By Mark Squibb/December 16, 2021
Deputy Mayor Geoff Seymour presented Budget 2022 and began on a personal budget item of his own to lighten the mood.
“I’ll start off by saying that we are living in frugal times, so I resisted the urge to buy new shoes,” he joked. “I stuck with the old ones, so you’re going to have to be tolerant of that.”
Oftentimes, members of council presenting a budget will dress up a little for the budget speech. Seymour donned a white shirt and grey tie for the occasion.
Seeing as there was no objection the deputy mayor’s choice of footwear, he carried on with the prepared budget speech. He began by looking back on the year that was 2021.
“Like the year before it, it was indeed a challenge,” Seymour admitted. “With the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic still being felt, significant challenges had to be met. Primarily, striking a balance between ensuring the safety of our employees and residents, while keeping our financial house in order. Not, an easy task. That being said, we were able to do both.”
Seymour noted recreation facilities including the arena and outdoor sport fields were opened, with COVID regulations in place for safety’s sake. He thanked staff members and residents for helping bring a sense of normalcy back by way of recreational activities.
He added 2021 was a financially successful year, and applauded town projects such as the construction of sidewalks in school zones, the start of the Shearstown curb and gutter project, and the purchase of both a new fire rescue truck and new garbage truck.
He then delved into Budget 2022, wasting no time getting to the good stuff.
“Before I get into the details, I’ll start with what everyone is waiting to hear,” said Seymour. “This year’s budget will see no change in the mil rate, and as a result, see no increase in taxation for residents and businesses.”
The budget is balanced at $8.6 million, and includes some borrowing to cover the town’s portion of multi-year capital works projects. He said the town, following the advice of its accountant, will take advantage of low interest rates to finance large-scale projects.
“This approach allows us to free up monetary assets to fund smaller projects throughout the town,” explained Seymour. “It is important to note that this approach has been made possible by our extremely low debt ratio, a testament to financial prudence shown by previous councils.”
Included in the budget are several priority purchases and projects.
The Butlerville softball field will be expanded, and dugouts at both the Wilbur Sparkes Complex and Butlerville ballfield will be replaced. The skateboard park will also be replaced. Tennis and basketball courts will be completed in preparation for the Newfoundland and Labrador Summer Games.
Council has also budgeted money for a cost analysis on the potential replacement of the Bay Arena floor.
“This project is anticipated to cost upwards of $1 million dollars, and will require help from all levels of government,” said Seymour. “The cost analysis will help council in it’s attempts to lobby both federal and provincial governments for funding. After all, the Bay arena does service more than Bay Roberts.”
The town will also put money towards phase 2 of the Bay Roberts Community Garden Opera Garden project, commonly referred to as the Sensory Park, which will include the construction of a wheelchair accessible washroom facility, said Seymour. Money will also be used to begin a beautification project along Conception Bay Highway (Route 70.)
The town will purchase new generators to ensure the warming centres are warm when need be, and will upgrade the pager system at the Bay Roberts Fire and Rescue Hall, as well as repair the roof of the fire hall.
Public Works will take on a number of projects, including, but not limited to, the straightening of the Shearstown intersection, continued expansion of curb and sidewalk along the main road in Shearstown, and the beginning of curb and sidewalk along Water Street.
“In addition to this, significant money has been budgeted to replace and repair lift stations throughout the town,” said Seymour. “We currently operate over 40 lift stations throughout the town, and I need everyone to adhere to the protocols regarding what exactly should be going into our sewer systems. These lift stations are costly to repair and they can have severe consequences to residents when they fail.”
The town will also buy several new pick up trucks to replace older ones, and to clean all those new sidewalks, and old, the town will purchase a sidewalk sweeper plow attachment.
The town is committing half a million dollars to road improvements throughout town, the bulk of which will go towards paving. This is in addition to the new pavement that will come with the various capital works projects council hopes to complete.
And while acknowledging it wasn’t a budgeted item, Seymour said the issue of Route 70 deserved to be mentioned.
“This road services the commercial needs of our town, but surrounding communities as well,” said Seymour. “Its current condition is not acceptable. This council has agreed to actively lobby the provincial government to address this issue.”
Seymour concluded by allowing it was an expensive agenda, but one that will improve the lives of residents.
He said the bulk of the work will be paid through collection of taxes.
“It is to the benefit of all residents to pay your taxes, so I would urge everyone in our town to do so in a timely manner,” he said.
To that end, the town will continue to offer a five percent discount to folks who pay their taxes in full before the March 31, 2022 deadline, and a 10 precent discount for seniors doing the same. Seymour said town staff will work with those who are struggling financially to craft a manageable payment plan.
“That being said, delinquent accounts will be treated as such, and a failure to address them could result in a disruption of services, something which no one wants to see, or tax sales, where the circumstance warrant,” warned Seymour. “For residents living outside our municipal boundary who rely on Bay Roberts Fire and Rescue for fire protection services, it is essential that fees for the service be paid in a timely manner. The town has already reached out to Eastern Waste Services to get an updated residential list. Of note, commercial properties in these areas will see an increase in fees.”
He finished off his speech with a quote from current U.S. president Joe Biden.
“’Don’t tell me what you value, show me what you budget, and I’ll tell you what you value,’” Seymour quoted. “Anyone looking at this budget can clearly see our priorities.”
He noted in closing that the budget is a living document, and they have flexibility should a given situation call for changes to be made.
The budget speech was Seymour’s first.
Long serving councilor Dean Franey noted it was the ninth budget he has heard as a member of council, and that it gets both harder and easier each year to approve budgets.
Franey felt this one will please residents.
Mayor Walter Yetman said the budget was balanced, hitting key points across a wide spectrum. He said it was unfortunate the town was revenue neutral, meaning that there was no new source of income over and above last year.
“We’re depending on tax payments to be able to do these things that we want to do, so it’s very important, as the deputy mayor highlighted,” said Yetman. “Tax paying is vitally, vitally important to the running of this town and doing the things we want to do.”
On a personal note, Yetman jokingly thanked the deputy mayor for using a large font for the budget speech printouts, as he had left his reading glasses at home.