Municipal Election 2021 | Candidate Q&A
St. John’s Board of Trade members are highly engaged in municipal politics and have been sending questions and concerns our way leading up to the election. To this end, we asked our members what they wanted to know before casting their votes and sent two key questions along to the candidates.
Here’s what they shared:
Business owners in our city are constantly assessing and reacting to consumer demand and the needs of their business. We hear that sometimes the City is not as agile or efficient as is required for businesses to succeed. What commitment would you make to the business community to create an environment for efficient response time with, easy access to staff, and business friendly policies which will facilitate an improved environment for businesses to grow and succeed?
Candidates Response WARDS Mark Nichols (1) As I have never served on council, I can only commit myself to ongoing engagement with the business community, especially those businesses in my ward. Responsiveness is a core element of my approach to representation - if I were elected, I would treat the councillor role as a full-time job and respond expeditiously to any questions or issues raised by residents - and I extend that to council’s engagement with the business community. In consultation with the business community, I would look for ways to improve the business environment. Of course, any such improvements must be fiscally responsible and not come at the expense of the City’s core responsibilities to ALL residents of St. John’s. At the same time, many of my priorities - things that would improve life for St. John’s residents - would also benefit the local business community. For example, if you review my platform, you will see I am committed to mobility for all residents. People who are able to get around the city easily year-round, whether or not they own a car, are more likely to shop locally. If they find it difficult, they may simply not visit local restaurants and services and may opt for online-shopping over local retail. Derek Winsor (2) As a small business owner, I understand the demands of keeping on top of the demands of running a business. For myself, in the travel business, it is how to compete against the global discounted world of the internet and show the value associated with using my service and the local benefits to the community. The government at all levels have so many places that are inefficient and can be improved. Having worked in both government and private sector I think the biggest stumbling block is that individuals who work in the public sector see efficiency as a threat again their own job security. This is a mindset that needs to be removed and help people understand that the better you are at doing things the more secure your job will be. I do believe that we can reduce costs at City Hall without the consistent threat of job losses to the employees. Ophelia Ravencroft (2) As an individual, I have a commitment to open and transparent communication; businesses and residents alike will find me responsive when they come calling, and I will do whatever I can to ensure our system is, too. I'm certainly supportive of streamlining City processes to whatever extent is workable, with a particular eye to assisting small, local businesses and entrepreneurs, who often face real challenges engaging with our government. I've actually incorporated some of these ideas into my platform, for instance by promising to simplify the granting process for artists; for businesses, I'd take the lessons learned from tasks like that one and apply them to what I'm hearing are some awfully confusing regulations and processes. I'm also pledging to ensure the City uses every tool at our disposal to incentivise making sustainable, accessible space available for new entrepreneurs, whether through reducing existing vacancies or promoting thoughtful infill development, to name just a couple ideas. Peter Whittle (2) I am committed to reviewing and eliminating red tape which creates undue delays for businesses. There needs to be stricter published best standards for municipal services and applications.
There a number of business organizations in town (Rotaries, George Street, Small Business Association, Downtown St. John's, The Board Of Trade and a number of organizations that represent specific business sectors) which should be closely consulted with on a regular basis. The establishment of dedicated resources to assist businesses through the permitting and the application process. There must be productive collaboration. An economic development or planning committee would go a long way if it included business representation at the table regarding policy and economic planning.
An example that comes to mind of poor communication and planning is the situation faced by business in the downtown that have been impacted by the multi-year dig. Some businesses have been hit it large fees related to water and sewer hookups. Certainly the city had to expect that much of the old infrastructure connecting businesses to the main lines would be damaged by the blasting and structural changes in the infrastructure. Why could the city not have offered these businesses new hookups at discounted rates while the work was being completed. Instead the city recites the curb rule taking more money out of the hands of businesses impacted by COVID and the multi-year construction.
Small and large businesses are the lifeblood of our economy. There needs to be better communication as we partner to make our City a destination and a great place to live. Locally owned businesses play a central role and are the best engines that we have for advancing economic opportunity. They create jobs and stronger social networks. Business and city leaders must work together to facilitate smart-growth, doing more with less, building support for change and healthy city where no one is left behind. Social priorities cannot be marginalized.
I'd like to see an adaptive reuse program to turn vacant properties, particularly historic ones, into new businesses. There has to be a balance that is consistent when it comes to historic buildings in the historic heritage core.
Walter Harding (3) Communication and cooperation with our business partners and community has been lacking for some time when it comes to City Hall. There does exist an "Us vs Them" mentality at times and that has to be eliminated and replaced with a " We are all in this together " attitude. Streamlining processes and limiting red tape has to be a focus of our new council and regardless of the make-up, our council must lead the way in fostering and developing a new and supportive environment and approach with our business community. Jamie Korab (3) The City has committed to a continuous improvement process. Part of the focus is on the development and permit application process in trying to speed this up. This is something I want to see continue and improve. The Envision St. john's Municipal Plan, Heritage by-law and new development regulations helps give clarity to businesses and residents. Things like the dedicated staff member for the water street. The City is in the process of overhauling the website. This is something I've been pushing for since being on council. We have to make it easier for residents and business to find what they need. I'm a firm believer that small business is one of the main drivers of the economy. We as a city have to do what we can to help current and new businesses. Greg Noseworthy (3) Government is like a stop light - we only react when a car pulls up to the light and then change based on traffic backing up. This is true of many of our policies. COVID has been a global issue for approximately 18 months and we know that there are going to be numerous struggles within the business community. By acting now, I am committed to instituting policies and programs that allow for more easy to navigate commercial development. Too often businesses are waiting on permits to begin their developments, open shops, or even just simply have an occupancy permit of a facility. This needs to change at a city level and councilors need to demonstrate the importance of this so that when local businesses are seeking to open, expand, or simply respond to troubles like COVID, they can. This means finding out what other municipalities are doing, how we can compete with them, and make St. John's a more attractive destination for businesses to set up shop.
With an evidenced based approach of examining how other municipalities in NL have effectively responded, such as the Town of CBS removing administrative costs for permits in 2020, I am committed to finding ways to stimulate the local economy and facilitate an improved environment for our businesses to succeed in St. John's. I am committed to making our city a competitive municipality for business growth and development in Newfoundland and Labrador, Atlantic Canada, and beyond.
Scott Fitzgerald (5) One of the main points in my platform relates to improving and streamlining services that the City provides. St. John's is competing with other jurisdictions in providing a place for businesses to set up shop and continue to operate. We must do everything we can to provide an easy and predictable user experience to show businesses we value them. I've heard of the idea of creating service level agreements between the City and it's citizens and businesses. I think this is practical and transparent and lets businesses and citizens know what to expect. Carl Ridgeley (5) The city of St. John’s has to be committed to growing the economy, and making it easier to do business in the city is one way to accomplish this goal. The city must modernize its regulatory environment by improving the quality of existing regulations and reducing red tape. Departments must streamline processes and ensure regulations, while necessary, are effective for the city as well as businesses and residents. Modernizing regulations that are unnecessarily complex, outdated and/or redundant, benefits the entire community by removing barriers and therefore enhances economic growth. The city must make this a priority and recognize that this would not be a one-time initiative but an ongoing process. This regulatory review must also be accompanied by a commitment to enhance “customer service” generally.
The key to accomplishing these initiatives starts with consultations. The city has done significant work in recent years to enhance public engagement. In 2017, the city released an evaluation of its engagement policy with twelve recommendations. All of these recommendations need to be actioned in order to enhance the consultation process. To engage residents and businesses (particularly small businesses) who are often excluded, opportunities for consultation must be convenient. The use of technology (e.g., videoconferencing, ZOOM) would help facilitate convenience and be welcomed by all. In certain cases consultations must also be targeted to specific community stakeholder groups and in this case The St. John’s Board of Trade would be integral to this process.
AT LARGE Maggie Burton This is a major and consistent concern of the business community. As the Planning and Development Lead, I have worked hard to try to ensure that the development permit approval process is as smooth, transparent, and responsive as possible, including by waiving development fees. I have also tried to ensure that I am personally available and responsive to members of the business community and other constituents. Finally, I have supported the City's continuous improvement processes, which aim to identify and correct shortfalls over time. Over the next four years, I will continue to work to streamline processes in my areas of responsibility, to be personally available and responsive, and to support a culture of continuous improvement. Tom Davis The city's job is to serve its taxpayers in a fashion that meets the taxpayer's needs. Never before has the fate of so many hung in the balance. Many businesses are hanging by their fingernails and I believe that the true impacts of Covid-19 and climate change have not been felt economically due to the unprecedented borrowing and money creation by both the provincial and federal governments. As a business owner who has operated within the city for 27 years, I understand the challenges and barriers presented by red tape. I will commit to being a strong voice for all residents and especially the business community because ultimately that is where much of the revenue all governments rely upon comes from either directly or indirectly. We need as many to survive as possible and we need to further create a business-friendly environment. Debbie Hanlon I appreciate the work that the St. John’s Board of Trade does in our community — in particular in connecting different businesses operating in the City. Personally, I always try to be accessible and available to residents, community organizations and businesses within the City. I pride myself in responding to messages and requests in a timely fashion.
As a small business owner within the city for the past 30 years, I truly can empathize with businesses experiencing these issues. I will continue to work to improve the engagement piece and the communication lines between the City, its residents and our hardworking business owners and operators. Time and effective communication is essential when you operate a business. Waiting for responses to important inquiries can cause financial challenges for businesses. I know very well that time is extremely valuable.
While there have been many improvements made at City Hall over the last few years, there is always room for improved efficiencies. I would like to see the implementation of a full-time business ombudsman who will act as a liaison between local businesses and City Hall — a dedicated full time person that businesses can reach out to if they experienceissues when dealing with City Hall. The City has increased engagement within the business community, however I believe there’s room for improvement and I will continue to work with my council colleagues, staff and business owners to improve communications, streamline processes and simplify the whole engagement experience.
Sandy Hickman I have stated in my platform that I am supportive of business and business development. The City must be the catalyst to business growth. Expanding the tax base is a logical way to counter the need to increase taxes. This happened organically during the strong economic years but hasn’t been so in the past several. We must open up, simplify city processes and continue with a fair tax regime for business. Red tape reduction is a catch phrase but an important one and the City has committed to this over the past few years through its continuous improvement program. But I feel it hasn’t moved forward quickly and I intend, if elected, to lead a further review of City processes, inspections, permitting and approvals. Meghan Hollett Our local businesses are an essential part of the economic and social fabric of our city. These are the places we frequent with our friends and family, that employ our neighbours and that keep our economy moving forward. Communication with the business community is key to building an economic environment that is beneficial to everyone.
Through my work with local non-profits and as the Chair of Happy City St. John’s, I’ve seen firsthand the importance of robust engagement with stakeholders and the consequences for all of us when that engagement is lacklustre. I’m committed to serving as an accessible, transparent councillor and want to foster an environment where anyone, whether they are a resident, business owner or community group, feels they have access to the resources and supports they need to thrive in this city.
I believe the regulatory environment for businesses operating in the city must not be a one-way street but part of the ongoing consultative process of engagement. There are various outlets for these discussions, including the advisory committees, expert panels, outside boards, and of course meetings with representatives. I want to ensure our local businesses can thrive, support economic activity in our city and continue to be a source of good jobs for our residents.
Mark House I am fully committed to working collaboratively with the business community. Supporting local business is one of the cornerstones of my campaign and I intend to focus on creating open and honest channels of communication with vendors. I endorse the creation of business friendly policies that provide active support for long-term small business survival with with an eye toward future growth. I also recognize there is a lot of bureaucracy between businesses and government. This red tape must be cut and the amount of time to move forward on business ventures must be shortened. A forward thinking measure would be to develop more online resources to speed up response times. A healthy business community is the lifeblood of our city and I want to be part of ensuring businesses are supported appropriately.
I advocate for:
- Greater business diversity that ensures independent, neighbourhood-serving businesses don’t get crowded out by chains.
- An Adaptive Reuse Program to help local businesses turn vacant historic buildings into new businesses.
- I am a huge supporter of Buy Local and I also support initiatives to accelerate the growth of minority-owned businesses.
Steve Parsons I am committed to supporting the business community of St. John's and ensuring that all that can be done by the city is done to enable an easy facilitation of the processes required by the city for their operation. I would welcome input from the current President and will seek input from the past President, who is a close acquaintance, on what they would like to see. I would envision a type of one stop 'clearing house' dept. where any and all business permits, registrations, inspections etc could be co-ordinated by a specialized group to ensure rapidity of service and turnaround time. The city should have these individuals currently within the organization who could be 'specialists' and be knowledgeable enough to accomplish this task. I'm very interested in hearing the board's ideas and I'm sure something could easily be configured with their aims addressed and satisfied. Jess PuddisterIt is critical to the economic and social development of our city that municipal systems are designed so that businesses have what they need to develop and thrive within our city's limits. Specifically, I am committed to supporting businesses through the following policies:
1) Updating zoning to better support the development of mixed-used neighbourhoods and limit sprawl, which includes incentives and support the development of small businesses in mixed-use neighbourhoods.
2) Updating home-based business approval requirements and staff-level application processing to better support start-ups.
3) Implementing a season extension to the Downtown Pedestrian Mall from June 1 to January 1 to support more sustained food traffic for those downtown businesses.
4) Providing tax incentives for businesses that serve as third places within existing dense neighbourhoods (e.g. coffee shops, pubs, restaurants, corner stores, etc.)
5) Supporting more frequent transit services, smaller buses based on populations, and nighttime bus routes that support increased access to businesses for consumers and employees.
6) Implementing permanent infrastructure to support the Downtown Pedestrian Mall; i.e. the redevelopment of the parking lot adjacent to Solomon's Lane to become a public square, and gates/bollards to reduce the cost of security personnel.
We know the City is projecting a significant deficit for the 2022 budget, for months the St. John’s Board of Trade has been advocating that businesses are already on the brink of collapse and cannot absorb any sort of tax increase to shoulder this burden. Businesses and residents should not be in a position where they have to absorb tax increases when they can least afford it. While the exact amount of a projected 2022 deficit was not known, this issue was well understood by the City early in 2021, so lack of time cannot be a reason for tax increases. What are you going to do to ensure businesses and residents of the City of St. John’s are not going to experience unaffordable tax increases?
Candidate Response WARDS Mark Nichols (1) I recognize the challenging fiscal realities faced by the City at this time. My focus during the budget process will be on providing/maintaining/improving what I consider to be CORE responsibilities of the City. My fifteen years experience as a parish priest has made me adept at maximizing benefit with finite financial resources. I will bring that skillset to city council and the budgeting process. I cannot rule out modest tax increases if that is the only way to provide core services to all residents, but that is not my preference and would be a last resort, and would be coupled with a commitment to value for money. I view responsible stewardship of City resources as a central obligation for any councillor, and it is a key point in my platform. Derek Winsor (2) I don't think I can say for certain how I would deal with the ongoing deficit facing the city except to say we need to bring all parties to the table and place the cards on the table and see what we all can do to shuffle the deck so that we can all achieve our goal of maintaining service level without disrupting businesses and the homeowner taxpayer. I will say I don't have the magic solution but I am sure we can find it together. Ophelia Ravencroft (2) As stated in my platform, I'll work to avoid tax increases if it's possible to do so while maintaining proper service levels. However, my promise to citizens isn't so much around whether taxes are collected or not, but what we do with the money that is received. I believe our City has been shortchanging residents and businesses alike by taking in tax revenue and not properly delivering services that help all of us. When our government leaves gaps in services, residents are obligated to fill in those gaps themselves, which leaves less money and time for them to support local businesses. Fixing that problem means focusing on things like infrastructure maintenance, snow clearing, affordable housing, and public transit - all of which make life more affordable and livable for many citizens. In turn, this keeps money in their pockets, and free time in their calendar, that can be reinvested in our local economy. My commitment, then, is to ensure that any tax increases occurring under my watch are tied directly to the proper provision of municipal services. This way, we can all ensure we make the most of our resources. Peter Whittle (2) A very good question. Throughout this campaign, I have been raising the issue of municipal finances. Every issue that people discuss from affordable housing, a stronger social network, better snow clearing to the operation of recreational infrastructure all depend on one vital factor - funding. The City of St. John's must balance its spending every year. They are not permitted to carry a deficit, which means tough choices have to be made. What are our priorities? What is core? How do we shelter the most vulnerable? Every time I have raised this important issue, groups have been quick to suggest I want to cut programs. No, I want to find balance. Make the Federal and Provincial governments pay their full freight and learn to spend smarter with less.
I understand that the city has a reserve fund for lean times and look forward to learning more about it. As the chair of the finance committee of the NLESD which has nearly a billion budget, I learned a great deal about setting priorities. I will maintain a clear view of all the city’s needs - business, social and economic. Greater awareness of the challenges that appear to have been glossed over in this campaign must be discussed, residents have to know exactly what the shortfalls are and help engage in deciding priorities. I would certainly request an independent review to determine the operational effectiveness of the city before looking at any model of increased taxation. We also need to come to better financial arrangements with both the provincial and federal governments that reflect the hole in operating budgets caused by Covid. The province has a constitutional responsibility for municipalities - big and small. While many are employed by the provincial government, the tax benefits are shared throughout the North East Avalon right out to the Bay Roberts area. The province has to assist in a much bigger way with maintaining infrastructure that supports its operations like water and sewer. The provincial government does not provide a grant in lieu of taxes. I'd like to see that change. I'd like to utilize business expertise to help overcome challenges and achieve strategic objectives.
In short, the new council has tough choices to make. It is disingenuous to suggest anything different. The city needs to increase revenues or reduce the cost of operations. Ideally, a mixture would take it to a balanced budget.Council has to reduce operational costs, increase revenues before it considers dipping into the pockets of business or the residential taxpayers.
Walter Harding (3) As for taxation and possible increases, that is an absolute non-starter for me.
We must at every turn keep disposable income dollars in the pockets of residents, business owners and staff. Over-taxation stifles local economies, places undo pressures on residents and businesses and buries those who are already struggling. Our small businesses are " the little engine that must " and increasing taxes for them is an absolute No-No.
We as a council must find ways to do more work less, stretch every dollar, stop throwing money at consultants every 3 weeks and spend tax dollars much more efficiently. Our residents and business owners are to be supported, not burdened.
Jamie Korab (3) Before my time on council in 2016, Council and staff did a major restructuring with staff, services and layoffs through the program review. Last year our council did something similar. We had some layoffs; some services were impacted. I can say in doing this process, there wasn't much meat left on the bone to cut. We need to engage residents and businesses. If we don't increase the MIL rate, we will have to look at services we don't want to provide, to we scale some back? Do we eliminate them? Maybe they're better provided by private sector? A MIL rate increase might not mean more taxes if the property value goes down. Give there is only one MIL rate, there will be some fair better than others. This isn't a perfect method, but it's the only one we have under legislation.
As you know, we have to balance the budget. This isn't easy give the current economic climate we're in. I full recognize how hard it’s been on residents and businesses over the last 18-months. I want to make sure whatever decisions the new councils has to make has these groups in mind.
Greg Noseworthy (3) After the Second World War, Keynesian economic policy dominated post-war economic stimulus. The idea is simple, keep taxes low and maintain appropriate spending so that the economy will be stimulated to create jobs and opportunities for economic growth. This in turn will allow for a more diverse tax pool without needlessly targeted cash-strapped residents and businesses. This method was vital to post-war recovery, has been proven to be effective, and can be applied in the post-COVID world. While this theory must be nuanced to meet the standards of 2021, we can take this approach to keep money in the hands of those who need it, and will spend it locally, to help stimulate our local economy.
By keeping taxes low the city will help businesses to stay afloat and to stay in St. John's, as opposed to Mt. Pearl, Torbay, etc. By incentivising St. John's as a destination, as opposed to neighbouring communities, we will have more commercial properties that generate tax revenues for our city, encourage residents to spend money locally, and stimulate development in St. John's. This will, in turn, keep our tax base stable for years to come. Overcoming a deficit will not happen overnight, and we need to understand that this is a longer-term game. It will not happen immediately. By encouraging development, not hampering it, we can ensure that over time our deficit will be eliminated and that city services can be maintained and not disrupted.
Scott Fitzgerald (5) I agree that we must do whatever we can to find efficiencies and reduce our costs. We cannot put tax increases on businesses or homeowners. We have to work with City staff and unions to find ways to trim the roughly 4% needed to balance the budget. I believe it can be done. Carl Ridgeley (5) To the best of my knowledge, the city is projecting a $13 million deficit for Budget 2021 and this is a structural deficit, which must be addressed not only this year but in subsequent years. As you are aware budget preparation/consultations started a number of months ago and I would not have been privy to those discussions. That said, I do have some thoughts on the city’s budget this year and into the future. First of all, tax increases, either residential or commercial, should be seen as a last resort. In particular, this year is not the year for any tax increases given what residents, and in particular businesses, have gone through with the COVID-19 pandemic. Other solutions must be found to address this deficit.
Coming out of Budget 2019 there was a $13.9 million surplus. That coupled with previous surpluses resulted in a net surplus of $22.2 million. Budget 2020 was balanced by using $12 million of this surplus as well as introducing a series of cuts and fee increases. Budget 2021 subsequently used an additional $7.1 million form the surplus. Using revenue from a surplus is a band aid that addresses the situation for one year, longer term solutions need to be found. Using the remaining surplus funds should be seriously considered for Budget 2022 to address the deficit. The city also received $5.8 million in relief for snowmageddan, $6.4 million from the federal government Safe Restart Agreement and recently announced it will receive $9.6 million from the federal gas tax (up from $4.8 million from the previous year). Solutions must be found to address this year’s deficit and tax increases must not be on the table.
On a go forward basis, the city must be proactive and aggressive in addressing future budgets. The last time the city took a deep dive into the budget was for Budget 2016. At that time almost $19 million was removed from the operating budget. It is time for the city to conduct an extensive review again. I am supportive of a line by line review and the city adopting a “zero-based budgeting” approach. In conducting this review the city also needs to consider what is core to its mandate and what is “nice to do”. Not to say some of the “nice to do” things should be discontinued but it is a matter of priorities and what’s specific to the city’s mandate and responsibilities.
In conclusion, my answer to the first question on regulatory reform also addresses the budget question. The suggested actions would enhance economic growth and there result in additional revenue for the city.
AT LARGE Maggie Burton I believe that, with wisdom and good fortune, the City should be able to improve service levels without increasing tax bills. Some of the funding will be found through efficiencies: the continuous improvement process is working, staff haven’t been getting wage increases, etc. Some of it will come from better priorities: after decades of funnelling capital investment into new arterial roads that promote sprawl and increase costs, I hope we’ve turned the corner and will start using our capital budget to improve our existing City footprint.
When I talk about not increasing tax bills, I mean that the average tax bill shouldn’t increase in dollars and cents. A lot of councillors and commentators instead talk about the mil rate. I believe that focusing on the mil rate is part of why St. John’s taxes got so high. Between 2001 and 2016, average tax bills almost doubled, measured by inflation-adjusted dollars. But the “mil rate” fell by about 40%, so Council acted as if taxes were falling!
I think tax is a dollars-and-cents issue. Looking at it that way, the budget crunch isn’t as dire. Property assessments have fallen; we can change the mil rate to avoid service cuts, while not increasing the actual amount residents or businesses pay in taxes.
Tom Davis I will not support any increase in taxes. I will lead the charge to find efficiencies and tackle head-on what I believe are compensation levels to our employees that are unsustainable and not affordable by our residents. I also will push for the removal of as much, if not all, the burden that Mile One and the St. John's Convention Center place on all our shoulders. Business as usual cannot continue. Debbie Hanlon The last thing that I want to see is an increase in taxes and reduction in services.
We always need to first look closely within current Budget to consider cost- saving measures.
COVID-19 and Snowmageddon have impacted our budget significantly and council is fully aware of this. Budget examination is an ongoing process and we have been working diligently on the current budget by going line by line through every department to see where improvements and efficiencies can be made; and looking at creative ways to lessen the tax burden for all of our residents. While we did an intensive review in 2016, I fully believe further reductions can be made within the current budget. The City will be facing a $13 million deficit in the upcoming budget and it will take creativity and focus to balance the budget. I will be working to ensure there are no tax increases, and I will continue to lobby all levels of government to assist where possible. As business owners, we are not strangers to balancing budgets. The same diligent approach needs to be taken during the City’s budgetary process.
There are always ways to tighten budgets and reduce costs. Given the reduction in property values, the impact of COVID-19 and the weather challenges, St John’s has faced in recent months we have added fiscal challenges to overcome. The residents who live here and the businesses that operate within our city simply cannot take a taxation hike, and I will continue to work diligently to ensure there are no tax increases, and no cuts to current service levels! In the face of adversity, we simply must focus our lens, be fiscally accountable and also communicative to our community.
Sandy Hickman I have also made it clear that I will not support a tax increase. Residents and businesses are at their limits and are suffering with so many other increased costs and challenges. As stated above, the most important premise is to work to expand the tax base. Secondly, the City must use a significant portion of the accumulated surplus to apply to the projected deficit in the 2022 budget. Certainly leave some for future years but I will endorse using more, not less, towards the 2022 budget. Thirdly, a full review of programs, services and staffing must be undertaken as soon as the new council is in place. While many cuts were made in 2016, it is time to open up the thinking, once again, and find areas superfluous to City operations and mandate. I’m looking more for efficiencies, but cuts will be necessary as well. Meghan Hollett Budgets are a reflection of our priorities and values. Affordability is a key concern for so many residents and business owners in the city. The impacts of the pandemic are not behind us yet but we now have a little more space and opportunity to start rebuilding and supporting our small businesses - this is a priority for me.
In addition to ensuring we prioritize affordability in our city, and that we mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on local businesses, I will also be focused on revenue creation to address the budget shortfall. There are many innovative and exciting opportunities, like the expanded pedestrian mall, that we can build on as a source of economic activity and growth. As a city, we must balance affordability for both residents and businesses with ensuring we can maintain, and in some cases expand, our high-quality essential services. I will be focused on finding a balance between adequately funding these services and not placing an undue burden on those who can least afford it.
Mark House The municipal government is actively looking to generate new revenue due to the budget shortfall and I recognize your frustration from a lack of response from the City to address the projected deficit issue. The City should not have to turn to layoffs or higher taxes. I support the consideration of streamlining operations through automated revenue management. There are still many legacy systems and procedures that waste revenue and I would advocate for targeted automation solutions to change the status quo. I believe raising taxes impedes innovation. Less innovation hurts the broader economy.
Every time a resident moves out, very time a business relocates, the City loses a little bit of its tax base. This creates pressure to find other sources of revenue and increases the temptation to raise taxes. My position is to reverse this downward spiral by giving greater support to local business and reducing the negative impact of a tax increase.
Steve Parsons The city continues to run deficits, even though Councilor Hanlon has stated, on the last budget, they went 'line by line' seeking deductions from departments that could be applied against that deficit...they say Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It would appear this is going to be the same approach this time around again (line by line, death by a thousand cuts), with a future plan of selling 'regionalization' to other communities...which, I think is going to be a hard sell.
The problem I have observed in my decade with the corporation, I've stated on my platform. We've reached that stage of growth where the law of 'diminishing returns' has been met and a re-structuring of the corporation is required to ensure efficiencies are established that will produce real savings year after year, this only requires the correct people from within the corporation being brought together to execute this task. Taxes must be deferred and lowered to enable businesses to 'stay alive' during the trying times of this economic crisis, that is a given. The province has to 'hear' from Municipal Govt on behalf of business regarding ANY problem that threatens the fragile recovery we've had.
Many have talked about selling Mile One as they see a subsidy being 'part of the deficit problem', something exacerbated by the media and the smiling shark who sees 'blood in the water' (akin to blood in the streets, as the time to buy stocks), hey, the shark is only doing what the shark does, right? :) I would be hesitant to relinquish this asset unless it is shown to be a ball and chain around the taxpayer's ankle for the simple reason, the downtown business community is going to need a 'rebound tool' to jumpstart business in the zone after this 'pandemic period' passes. The Mile One/Convention Center model, provides this 'tool' that puts 'bums in the seats' of restaurants and bars and brings legs into retail ops in the downtown. There's much more to the conversation, of course, but this is a basic overview of my thoughts, currently.
Jess Puddister I see tax increases as a last resort. There are other creative solutions that support a triple bottom line; we can prioritize environmental, social and economic prosperity without raising taxes. Specifically, I would like for us to take the following actions:
1) Developing an asset management plan by exploring maintenance costs and doing a municipal space audit to ensure we are maximizing use of municipal-owned space. Where space is underused, I would like to explore the opportunity to rent space out to businesses and community agencies as a potential source of municipal revenue.
2) Getting serious about securing grants in lieu of taxes from the provincial government for their properties within municipal boundaries. The overwhelming majority of Canadian municipalities receive this revenue stream.
3) Limiting city spending by incentivizing density over sprawl. I want to ensure that we can promote mixed-use development, the development and growth of businesses, and high quality services without the need to raise taxes.
Thank you to all the candidates who took the time to respond, and good luck to you all in this final push to election day!
We encourage all members to vote in the upcoming election! Tuesday, September 28 is election day – you can visit a Satellite Drop-off Centre in your ward (open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.) to drop off your completed kit or register to receive a ballot and complete your vote in person. Click here for full details.
Questions were sent to all candidates. The St. John’s Board of Trade did not receive a response from:
Jill Bruce (Ward 1), Jenn Deon (Ward 1), Art Puddister (Ward 2), Ian Froude (Ward 4), Donnie Earle (Ward 5), Brenda Walsh (Ward 5), Raymond Petten (at large), Greg Smith (at large), Anne Malone (at large), Ron Ellsworth (at large), and Paul Combden (at large).