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Holyrood councillors react to online critics

By Craig Westcott/February 10, 2023

Holyrood residents who are upset about tax and fee increases have caught the attention of council, but it doesn’t appear Mayor Gary Goobie or his colleagues are prepared to back down.

The complaints being raised by some residents were addressed several times during council’s meeting on Tuesday, first during the mayor’s update on an operational review being conducted by consultant Pat Curran & Associates.

“The Town of Holyrood has engaged Pat Curran & Associates to conduct a review and prepare a long term operational and strategic plan that balances providing sustainable and reliable services that meet resident expectations with the Town’s financial resources and capacity,” said Goobie, reading from a prepared statement.

Council’s operational review committee met with Curran on February 2 to review the scope of the project. The committee includes Goobie and councillors Steve Winsor, Bruce King and Curtis Buckle.

 Goobie said the review will include extensive consultations and research.

“In the coming days and weeks, the consultant will initiate interviews with key internal stakeholders including senior management, department heads and staff, along with external stakeholders among our key partners,” said the mayor. “Focus group sessions are planned with business, heritage, and seniors, along with the volunteer fire department and others. A public online survey will allow residents and others to provide feedback and input into the review. A public engagement session will be held as well.”

Curran will also review the Town Plan and development regulations as well as Holyrood’s operating policies and procedures. 

“This, in addition to a jurisdictional scan of two to three like municipalities, and research in best practice service benchmarks, will enable a comparative assessment of the Town’s service offering and configuration with that of others,” Goobie said. “Everybody pretty much in the community will be able to have an opportunity to have their input, express their issues, concerns, ideas and whatnot.”

The mayor then acknowledged that council has received about a dozen e-mails and pieces of correspondence about the budget. Because some of them are lengthy, Goobie said he wouldn’t read them out at the meeting, in the interests of time. “But I just want to say they are being tabled, they’re entered into the public record, and they have been duly noted,” he said.

The subject of online criticism of the budget arose again during an update by public safety committee chairman, councillor Bruce King, who addressed barbs that have been directed at the fire department and its spending. King was the sole councillor to oppose the Town’s tax increases during budget time, but agreed to move forward with the plan once it was adopted.

“If you want to criticize us (council), that’s fine,” said King. “You’re not going to hurt my feelings. When I joined the military, the first thing they asked me for was my feelings. And I don’t think they ever did give them back. So they’re not going to hurt my feelings. But I don’t like it when somebody says stuff about the fire department and especially more so when it’s not true. It needs to be corrected.”

King said Holyrood’s volunteer firefighters are highly qualified and it takes extensive training to reach those qualification levels. Training costs money, he added.

“I would venture to guess that if you put the Holyrood Fire Department up against any fire service on the island of comparable size they would beat them hands down,” King said. “And you talk about, ‘Well, why do you need all these people?’ You need these people because of safety.”

King also dismissed criticisms that taking in Deer Park on the Salmonier Line will leave Holyrood vulnerable if the brigade has to answer a call there. “The fire chief is very, very competent,” said King. “He is not going to send all the fire services to Deer Park and leave Holyrood unprotected.”

King then pointed to a front page Shoreline story last week about how a Holyrood volunteer firefighter helped save a teammate’s life during a rec hockey game at Bob French Memorial Stadium. Those life saving skills, he noted, were learned at the Holyrood fire department.

That’s when Mayor Goobie, himself a retired professional firefighter, who began his career as a volunteer with the Holyrood department, jumped in. He too praised firefighter Mark Maloney for leading the efforts during the crucial minutes available to save the man who was suffering a heart attack.

“They gave that man back his life,” said Goobie.

“I can take a lot on the chin,” said the mayor. “I’m not literally broad, but I’ve got broad shoulders. And that’s why we’re here as a council. We take the good, the bad and the ugly. We make tough decisions when the tough decisions have to be made, which we just had to do (on the budget). But the buck stops when they start picking on our local fire department. That’s down in the gutter… I’ve received e-mails from people who were trying to micro analyze and ask more questions about the operation of the fire department. And they are a dedicated team that just can’t get enough training… They’re doing this on their own time…

“Like I said, everything that’s going on now with the budget, I understand. And we understand people’s frustration. We understand, we get it loud and clear. We expected this. But this is why we’re here. We’re not here to make politically popular decisions, we’re here to make the right decisions, and responsible decisions to keep this town functioning in a safe, reliable and effective manner. But let me assure everybody – you don’t go near the fire department. Leave them out of it. Because that is not fair game. Any other criticism, fire it my way, fire it our way. We will deal with it; we will address it as we’re doing now with all of these letters that came in this evening. We will deal with it. And we’re trying to deal with it. And I tell you it’s difficult on council. It’s difficult on our families, very difficult. We have councillors around this table with small children, and teenagers who can see it in the councillor’s eyes. They can see that they’re being affected by it. That’s just something for everybody to think about. We’re here for the common good of this community. I’m here 23 years giving my heart and soul to this town. Councillor Sadie King is in there 26 years giving her heart and soul to this community. We’re not here for ourselves. We’re here to do what’s right and to make our community a community that people can feel proud of. And we had to spend literally millions of dollars over the last several years to upgrade the facilities and the infrastructure in this town that was falling down around us. Go up to Holy Cross Park. A beautiful facility. They’re coming there in the thousands in the summertime. Go over on the boardwalk. I’ve spoken to people there from everywhere, all over the world this summer. It’s beautiful. They love it. But what was it like before? You had to straddle around broken boards. We had to close down George Cove Mountain because it was rotted. And the list goes on and on and on and on. We had to invest millions. So, when it’s called into question about our loans and all this kind of stuff, yeah, we’ll justify it, no problem. No problem at all. It’s not for ourselves. It’s investing money back into our community.

Goobie said council is also trying to give Holyrood facilities, such as the new soccer field, that people have been requesting for years.

“And times will get better,” said the mayor. “We will pay down our debt. This is an unprecedented year, as we all know. We did not want to make that tough decision (to increase taxes). We did not want to do it. We tried everything reasonably possible to avoid it. But like councillor Sadie King said, we’ve stretched this so far that the elastic band was ready to bust, and when it does, that means you’re compromising the quality and level of services of our residents. And when that plow doesn’t show up when you’re waiting to go to work at 7 o’clock in the morning, and you can’t get out, you’re going to question that. ‘Where is it to?’ ‘It’s in the garage.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Oh, because the blade is gone. It should have been replaced.’ … So be fair about it. Just be fair, that’s all we’re asking, and leave the fire department alone, leave the volunteers out of this.”

In her communications committee report, which followed the mayor’s impromptu remarks, councillor Laura Crawley said the Town will send a circular to all homes showing the projects it has financed in recent years and the amount of funding by each level of government.

Crawley allowed the mayor said much of what she had intended to say. 

“There are very valid e-mails coming in,” said Crawley, “with valid concerns, voicing opinions that are respectful and properly communicated through the proper channels.”

However, councillors are also getting e-mails with questions that could be easily answered if the person asking them tuned in to or attended council’s regular meetings, she added.

“We are being asked to host a public meeting (about the tax increases),” Crawley said. “We have a public meeting every four weeks. Everyone is welcome to come in to this public meeting every four weeks. We’ve seen e-mails or correspondence that says, ‘I’ve been here for 15 years, or 12 years or 20 years and I haven’t seen services improve.’ If you haven’t seen services in the town improve in 15 to 20 years, you are not living in this town. There is some disjoint there for sure… I strongly advise you to watch or come into the public meetings.”

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