By Mark Squibb/January 13, 2022
Conception Bay South Mayor Darrin Bent admits 2021 was a year of great contrasts.
“We’ve seen some fantastic improvements, leaps forward for our town, but we’ve also seen some things that have held us back,” Bent said.
One thing that stands out to him is the town’s continued growth, despite the pandemic.
“We know this because our building permits in 2021 increased by 40 percent in 2021” said Bent. “That’s compared to 2019, pre-COVID levels. And 2019 was a great year.”
He said 2021 saw over a hundred new housing starts and around 40 new business starts.
“And we know that more people are moving here because we saw about $100,000 in new revenue above budget projections for the year due to tax certificates, water and sewer connections, things that tell you you’re growing,” he explained.
In 2021, Bent said the town spent three quarters of a million on road rehabilitation, including sidewalks, a million dollars to upgrade Anchorage Road, and $2 million repairing storm damage to the Long Pond Harbour breakwater. Looking to the new year, Bent said council is extremely excited about two big upcoming projects; the continued work on the new library (which he estimates that, with another $3 million or so, will open later this year) and continued plans for a new community park, which he hopes will open in late summer or early fall, barring further supply chain issues. (Bent also said supply chain issues caused by COVID are to blame for the delay in installing crosswalk lights near the Manuel’s River Interpretation Centre.)
Beyond that, he said council is spending $4.25 million on new sidewalks in the coming year and $2.5 million to upgrade Mineral’s Road.
Unfortunately, Bent said, decreased property assessments means less revenue to put towards those projects.
“In 2021, we saw a decrease in property assessments, which meant that there’s $1.5 million less for us to spend,” said Bent. “It seems like we’re going to be faced with that again this coming year in 2022. So, we have to work hard again this year to make sure every dollar counts when you’re facing these sorts of challenges. But the growth gives us optimism for 2022 to overcome these financial hardships that we’ve seen in the past year.”
Bent admits COVID has hit with a wallop, and the Omicron variant is making town business challenging.
“We’re working really hard to ensure that we have the staff in place to provide the core services that people expect,” said Bent. “It’s very important of course that we continue to do that.”
He said despite the rise of Omicron cases, in part due to vaccine availability, most folks believe there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
This past year also was an election year, and that election brought about a number of changes to the council chambers.
Bent himself earned the right to the mayor’s chair after defeating former mayor Steve Tessier and mayoral contender Brad Suter.
“I think it’s a bit easier to take on the role of mayor with previous experience on council,” said Bent. “That’s one of the reasons I had never run before, that I wanted to ensure that I had the background, and I had the information, so it’s not a complete learning curve… The job of mayor is a different beast as well. It takes a lot more time, you are pulled in all directions, differently from a ward councilor of course. All town issues are your issues now. But it also allows you to push forward things that you want to see move forward in your town. You get to highlight a way forward for the future, you get to set the tone for your community. You get to allow the other municipalities and the province and the federal government to see what tone you’re setting for your community. I pride myself for setting a positive one.”
He also applauded his fellow members of council.
“We have a fantastic group around the council table,” said Bent. “It’s a really good group to work with, very thoughtful in bringing forward residents’ concerns and wanting to talk about them and to see how we can move forward in the best way possible for the benefit of the most people. And of course, when you’re dealing with a new council this early on you never know how it’s going to work… I think we’ve got maybe one of the best councils this town has ever had. They’re a great group and they’re experience will keep us in good stead over the next few years for sure.”
A number of residents may not share Bent’s glowing acclaim of council, as Bent himself admits there are still matters relating to the Long Pond Harbour development approval being appealed.
He said the friction between council and some residents over the project or any other project or application around town, ought not to be viewed as a conflict between council and residents.
“I don’t see it as a conflict,” said Bent. “I see residents using whatever means available to them to question and challenge council, as I think they should. I don’t think that council can move forward in any way with things without that input and without considering all sides. There are challenges that are before the appeal board, and I believe even the court in regards to the Long Pond development and they will play themselves out in those venues and whatever comes out the other end we will work with as a council.”
Council will hold its first meeting of the new year on January 18.