By Craig Westcott/November 18, 2021
Councilors in Bay Roberts grew a little heated last week after hearing a report about the number of people who haven’t paid their fire protection fees in neighbouring communities.
The report was from director of protective services Justin Parsons, but presented by chief administrative officer Nigel Black. He told council the collection rate in Port de Grave and Bareneed “where we supply services and actually invoice out for those services each year” was 78 per cent in 2020, and 72 per cent so far this year.
Black admitted the collection rate is not as high as it should be. “Certainly, there are a lot of people out there who are not paying their bills,” he said. “The other thing that the director has made us aware of is there are a lot of properties out there that are not getting billed, because we have no way of knowing, for example, how many houses might have been built in that area over the last number of years, or any given year. So, his concern, and I think it should be all of our concern, is that we’re certainly missing out on some revenue that we could be collecting from those areas. We’ve definitely got people in those areas who are being provided a service and are not paying for it. So, he’s got a couple of recommendations for you to consider.”
Parsons’ first recommendation was to seek some guidance form the Department of Municipal Affairs, or MHA Pam Parsons regarding a better system for fire protection in that area. The second was that the Province require the area to form a Local Service District (LSD) so that Bay Roberts can bill the LSD rather than the individual house owners.
“This opens up a big discussion about a lot of stuff,” said Mayor Walter Yetman.
Councilor Perry Bowering suggested the Town check with whoever looks after the billing for Port de Grave and Bareneed’s garbage collection to get a full list of properties.
That would be the Eastern Regional Service Board, said Yetman.
Black allowed the ERSB “should have a better list than anyone, whether they will share it with us or not, all we can do is ask.”
“It’s not fair to our taxpayers who are forking out the money for the equipment and there are people taking advantage of it and not paying five cents for it,” said Bowering.
Mayor Yetman said you have to shake your head at people who won’t pay for fire protection services.
“How much longer can the taxpayers of Bay Roberts subsidize this? That is the question,” added Deputy Mayor Geoff Seymour.
Councilor Ross Petten said that at least with the case of the many fishing boats that tie up in Port de Grave and rely on Bay Roberts for fire protection it shouldn’t be a problem to get billing information. All you have to do is contact the head of the Harbour Authority, he said. Petten recounted a recent chat with the Harbour Master, who told him that during his seven years in the position, he has never received a call from Bay Roberts seeking billing information for the boat owners.
“I can guarantee you, there is no one in Port de Grave against paying for fire protection,” Petten said. “They think it’s a valuable service.”
Petten said he thinks the collection rate could be close to 100 per cent.
“As a councilor and as a member of the (fire) department,” chipped in councilor Dean Franey, “if you’ve got a million-dollar boat and you’re not willing to pay your fire protection fee for that boat, I’ve got no problem with not sending down a truck if anything happens.”
Mayor Yetman pointed out the recommendation from the director of protective services is that Bay Roberts start billing the Harbour Authority directly instead of boat owners individually.
Deputy Mayor Seymour liked that idea. “We should say, ‘Here’s the bill. If it’s not all paid by X date, then we’re not going to provide the services,’” he said.
Franey said there are also a couple of fairly big commercial buildings in Port de Grave, namely fish plants, that are probably paying the same $500 fire protection fee as the vessel owners. “I think we have to look at that,” he said. “If anything happens, the $500 for that (protection) is not going to cover anything.”
Yetman then attempted to summon the proper wording for a motion to cover the director’s two recommendations as well as the consensus of council. The motion included that the Town contact the ERSB for a list of its customers in Bareneed and Port de Grave, and the Port de Grave Harbour Authority for a list of its members.
Seymour said Franey’s idea that the Harbour Authority be billed should be included in the wording.
“That is part of the motion,” said Yetman.
The motion passed unanimously.
Seymour then identified a wrinkle. In his report, the director of protective services suggested that his recommendations be acted upon by 2023. The deputy mayor argued the Town should act now.
“We’ve made a motion to move forward,” said the mayor. “So that motion is made.”
CAO Black said staff will start acting on the motion immediately.