© Star photo by Diane Crocker
Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador president Churence Rogers spoke about the work towards developing a new fiscal framework arrangement with the province at a Great Humber Joint Council meeting in Deer Lake on Saturday.
Churence Rogers is confident that by this fall Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador (MNL) will present a position paper on a new fiscal framework arrangement with the province that members will support.
“I’m the eternal optimist,” the president of MNL said following his speech to the Great Humber Joint Council during its meeting at the Holiday Inn in Deer Lake on Saturday.
“I believe that it’s gonna be difficult to refute the work that we’ve done”
Rogers was one of two guest speakers at the event and brought with him a list that included work MNL has done so far this year, and work that is left to do. He said he wouldn’t discuss them all, but wanted to address one that certainly takes precedence, that is achieving a new fiscal framework arrangement.
MNL has to have its final position paper completed for government by July and Rogers said that’s important because they want to make sure it is included in cabinet papers being prepared for the 2015 budget.
He said MNL has taken a pragmatic approach to this piece of work and promised it would reflect what is being said by members.
“We’ve done the analysis that needed to be done. We’ve done the research that needed to be done. We have the documentation to support our arguments in terms of how we’re proposing to restructure the arrangement with the province,” he said.
“So based on that it’s difficult for anybody to review that documentation and not come to a very similar conclusion that we are, and that is that the status quo is not working and we need to have a new fiscal framework arrangement in place for the good of municipalities, but also for the good of the province.”
Rogers said MNL is not sharing publicly many of things the ongoing discussions with government are on, but noted a big part of the discussion is on what’s available to municipalities.
“We’re having discussions around how municipalities can create their own source of revenues,” he said.
Unlike larger towns, small towns, which form the bulk of MNL’s membership, have no business-base for taxes.
“Many small towns simply have the property taxes as the sole source of revenue and it’s creating all kinds of problems for them.
“So we have to try to find a way to diversify their sources of revenue. So we need more tools on their shelf in terms of how they can access funding and how they create funding opportunities,” said Rogers.
He also feels regionalization will play a role in the framework.
“There’s going to have to be, out of necessity, some form of regionalization down the road,” he said.
“We’re not saying it has to be another layer of government,” Rogers said to reiterate his earlier response to concerns raised during his speech.
“It has to be a regional entity that provides services to people living in a region.”
Rogers said the biggest challenge facing most municipalities is having the dollars to do the kind of work they need to do in terms of capital investment.”
That includes fixing roads and water and sewer systems.
“These are the issues that are day to day,” said Rogers. “The fact is that municipalities provide all the services that you need from the morning when you get up till you go to bed at night. From running water to sewage facilities, to roads to drive on, street lights, snowclearing, garbage collection, the basic services are provided by your municipality.”
Rogers said another issue for many municipalities is they just can’t find the dollars to properly pay the staff they need for operations on a daily basis.
“So hence the improvements to the MOGs, the municipal operating grants, is extremely important so these little municipalities can continue on.”
MNL will present its final document to members at its annual general meeting in Corner Brook in October.
As for how far municipalities are from seeing a new fiscal framework arrangement with government, Rogers said he’s hoping it will come in Budget 2015.
And he’s not worried that a change in minister of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs or a change in the ruling party will affect that.
“If there’s a political will it can be met.”