Monday, November 9, 2015

My Update from MNL 2015 AGM

I just got back from the 2015 Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador 2015 AGM held from November 5-7 in Gander. We had some great discussions and debate over issues facing municipalities in the province and I figured I would give an update. I won't bore you with all the details of every meeting I attended but I will give an overview of some of them.

The first session I attended was the Urban Municipalities Committee (UMC). This committee is made up the larger towns and cities of which Torbay is a part of. This was a round table to discuss issues each town is facing and to toss around ideas as to how to deal with them. Some of the issues discussed were Municipal Assessments and what other potential revenue sources should be available to municipalities. We also discussed municipal ticketing and the challenges of trying to enforce the clean up of derelict properties. When we get together with other municipalities that are included in the UMC it really shows that we are not alone in trying to deal with the issues faced by larger towns.

Just a funny note on that, when I went to my first AGM in 2013 after getting elected to council I was looking at my agenda and saw the Small Towns Caucus meeting and just assumed that was where I was supposed to go. I saw many of my friends and colleagues from Flatrock, LMO, Pouch Cove and Bauline all filing into the room. So I went in and sat down, the session was almost ready to start but I couldn't find anyone from Torbay in the room. I just figured they were at another meeting because one person couldn't get to all of them, so I never thought anything of it. So, the meeting starts and I am listening to the issues being brought forward and found that I could relate to what they were saying. Then someone got up and said something along the lines of "the purpose of the Small Towns Caucus is to represented towns of less that 4000 people" I thought to myself, shit, I am in the wrong meeting, took out my agenda to see what else was going on and realized I was supposed to be at the UMC. So I jumped up, left the room to go find the other meeting and low and behold the other councillors from Torbay who were at the convention were all there. I told them I was at the wrong meeting and they had a laugh. That being said, many of the issues being discussed at the UMC were exactly the ones I had just heard about at the Small Towns Caucus, go figure. Since our current council has been elected we have made an extra effort to build relationships with our neighboring municipalities and it has been great. The six Mayors from our area and both MHA's Kevin Parsons and David Brazil meet on a regular basis to discuss issues and to bring concerns to government. This is a great example of the regional cooperation and relationships we are trying to create.

Another interesting session was called Regional Government - Trying it on for size. This was about trying to get towns in particular areas of the province to come together to look at how they can work together on a regional basis in a formalized manner. One of the main concerns raised at every conference or regional meeting I attend is LSD's. No, not LSD the drug but Local Service Districts which seem to get municipalities that live near them just as loopy though I suppose. You see LSD's and unincorporated towns don't have to pay property taxes however they still need to be supported by the Provincial Government with regards to some services like roads and snow clearing. They also try and make deals with neighboring municipalities for services provided in towns like garbage collection and fire services. We have seen some stories this year where some LSD's, unincorporated towns or cabin areas have refused to pay for things like fire services and then complain that the neighboring municipality won't provide the service. Anyway, this is always contentious and thankfully in our immediate area we have no situations like this to worry about.

A pilot project is being considered and I am excited that the six towns in our area have submitted an application to participate. We are already trying to find ways we can work together regionally so it only made sense to be part of this project.

The next session I attended was the Future of Fire Services, this was something I was especially interested in because I am council's liaison to the Torbay Volunteer Fire Department. To hear some of the struggles that many towns have with regards to finding enough volunteers, lack of equipment, lack of training it really makes me feel grateful that we have such a professional and competent fire department in Torbay. It is very expensive to operate fire services and many towns just can't afford it, we are fortunate that as a town we have the capacity to offer fire services to the Town of Torbay and Flatrock. The future of fire services is largely dependent on the ability to recruit volunteers and train them to be able to offer the tremendous service we get. Just a quick fact on the Torbay Volunteer Fire Department, did you know that our fire department responded to 255 calls last year, that makes us the busiest volunteer fire department in the province. I am proud to say that I believe we are also one of the best equipped and trained in the province as well and all that is a testament to the members of the fire department and leadership of Chief Mike McGrath.

Finally the last thing I want to give an update on in the fact that we elected some new members to the MNL board of directors. We elected a new Vice President, Mayor Tony Keats from Dover and a new President, the Mayor of Labrador City Karen Oldford. I am especially happy for Karen as she is originally from Torbay and it is great to have a woman as the new president. Out going President Mayor Churence Rogers of Centreville-Wareham-Trinity who did a great job on our behalf for the last four years and I wish him well, Karen certainly has some large shoes to fill.

We have a new UMC director Mayor Dean Ball of Deer Lake, new Avalon Director Mayor Wayne Power of Placentia. Mayor Roger Barrett of Reidville was elected Western Director and Councillor Art Puddister is the new City of St. John's Director. Last but not least is the newly elected Small Towns Director Mayor Sheila Fitzgerald of Roddickton-Bide Arm. I had the pleasure of sitting down for a chat with Mayor Fitzgerald and she is bound to bring a lot of fire and enthusiasm to that position. Her speech was one of the memorable moments from the convention.

Anyway that is all I have for now, maybe I will give a few more updates in the days to come.


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