Committee formed, petition circulated in Happy Valley-Goose Bay
© Derek Montague
Rupert Dawe has been one of the most vocal critics of Happy Valley-Goose Bay’s new tax system, where seniors now pay a 8.0 mill rate instead of 2.0. Dawe encourage people to go over council’s head on the issue and express thier concern to the Department of Municipal Affairs.
Senior citizens in Happy Valley-Goose Bay have made it clear that they will not be accepting property tax increases without a fight.
On the evening of April 10, nearly 150 senior citizens and concerned residents packed the Masonic Lodge in Happy Valley-Goose Bay to develop an action plan.
For years, residents 65 years-of-age and older received a much lower rate on their property tax than other residents. In 2013, seniors paid 2.0 mills, compared to the regular rate of 8.0.
But that has all changed with the 2014 budget, where everyone, regardless of age, pays 8.0 mills.
In lieu of a special mill rate for seniors, the town council decided to expand property tax discounts for low income households.
A household that has a gross income of $0 to $23,000 will get a 100 per cent discount, while those with a household income of $23,001 to $26,000 will receive a 75 per cent discount. Households with a $26,001 to $29,000 will see 50 per cent reduction, and finally, those earning 29,001 to $33,500 will receive 25 per cent.
A financial burden
Seniors in the community first came together at the March 25 town council meeting, where many voiced displeasure at their elected officials. Despite a loud chorus of calls to reconsider the new tax structure, no commitment to reinstate the senior discount was made by council.
The town council has publicly stated that the new tax structure is more fair and equal to everyone. But, at the April 10 meeting, several seniors pointed out that a tax break is well deserved after decades of paying full taxes.
Happy Valley-Goose Bay senior Margaret Parsons told the crowd she struggled to make property tax payments when she was a young homeowner. At one point she even had to make a payment plan with the town to pay off outstanding taxes.
It was a relief for Parsons to get a 75 per cent discount as a senior. To see that discount gone is upsetting to her.
“I was ashamed to go to council and make a payment plan,” Parsons told the crowd.
“But I paid it all.”
Others who attended the meeting mentioned that it has become increasingly difficult to make ends meet in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on a pensioner’s income. The cost of food and other essentials are high. Now, many are facing a property tax increase over $1,000 from 2013.
“Many seniors lost 20 to 50 per cent of their income when they retired,” said Happy Valley-Goose Bay senior Jim Saunders.
“If the council would like to increase our incomes by 20 to 50 per cent, then we’d be happy to pay our taxes.”
When it came to suggestions on how to fight the tax increase, ideas varied. Some believe it is best to try and force council to resign. The word ‘impeach’ was even thrown around, accompanied by loud applause.
Senior citizen Rupert Dawe said that people should go over the head of council and speak directly to the Department of Municipal Affairs about the matter.
“I called Municipal Affairs in St. John’s. As far as they know, there’s been nothing in writing from anybody in Goose Bay on this matter,” said Dawe. “So I think they should be written to, to inform them of what’s going on and see if there’s anything they can do.”
Stanley Oliver, who spent 16 years serving on the Happy Valley-Goose Bay town council and assisted in leading the April 10 meeting, encouraged seniors to only pay the tax that they paid last year and dare the town to shut off their water.
Copies of a petition letter had been made prior to the night’s meeting and handed out to everyone in attendance. Reg Bowers, who organized the meeting with fellow senior Wilbur Patey, told everyone to go out and get as many signatures as possible. Bowers’ goal is to have more than 1,000 signed copies to present at the next council meeting.
Most importantly, a 14-person committee, which will be focused on combating the tax increase, was formed from volunteers in attendance. Several of those who are on the committee are not senior citizens themselves, but are concerned residents.
Those who will be serving on the new committee include Dee Wells, Paula Parsons, Max Winters, Al Durno, Dawn Corkum, Wayne LeGrow, Waylon Williams, Rupert Dawe, Leo Hagerty, John Wall, Henry White, Joe Anderson, Reg Bowers, and Dave Massie.
“The goal is to get this (tax increase) rescinded,” said Bowers.
Two town councilors Bert Pomeroy and Tony Chubbs were in attendance at the meeting. They did not address the crowd, however, saying afterwards that they were there to listen.
“We’ve been listening to seniors for quite a while on this issue and we will continue to listen,” said Pomeroy. “And we’ve said all along that council will review this at some point and we will make adjustments if necessary.
Neither Pomeroy nor Chubbs would say if they support going back to a 2.0 mill rate for seniors.
“I don’t want to discuss that … that’s (an issue) within council,” said Chubbs.
“Council will make a decision as a whole,” added Pomeroy. “Whatever the decision is I will support it.”