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Stephenville council talk taxes, CBC story

Stephenville Town Council – file photo

By Jaymie L. White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

STEPHENVILLE — The most recent council meeting took place on Thursday, June 29 and dealt with Stephenville Airport corporation taxes, Canada Community Building Fund application, and a recent CBC news article entitled ‘Stephenville cuts community funding to keep airport running’.

Airport taxes On behalf of the Finance Committee, Coun. Myra White moved that the Town, upon the sale of the Stephenville Airport, write off the outstanding pro-rated property and business tax to the date of sale in the fiscal year 2023 and all outstanding interest for the Stephenville Airport Corporation (SAC). Up to June 30, 2023 that amount comes to a total of $308,808.31. Mayor Tom Rose clarified that this is only for business and property, and that the SAC pays water and sewer taxes. He also noted that Gander writes off their taxes for its airport as well, and this is no different. “It’s only being written off until the closing date, which could be any day now, because the money has been transferred by the Dymond Group. It’s with the lawyers and trusted to clear the terms,” explained Rose. “Up until now we have been getting no business and property tax, but once it becomes privately owned, we will start getting business and property tax. This is something that normally happens at the end of the year, but because the sale of the airport is happening, which is good news, that we may only have to write off taxes for six months of this year, because we’re going to accrue taxes for the final six months of this fiscal year, and that’s good news for taxpayers in this town.” Coun. Lenny Tiller said that while he believes the sale of the airport is a positive thing for Stephenville, he wonders how much more the Town will have to provide. “When I look at this – and I know everything I’m going to say is a debatable point – when I look at what this is, it’s good news the airport is going to be sold. It’s a nonprofit group selling off to a for profit group that’s said to be worth billions of dollars. With that, as the airport transfers, everyone else that the airport owes money to gets paid. The only people that aren’t getting paid are the residents who kept it open since 1989. Yes, we’re getting water and sewer. Yes, we’ll get any residual on whatever else they owe us, but we are a town that’s had to make a lot of tough decisions. We’ve had to make a lot of tough decisions this year and say no to things that we would said yes to; $300,000 goes a long way to writing a new chapter, to going towards our debt, to going to community groups, so for that reason, I can’t in good conscience, say yes tonight,” said Tiller. The motion passed by a vote of four to one.

Canada Community Building Fund Coun. White moved that council approve a motion to submit a capital investment plan to the Canada Community Building Fund Secretariat in the amount of $130,625 (no HST), to purchase SCADA radios for the communication system to monitor the town water wells. “This is part of our capital investment towards upgrading our water system. There’s been some great work done by management and our contractors. I guess we hit a tipping point with some of our infrastructure and, like a home, after 20 years, you’ve got to replace the shingles, and we had to require some maintenance,” said Rose. “This electronic communication system will give us more advanced technology, so we’ll be able to monitor our flow rates, our water levels, and it’ll be much more efficient for management.”

CBC news article Deputy Mayor Susan Fowlow raised her concerns about what she believes was misinformation presented in a recent article by CBC entitled ‘Stephenville cuts community funding to keep airport running’. “The impression that it left, I think, was that we didn’t support the Pride Committee and that we had chosen one thing over the other, which I want to be very clear that that is not what happened” said Fowlow. “We have monies earmarked for different things in our budget, and in our budget, part of what we do is put out a call for community grants. They applied for a community grant, but weren’t successful because they didn’t meet the criteria of the grant, not because we don’t support the Pride Committee or the Pride movement or anything else.” Fowlow added that the Town of Stephenville has been a supporter of the Pride Committee since it was formed. “We’ve always been involved in their proclamations. We’ve raised the flag, we’ve got the flag, we have council members who are part of the LGBT community, so to suggest that we don’t support that community was very, very disappointing for me and I want to clear that up for anyone who’s listening or citizens who may think that we don’t support things,” said Fowlow. Coun. Laura Aylward agreed and spoke about the recent visit by PBS to tape the Towns in Tune segment. “When you have the station, like PBS American radio station coming into your little town and you bring and bring in the mayor and her chief of police, and you bring in all kinds of other people, not only for economic reasons, but also for the people in the community to enjoy, and it will be aired in the fall,” said Alyward. “It was a great event, and I think we should be proud of what was done and the support that the community, the town of Stephenville gave to all these people from South Carolina, and as we were a former American base and many of our citizens got passed on and living made good salaries when the Americans were here and reaped the benefits of their hiring Newfoundlanders when they came here in the 1940s.” Rose noted that being a member of council means their actions are subject to public scrutiny. “We’re in public office and we’re always under the scrutiny of the public, and that’s fine. We sit tall in the saddle, as in what the Western books can tell you, and I sit pretty tall in my saddle as the mayor representing this council. I get to communicate the wishes, the desires of this council as your spokesperson,” said Rose. “We have a large responsibility and we have a lot of core responsibilities that are in a $10 million budget. Snow clearing, water, recreation, you name it, the core responsibilities, but because we believe in our community and our community groups and our not for profit groups, we also establish a community fund and that has range from three to $500,000 a year. Now, on a $9 million to $10 million budget, that’s a significant amount, and if you were to go through our records and see how many community groups that we have supported, it’s unbelievable.” Council came up with a new method that Rose said increases openness and transparency. “Management developed a call, an expression of interest to all of our community groups because some community groups probably didn’t realize that we had this grant proposal. But some of the criteria was formal quotes had to be included. They had to be registered as a nonprofit. It came to council, we approved, and there’s a few that didn’t get approved because they didn’t meet the criteria. So what they didn’t meet gives them time to reflect on what their association don’t have, and that basically we’re doing another call in October. We’re going to do two calls per year for community groups, nonprofits who want to receive funding from the town of Stephenville. This is their town. This is our town. We’re just elected by the people for four years.” He noted that the decisions aren’t always going to please everyone. “There are some people out there may not like our decisions. Well, the only advice I can give you is this put your name on the ballot and run the next time for municipal election and then you can make decisions, but we are doing the right thing and now the reason why we decided to do two different time points for the expression of interest is because some groups may not be active in the spring going into the summer, because it could be a winter activity,” said Rose.

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