Wednesday, July 29, 2015 - 7:00 PM

Council Calls on Provincial Leaders

On July 20, 2015, St. John’s City Council wrote to Premier Paul Davis, leader of the provincial Progressive Conservative party; Dwight Ball, leader of the provincial Liberal party; and Earle McCurdy, leader of the provincial New Democratic party seeking policy positions on matters of importance to the capital city, St. John’s.
“It is important for the upcoming provincial election that voters understand the positions of each of the political parties on matters which affect the City of St. John’s,” wrote Mayor Dennis O’Keefe. “Council has recently adopted its strategic plan and there are several areas where intergovernmental cooperation will be extremely important to advancing our collective interests.  St. John’s does not operate in isolation and increasingly it is important that collaborative approaches are taken to address the needs and expectations of our residents.”
City Council asks that the leaders consider the issues outlined below and provide their Party’s response:

  • Fiscal Equality in Property Taxation and Fee Payments
  • Repurposing Fallow, Brownfield Provincial Lands and Provincial Vacant Spaces
  • Partnerships in Housing
  • Modernizing our Legislation
  • Community Services – Regional Perspectives
  • Capital Works Funding
  • Enforcing Provincial Legislation
  • Electronic Ticketing
  • Special Purpose Property Legislation
  • Team Gushue Highway Construction & Transition Issues

Issue: Fiscal Equality in Property Taxation and Fee Payments

The City of St. John’s has consistently presented a series of items with respect to achieving a new fiscal framework.  Recently, your government provided for a partial rebate on the provincial portion of the HST and a sharing of the gas tax revenue.   There remains outstanding, however, the lack of property tax reimbursement by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador to our City.
Unlike the Federal Government which pays for grants in lieu of water and property taxes, the Provincial Government has chosen to not reimburse the City of St. John’s for the services it provides to these properties.  All other property owners in the City, whether they are residential or commercial, pay their fair share through the property tax.  We estimate that there is approximately $4.2 billion worth of provincial properties in the City however there is no tax return for the municipal services provided.  This is a significant inequity for the taxpayers of St. John’s.
Indeed there is in effect lost revenue to the City of St. John’s through the provision of water to provincial government properties.  Any other property owner, residential or commercial, consuming potable water would be paying a fee for the provision of this service.
Additionally, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador does not take any permits for properties it develops in St. John’s.  The value of this lost revenue is indeterminate but, for example, we estimate that for a $13 million project this could translate into $177,000 in permit fees.  Any other property developer in St. John’s would be subject to these permits and fees.
What is your Party’s position on the matter of provincial government’s payment-in-lieu of taxes and the payment of permits and fees to City of St. John’s?
Issue: Repurposing Fallow, Brownfield Provincial Lands and Provincial Vacant Spaces
The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is one of the largest property owners in the City, however many of its properties remain vacant, lands are lying fallow or they may require remediation to be successfully repurposed.  Our Municipal Plan, Envision, and our Corporate directions speak to the importance of complete neighbourhoods and we, as should the provincial government, see value in repurposing these properties to bring increased value to our City.  Located within our neighbourhoods, properties lying dormant are often unsightly and detract from the livability of neighbourhoods.  If provincial lands and properties could be repurposed to open spaces, disposed of for private commercial, residential development, and/or affordable housing initiatives this would yield significant new revenues, bring increased value and returns to the provincial government, tax revenue to the City of St. John’s and support complete neighbourhoods – desirable by all residents and levels of government.
How would you work to take a progressive approach to the disposal and repurposing of vacant provincial spaces and fallow lands?  How would you work with the City of St. John’s to effectively repurpose these sites?
Issue: Partnerships in Housing
Housing, housing affordability and supportive housing are critical issues for all municipalities.  The City of St. John’s has, through its advisory committee on affordable housing, has developed and is implementing a housing business plan.  Through the Investment in Affordable Housing Initiative the City and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador will be financial partners in the building of 20 new affordable housing units.  There is a gap however in the area of supportive housing, whether that be for seniors, mental health consumers or others needing housing assistance. 
Where in your Party’s priorities is affordable and supportive housing?  How do you see developing and delivering on partnerships with the City on the housing mandate?
Issue: Effective Regional Planning, Transportation Infrastructure and Services
The City of St. John’s is pleased that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is starting to advance the development of the North East Avalon Regional Plan.  St. John’s City Council recently adopted its new Municipal Plan, Envision and is currently working through the development of regulations which will support its effective implementation and delivery.   It is critically important given the increasing demands and pressures on the City’s infrastructure by City residents, and also by residents of adjacent municipalities, that we take a regional approach to municipal planning which will be to our collective benefits. 
An integral element in any regional plan will be transportation infrastructure and services.  The City of St. John’s understands the impact that increasing vehicular traffic has on transportation infrastructure and services and the need to consider alternative forms of moving people and goods within the City and around the region.  Sound and sustainable regional transportation policy and planning is necessary for effective and efficient regional planning and development.  A dedicated regional transportation plan is needed and the City of St. John’s proposes that a funding source could include a portion of the approximately 50,000 annual vehicle registrations in the region.
The regional planning effort currently underway has limited focus on transportation.  How would your Party support the development of a sustainable regional transportation plan?  Would you consider a funding mechanism such as revenues from vehicle registrations as appropriate to support such a plan?
Issue: Modernizing our Legislation
After many years of requesting that the City of St. John’s Act be updated and replaced with more modern enabling legislation reflective of other Canadian cities, we are pleased that the Department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs recently initiated a process to consider this review.  We recently provided a detailed letter identifying many areas which we consider to be of immediate importance;  in development and assessment authority, environmental power, infrastructure power, regulatory matters and administrative and governance  matters.   We have offered to create draft legislation to advance the amendments necessary to modernize the City of St. John’s Act and associated legislation.
What is your Party’s position on working with the City of St. John’s to modernize its legislation and support the capital city with enabling legislation as created for other Canadian cities? 
Issue: Community Services – Regional Perspectives
The City of St. John’s, as the capital and largest city in the province, takes on regional responsibilities as municipal leader in the northeast Avalon.  As such, the City has made significant investments in a range of community infrastructures, from Mile One Centre to outdoor recreation facilities, parks and the like.   Similar to the need for a regional transportation plan, the City believes that a regional approach to recreation and community facilities on the northeast Avalon is critical.  Currently, municipalities are working in silos and building this infrastructure in a vacuum, thus the site selection and catchment area analysis is very myopic and does not consider how residents connect with facilities in this region.   This results in redundancy and surplus facilities in some areas and a real deficit in others. 
How would your Party support the development of a sustainable regional Recreation and Community Facilities Plan?  What funding would you commit to support the planning and construction elements of such a plan?
Issue: Capital Works Funding
Small to medium sized municipalities traditionally apply for infrastructure funding under the Municipal Capital Works Program (MCWP), and obtain a one year project specific cost-sharing commitment.  Larger municipalities can apply under the Multi-Year Capital Works (MYC) and obtain a multi-year commitment, generally for three years.  The City has traditionally received capital funding of approximately $10 Million per year under MYC.   The Department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs has committed MYC funding up to 2017.  The City of St. John’s recently publically released its 10 year capital works plan.   The value of the projects contained therein is $1.25 billion. The capital plan addresses the wide scope of the City’s capital needs.  It is important to note that much of the spending will actually benefit the entire northeast Avalon region.  The plan focus is on basic water and sewer services. Spending will be required on roads, transportation and City buildings.
Will your Party commit to cost shared capital works programs over the next 10 years and what estimate can you provide as to the amount of funding?
Other Matters 
Over the last number of years, the City has also been advocating for change in the following areas:
Enforcing Provincial Legislation:  The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has a responsibility to enforce its acts to the betterment of our residents.  On an annual basis we hear from residents about noise pollution resulting from aftermarket exhaust systems on motorcycles and other vehicles.   Highway litter has been a concern and its clean-up results in an expense for the City of St. John’s and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The City of St. John’s is calling on your party to ensure that there is adequate enforcement of the Highway Traffic Act in these areas. How will your party address this noise pollution and highway litter matter through the enforcement of the Highway Traffic Act?
Electronic Ticketing:  The City of St. John’s is planning to use electronic ticket writers.  The ability to do so would create efficiencies however it requires the Provincial Offences Act to be amended to allow for same. When do you envision making amendments to the Provincial Offences Act to enable the City of St. John’s to move forward with electronic ticketing?
Special Purpose Property Legislation: Within the City of St. John’s and other municipalities there are several properties which may be classified as special purpose, i.e., they are built and have only one intended use.  As property assessment is based on market valuations and these properties have limited or single use, e.g. airports, breweries, there is no ability to effectively assess for purposes of applying taxation.  The development of Special Purpose Property Legislation would alleviate this taxation matter.
What is your party’s position on advancing Special Purpose Property Legislation?
Team Gushue Highway Construction & Transition Issues: We have ongoing discussions with the Province on this issue and will follow up in the coming weeks. Do you support an equitable sharing of maintenance expenses related to the ongoing operations of Team Gushue Highway?