CommunityCouncilTop Story

Paradise balances budget by learning to ‘do more with less’

By Mark Squibb/December 23, 2021

Paradise councilor and administration and corporate services committee chairperson Elizabeth Laurie said she was pleased Tuesday to present a balanced budget of $39.4 million, with no changes to residential or commercial mil rates or fees, holding them steady at 7.2 for houses and 11.5 for businesses respectively.

But balancing the budget did not come without challenges.

“In 2020, property assessments decreased, and that meant, without an increase to the mil rates, we were faced with decreased revenues going into the 2021 budget,” said Laurie. “However, the Town received $1.2 million in COVID-19 stimulus funding, and it enabled us to offset the lower property assessments. As we prepare Budget 2022, property assessments have not changed, but the stimulus funding was a one-time allocation, and is not available this budget cycle.”

Laurie went on to explain that town staff were tasked with finding improvements and efficiencies in day-to-day operations.

“Through the continuous improvement program, we are able to do more with less, and did not have to make any changes to mil rates or fees for Budget 2022,” said Laurie.

On the spending side, the Town will begin work to replace the lift station at the corner of St. Thomas Line and Topsail Road next year. That lift station made headlines back in August 2019, when it malfunctioned, causing sewage to spew onto a nearby home. Pumper trucks were called in to haul sludge waste from the site around the clock, at a cost of about $50,000 a day.

“It will be a multi-year, $12 million project and this year we are allocating $6 million to begin the design and construction of the new facility,” said Laurie. “We have received funding from the federal and provincial government towards this project and we certainly appreciate the financial support. The lift station is one of the largest in the province, and a modern facility is an investment that will serve our residents for decades to come.”

The town was also able to allocate $500,000 to the asset management reserve fund, bringing the fund total to just over $2.1 million.

In 2022, Paradise will complete water and sewer on Moonlight Drive, as well as Stephens Road and Neary Road. The town has also secured provincial and federal funding to complete water and sewer for Windmill Road and Bayview Heights are next in line on the priority list. Phase I of the Evergreen Village infrastructure upgrades will also continue in 2022 with new water and sewer infrastructure. The town is also allocating $1 million for the annual street rehabilitation program, and will also be investing in more snow clearing, adding both more equipment and more staff, beginning in the fall of 2022.

The Town is also cracking down on speeding and illegal ATV use. Traffic calming measures at Elizabeth Park Elementary and Octagon Pond Elementary will become permanent. Along trails, the town will install chicanes (artificial narrowing or turning of the trail) near intersections to help reduce speeds on the trail. Municipal enforcement officers will also do foot and cycling patrols, and have a larger presence throughout the town.

Laurie reminded council, and those listening at home, that municipal enforcement officers have the ability to issue tickets for illegal ATV use, parking infractions and snow clearing violations.

For businesses, the Town will continue to cover the membership fees for any Paradise business wishing to join either the Mount Pearl Paradise or Conception Bay Area Chambers of Commerce. The town will also launch the Business Concierge Program, which is designed to help new and existing businesses with the application and development processes. That program was expected to launch in 2020, but was delayed due to COVID. In 2022, the town hopes to complete design work for a Water Storage Tank for Neil’s Pond Ridge.

Under the banner of social and cultural health, the town will work to make Paradise more accessible.

“As we work to make Paradise accessible for all, the Coalition for Persons with Disabilities NL (COD-NL) has been an invaluable resource for us,” said Laurie. “They share best practices with us, provide us with the latest research, and help us prioritize our accessibility work. As part of that, COD-NL completed an accessibility audit of the Town… in Budget 2022, we are allocating funds to begin the needed work. The first phase is the renovations of the washroom facilities in the Town Hall to make them accessible for all who enter the building, staff and visitors.”

On the recreation side, the town will develop a Master Plan for Paradise Park.

“The Open Space and Recreation Master Plan outlined the benefits of completing such a strategy for Paradise Park and we look forward to doing that work next year,” said Laurie. “We had planned for this project in 2020, but as with a few other projects, it was deferred as part of our COVID-19 response. We are pleased to have this project back on the forefront and to get it started in 2022. Public engagement will be paramount in developing that plan and we want to hear from our residents and community groups about their ideas, suggestions and programming opportunities for the park.”

Phase 1 of Elizabeth Park will begin in 2022, while the Woodstock Gardens playground is expected to be completed.

The town will also be investing in a new recreational amenity— a community boathouse at Octagon Pond.

“Our Recreation and Open Space Master Plan identified the potential for offering water activities and having a facility at the popular pond,” said Laurie. “The Town had the opportunity to acquire the property at 1717 Topsail Road, and we immediately recognized the potential the site could have as a community facility, including being the home for the Avalon Dragons. This fall, the current structure was removed from the location and as part of that work, crews did remove any items from the building that can be re-purposed for other uses. In the coming year, we will undertake concept development for the site, and we welcome input from our residents and community groups about the types of amenities we should explore for the area.”

Under the banner of environmental stewardship, the Town will install an electric vehicle charging station at the town hall. The town will also undertake a public information campaign to educate residents about the importance of modern waste management. That campaign was originally scheduled for 2020 but was delayed due to the pandemic.

The town in 2022 will also begin design work for secondary treatment at the Wastewater Treatment Plant on St. Thomas Line.

“Under federal legislation, the Town is required to have secondary treatment at these types of facilities,” said Laurie. “In meeting federal requirements, we are also supporting our goals to preserve biodiversity and create a healthy ecosystem, helping to reduce waste going into Conception Bay. Upgrading the Wastewater Treatment Plant will be a multiyear, $18 million project and we will receive federal and provincial funding towards that cost. In the coming years, the Town will also contribute its share to a multi-million-dollar project for secondary treatment at the regional Riverhead facility (in St. John’s), as that will also have to meet federal regulations.”

In a bid to increase transparency, the town will publish the minutes of committee meetings on the town’s website.

Laurie took a moment to advise residents of some changes coming to the Senior’s Discount on property taxes.

“The discount will remain in effect, but in order to be compliant with the Municipalities Act, Council must make changes to the way it is applied,” said Laurie. “Next year, we will research best practices, exploring needs-based models, and develop a policy which benefits those residents who need it most. We anticipate the changes coming for the 2023 taxation year, and we will notify those residents who are affected by the program.”

Looking at the numbers overall, about 81 percent of the town’s revenue is expected to come from taxes next year (about $31.8 million). Of that, about 46 percent (about $18 million) is expected to come from residential taxes. Transportation services takes the largest single chunk of the town’s anticipated expenses, coming in at 21 percent (just over $8 million,) and includes vehicle operation and maintenance, roads and sidewalks, snow removal, public transit, and streetlights and traffic lights.

The budget was presented and approved unanimously during the December 21 public meeting of council, the last meeting of 2021.

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