Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador hoping for government attention with solutions platform

·4 min read

Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador (NML) has a message for politicians ahead of the Feb. 13 provincial election.

MNL wants those vying for election to remember that municipal problems are provincial problems.

To help with that message, the group has released its municipal solutions platform, which identifies current problems facing the 275 municipalities it represents and offers some solutions to those problems.

“We have to take a hard look at how we do things,” said MNL advocacy director Deatra Walsh. “This is something we’ve talked about for some time.”

The platform is propped up by four main pillars that make up several issues that towns are looking to find solutions for.

They are regionalization, a seat at the table, municipal fiscal stability and innovative infrastructure.

“These are sort of at the core of a lot of what MNL has been doing with respect to advocacy, I would say, even for the last decade if not longer,” said Walsh.

Having a seat at the table is perhaps the key to all of what they are suggesting. MNL believes that having the ear of the provincial government is key for their members.

It would lead to plausible solutions as the towns in the province have a say in their futures.

“We want to see solutions advancing and we want to have conversations about what those solutions are and should be, and to take them to the next step,” said Walsh.

While the municipal solutions platform was made available on Jan. 21, the group will continue to roll out specific releases highlighting each of their pillars and the smaller aspects that make up the larger picture each week leading up to election day.

This week, MNL released information on municipal fiscal stability. In it, the group indicates municipalities currently do not have the right revenue tools available to them to be sustainable.

The majority of revenue for municipalities comes from property taxes, which comprise over 70 per cent of the money towns bring in.

In its platform, MNL indicates that, according to research, communities can increase their budgets by 16 per cent if they receive a one per cent transfer from the province's portion of the HST.

“It would mean a significant amount of money for Grand Falls-Windsor, which would allow us to do so much more,” said Grand Falls-Windsor Coun. Amy Coady-Davis, who serves as the central director with MNL. “We could increase our pavement requirements, we could provide more services, we could upgrade infrastructure quicker.”

Many communities in the province struggle with aging infrastructure.

It is part of the reason why municipalities hope the next provincial government can embrace innovation to solve that problem.

The thought is that through innovating techniques, towns may be able to address infrastructure challenges before they break, such as replacing old water lines before they spring a leak or stripping old pavement before it starts to crack.

“A lot of that is fixing problems instead of coming up with new and innovative ideas and investing money in that,” said Coady-Davis. “So that we can kind of grow and develop.”

The topic of regionalization in the province isn’t a new one. It is something that has been bandied about for the last several years.

Of the 275 communities that fall under the MNL banner, 75 per cent have fewer than 1,000 residents. More than half have populations of less than 500 people.

And those populations are getting older.

Addressing the challenges towns face with maintaining the proper level of services while their tax base is shrinking becomes more pressing every year.

Regionalization would allow small communities in proximity to each other to share the cost of services and increase their tax base.

Botwood Mayor Scott Sceviour can see the benefits in a regional approach by multiple towns, especially when it comes to making things better for residents.

He points to being able to share human resources and offer more to residents in all areas. It can allow towns to focus on particular areas and help each other, he said.

“It can only strengthen communities going forward,” said Sceviour.

Nicholas Mercer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Central Voice