the forefront of these decisions. On a related note, we need to look at the placement of our crosswalks and determine if these are indeed safe for all residents. Other issues with Route 60 will require continued collaboration with the provincial and federal governments (the latter due to them being a funding partner). I’m interested in working with residents in determining if there are particular high priority areas of the road that deserve further attention in our community.

Butler, Christine – The only way the town could take over Route 60 would be if the province also provided the $$ to hire more staff, buy the necessary heavy equipment for snow clearing, for upkeep, repairs, paving, storage, etc. This would be an enormous cost and certainly not put on the taxpayers. It would have to be a long-term agreement with very specific terms of who’s responsible for what, ie. traffic lights, crosswalks, on and off ramps to name a few and would most likely have to have an annual influx of $$. As a start, I think the town could explore an agreement with the province for repairs of potholes. We all know potholes on route 60 are among the most complaints the town gets on a regular basis. If we started to fix potholes as a courtesy the province would probably take advantage. Though I believe there are union issues also and then there’s the liability. The town and the province could have an agreement that would include costs of labour, supplies on an annual basis, to repair and maintain potholes.

Caines, Judy— I don’t think the Town should take over Route 60 as the budget is not there.   Do we even have the proper equipment to take on that route?  I don’t think so.  This will require more maintenance and where will the money come from.  The budget is just not there.

Cluney, Warrick— In my opinion, the town should not take over Route 60 unless the government is willing to expand Route 60 to a four-lane highway and bring all curbs, gutters, sidewalks, bridges, and pavement up to standard. We would also need maintenance costs paid to town for next 10 years.

Dawe, Jason— The province has a big deficit, and it’s likely it will try again to download responsibility for maintenance and snow clearing of Route 60 onto the Town. Should the Town take over Route 60? Why or why not? The only model in which the Town should take any responsibility for Route 60 is following an investment by the province for an upgrade to widen and modernize the road as it is the main artery through the town. This is a provincial route and it demands improvement and after that, the town can look to assist in its care and maintenance.

Eason, Steve— I do not believe the town should be responsible for Route 60 because a lot of the roads are not in good shape and would cost the town hundreds of thousands in maintenance and repair.

Hillier, Rex— If the province tries to push Rte. 60 on us, we need to push back.  This could be the biggest millstone ever around the collective necks of our residents.  A decade old study had upgrades to bring Rte. 60 up to standard costing about $20M.  What is that cost in 2021?

O’Dea, David— There have been discussions about Route 60 being downloaded onto the town
for years. It would be worth entering into discussions with the provincial government to see if we could maintain and perform snow clearing more efficiently than we see right now. Our town plows currently pack down the snow because they lift their blades when they drive along Route 60 when they are doing the side roads. Likewise, potholes could be filled faster if our town staff were to repair them. We could have better service if we did it ourselves, HOWEVER the cost should not be downloaded to our community.

3) What’s one thing council could do to save money for taxpayers?

Barrett, Joshua – The last four years the outgoing council did a fine job at cutting costs within Town Hall and holding the line in terms of tax increases. If we increase taxes, that increases the burden on taxpayers. What we need is to diversify our revenue. The revenue our Town receives from commercial taxes is around 12% (though the past 1-2 years it has been lower due to COVID-19) which is among the lowest of our neighbouring communities. The rest largely comes from residential property taxes as well as water and sewer. We need to increase commercial development in our community in a sustainable way and generate new ways of revenue. To do that, we need to make it more attractive to do business in Conception Bay South. There may also be better or more efficient ways of allocating our resources that I’ll be interested in exploring if and when elected. Are our existing assets, like our swimming pool, being used to its full capacity? Are there other ways we could cut costs? I’m interested in finding out.

Butler, Christine – One thing Council could do to save $$ for taxpayers is to make recycling mandatory.  This would decrease the costs of tonnage going to the Robin Hood Bay landfill, at the same time improving the environment. Making recycling mandatory would require an education program and would be best introduced as a pilot project then proceed throughout the town in much the same way the automated waste collection system was introduced a couple of years ago. A win win!

Caines, Judy— I think one of the things council can do to save money is not always be hiring consultants to address certain issues.  I feel the people of Conception Bay South that live here can give their feedback to the Town and save this Town a lot of money.

Cluney, Warrick— I think that if council looked at regionalization of the top management positions with other towns in the area there could be a savings that would benefit CBS and the other towns. For example, each town may not need an engineer.

Dawe, Jason – The council heeds to operate like any private sector business and start from the inside.  I, like many residents in CBS, have endured COVID-19 and have helped our companies find efficiencies and not the quick slashing of jobs that is an easy fix.  When you start a culture of expecting efficiency in all operations (such as resource sharing between departments) then you can then work your way outwards to seek efficiency in tendered contracts and look to efficiencies such as using existing Town property for parks and splash pads as opposed to buying private property to the tune of $950,000 which, in retrospect, is quite wasteful.

Eason, Steve – One thing is to bring in more revenue. Again, by developing gateway would generate the extra revenue for the town. The use of ATV trails would also bring in more revenue because it attracts all different people from different municipalities.

Hillier, Rex— The perennial issue that all councils have struggled with is the low percentage of our budget that comes from commercial taxes.  This means that we have to depend on residential growth to pay our bills and undermines all our other efforts at development. Some places where we can build?  With Covid relaxing, giving us a view of our new norm, we need once again to get back to aggressively marketing the Gateway development. We have a port facility. In the past months, we have seen an emphasis on its strategic importance on the Northeast Avalon.  We need to continue to promote it for its commercial and recreation potential. The business improvement initiative by businesses in the east end of Town has been a great success.  We need to see a similar project in the west end.

O’Dea, David— I believe that there are many things that can be done to save money for the
town. As a member of council, I would promote community consultation to get input as to where we can save money. Oftentimes, rethinking what we do and how we do it can result in cost savings. We need to think outside the box and start thinking like a large community. Reducing red tape for the taxpayers, when dealing with town hall, would also help save money for the town and for the individual taxpayer.

Candidates Lori Moore and Paul Connors did not respond in time for publication deadline.

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