FLOWER’S COVE, N.L. - A Facebook post by St. Barbe-L’Anse aux Meadows MHA Christopher Mitchelmore on Aug. 3, criticizing the Town Council of Flower’s Cove, has prompted a flurry of comments from local residents.
In his post, Mitchelmore questioned why the town has not started work this summer to repair local roads.
“The Town of Flower’s Cove has zero debt, money in the bank and was approved more than $600,000 in Fed-Prov money, I can’t understand why they still likely have the worst town roads in the province,” said Mitchelmore in a wall post.
In a statement to The Northern Pen, Mitchelmore contrasted the situation in Flower’s Cove with projects in Anchor Point and River of Ponds.
“Other small towns like Anchor Point and River of Ponds have found a means to use Municipal Capital Works or gas tax to invest in roads to benefit their residents and help their communities grow,” he said.
However, Flower’s Cove Mayor Keith Billard says Mitchelmore is misrepresenting the situation. He told the Northern Pen the situation is not as simple as the MHA is leading others to believe.
The town received approval in October, 2017, for funding from federal and provincial governments to upgrade the main waterline and pave local roads.
The cost for the work was estimated at just over $1.3 million.
With just 270 citizens, and about 110 of them aged 65 or older and living on fixed incomes, Mayor Billard said the cost of the project was too much to tackle in a single year.
Under the federal/provincial cost-sharing agreements, Flower’s Cove would have to come up with about $600,000 for their share of the cost.
In contrast, the town of Anchor Point is contributing $170,000 of a $340,000 cost-shared road project.
The town approached the province’s municipal affairs department, asking if the project could be done in two phases; doing the road work this year and the water upgrades in 2019.
Meanwhile Mitchelmore — in a follow-up comment on his Aug. 3 Facebook post — said the town had money in the bank when the funding was announced, and drew comparisons between Flower’s Cove and other towns in the area.
“The Mayor at the time said Flower’s Cove Town Council has $167,000 in the bank as surplus,” he posted.
He continued the post by drawing comparisons between Flower’s Cove and other towns in the region.
“The Town of River of Ponds has 200 people and paving roads using gas tax, Anchor Point is paving roads at 50-50, Hawke’s Bay, Daniels Harbour, St Anthony all paving their municipal roads. The Town of Flower’s Cove can certainly afford to pave their roads,” Mitchelmore stated.
Still, Flower’s Cove would have to borrow nearly $600,000 for its share of the cost of the project, and Mayor Billard says the town could not get any financial institution to loan it that amount of money.
He adds even if the town could borrow, it would mean increased taxes for 30 years.
Billard adds the council should be commended instead of criticized.
“In 1993, when I was elected mayor, the town of Flower’s Cove was near bankruptcy,” he told the Northern Pen in a prepared statement. “Our debt ratio was over 38 percent, which means for every tax dollar collected, 38 cents went to service the debt.
“It took council over 20 years to get out of debt and longer to get our debt ratio to zero. Instead of criticism for being debt free, councilors should be praised for the prudent and cautious financial actions.”
Flower’s Cove awaiting permission from Municipal Affairs
The Town of Flower’s Cove, in its aim to get some new pavement laid in the town this year, is still awaiting word from the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment on whether or not the $1.3 million roads/water project can be carried out in two phases.
According to documents obtained by The Northern Pen, the town is pushing to have Grenfell Avenue (2.1 km) to be re-paved this year at a total cost of $300,000.
The town would have to contribute 50 percent of the cost — $150,000 — to this project.
Mayor Keith Billard told The Northern Pen the contracting company Mike Kelly and Sons Ltd. is currently in the area, and would be able to begin and finish the work this year.
The town’s proposal for two phases would see work on the town’s waterline commence in 2019.
According to the mayor, the waterline does not run through Grenfell Avenue or any other sections of the streets — Canon Richards Road, Seaside Avenue, Main Street and Cross Street — that the town would like to see completed this year.
However, the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment, has advised the town that it would need approval to change the “scope of work” to break the original plan into two phases.
In an email to the town on July 26, Chris Power, Western Regional engineer for the Municipal Affairs, informed Billard, in an email dated July 26, 2018, that changing the scope of work would require approval from the Small Communities Fund Committee. That committee is a federal committee overseeing allocation of funding for municipal projects.
Power also told the town that “preliminary design of the water system” is required as the department “will not entertain tearing up newly placed asphalt.”
Power indicated in his letter that the department will hire a consultant to look at the design and see if the work can proceed as the town suggests.
“We will proceed to have the RFP (request for proposals) or consulting services issued . . . it is fifth on our list so I expect that to be done in the next week or early the following week . . . to get a consultant to look at the design and, if possible, then we can approach TW (Transportation and Works dept.) to try and get the work included in a current project.”
Mayor Billard contends the scope of work would not have to change.
All the town is asking for is to break down the list of work to have it done in two years, instead of having to complete it all this year.
Billard says the council is appealing to the ministers responsible for municipal affairs, and transportation.
“We’ve fought for the last four months, trying to get things done,” the Mayor added.
The Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment has confirmed to The Northern Pen that it is in the process of developing an RFP for consulting services for the town of Flower’s Cove to review.
It anticipates the RFP will be finalized “very soon”.