For many seniors in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, March 7, 2014 marked a sad day. The town council of the 11th elected council of Happy Valley-Goose Bay passed its annual budget. For the most part it was a good budget that saw modest changes in areas that required a shift in the way council does business.
However, if you were a senior who is older than 65 years-of-age, there was a huge negative change. Previously, seniors who were over the age of 65 received a large discount in their tax requirements. Instead of having to pay the mill rate of 8.0 mills, they paid 2.5 mills. This equated to about a 75 per cent discount.
In all my time involved with community politics, I have never seen the seniors rally together and voice their opinion in such a strong opposing way as was observed on March 25 at council's regular monthly meeting.
Well over 60 seniors showed up at the town hall to come to the microphone and speak to the issue. Given my past involvement, many seniors have called to ask questions related to process, the municipal Act, conflict guidelines and the possible rescinding of motions.
All this debate has made me think of those who have built our community and those who have served our community on past councils and some of the lessons they have taught me. People like Lawrence O'Brien, Judy Odell, John Hickey, Harry Baikie and Hank Shouse.
There are many more I have had the privilege and honour of sitting and serving with. One of the lessons and quotes which stick in my mind is: "Always remember why you are here; it's the people that matter."
Thus my stance on this issue. Council should review its past decision on the 2014 budget and make a reasonable adjustment that will lessen the burden on our seniors.
I am a great fan of Wikipedia and find it quite useful at times. Wikipedia generally defines empathy as the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another and defines sympathy as the perception and or reaction to distress or need for another human being. Both terms are sometimes used interchangeably but have very distinct origins and actual meanings when it comes to understanding.
Sympathy has more to do with feelings, while empathy has more to do with the understanding how a person feels about a particular issue or decision.
Throughout all this community conversation, one thing that has been made clear is that at no time did the seniors say they did not want to pay taxes. They are not looking for sympathy but rather empathy.
Council should listen to the people of the community and look at it from their (seniors) perspective with compassion, respect and the willingness to change. That is the sign of leadership and vision and initiative.
It is all well a good to have vision and initiative but let's not forget about compassion, common sense and reality. Thus the question remains: is a 300 per cent tax hike for those who once were exempt necessary? Or are their other options that should be considered?
Again using Wikipedia, a council is a group of people (elected or otherwise) that come together to consult, deliberate and make decisions.
The 2014 Happy Valley-Goose Bay budget was passed on March 7 at 5 p.m. in less than 30 minutes. In order to make appropriate decisions, council should also remember there is absolutely nothing wrong with a healthy debate where all members can express their particular stand points.
Through the process of debate the community can and should be engaged in a consultative process. This will, I can assure you, result in a better decision.
- Stan Oliver writes from Happy Valley-Goose Bay. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org