Group gathers at arena with picket signs, uses Expo for exposure
A group of seniors angry at changes to the Happy Valley-Goose Bay municipal tax system used Expo Labrador as a platform to show their displeasure.
© Derek Montague/The Labradorian
Frances Winters wears a sticker on her hat that reads: “Senior Citizen Gimme My Damn Discount!”
On June 23, the group of approximately 30 men and women held picket signs out by the E.J. Broomfield Arena, where Expo Labrador takes place. The signs, aimed at Mayor Jamie Snook and the rest of town council, contained slogans like “Council Hits Seniors With Financial Abuse,” and “We Want Democracy Not Dictatorship.”
“We’re trying to publicize as much as we can the issues that are at hand, and that is the 300 per cent tax increase by the council, and it’s unfair …” said senior Wayne LeGrow.
“And no matter where we can protest, we’ll make ourselves known and try to get our petition across to the council and hopefully they’ll turn around and review the thing to our satisfaction.”
The battle between these seniors and council began in March, when the new tax structure was announced as part of municipal budget. For the first time in recent memory, there would be no special mill rate for residents 65 or older.
In 2013, seniors paid a rate of 2.0, while other Happy Valley-Goose Bay residents were charged at a rate of eight mills. This year, everyone, including senior citizens, are charged eight mills.
The council decided, instead, to provide more tax breaks to 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.
Then, on April 16, after more than a month of controversy over the new tax structure, the town council, during a special meeting, announced senior discounts for 2014.
Seniors, aged 65 and older, who have a household income between $26,001 and $50,000 will receive 50 per cent off their property tax. Seniors who make over 50,000 in household income will receive a 25 per cent discount.
The protestors arrived at the arena shortly before 5 p.m. But, at that time, Expo delegates were preparing to go on their supper break. So, the group decided to stick around for more than an hour, when people would be coming back for an Expo social event called The Labrador Shed Party.
The protestors maintained that they have no problem with Expo Labrador. But the large event, attended by hundreds of people, was a good opportunity to get some exposure.
“This is one of the only places to get a group gathering in a small town,” said protestor Dawn Simms, who attended the protest on behalf of her parents.
Simms claims that her elderly parents saw a $1,800 property tax increase in 2014, because of council’s decision. Simms held two signs during the rally, one representing her father, and one for her mother.
“My father’s 80 and he can’t be here, he’s on a dialysis chair,” she said. “My mother is crippled with arthritis and she can’t be here. So I’m here for them.”
As people began to arrive for the shed party, some stopped to show their support for the seniors. Politicians like Lake Melville MHA Keith Russell and Transportation and Works Minister Nick McGrath, shook their hands before entering the building. McGrath parted by wishing them good luck.
Mayor Snook responds
Eventually, the man the protestors wanted to see most, Jamie Snook, made his way towards the arena alongside Coun. Bert Pomeroy. The mayor chatted with them for a few moments, saying that the two sides would have to “agree to disagree.”
One senior shouted out to Snook: “We’re not going anywhere!”
Once inside the arena, Snook told The Labradorian that he is still comfortable with the new tax system, and council is proud of the way it assists low-income households.
“As a council we’re committed to equality and reinvestment and making sure that this community gets revitalized,” said Snook.
“In actual fact, it’s very uplifting to know that we’ve made such an important decision for the town … and as council we know, for a fact … that we’ve actually helped hundreds of seniors this year that are in low-income situations.”
Snook believes that many of those who are protesting the changes have higher incomes, and can afford to pay more in property tax.
“Unfortunately, what we’ve come to know is, there’s a group left that are in a higher income situation and need to contribute, just like their neighbours and everyone else in town,” said Snook.
“I think the facts are what they are, and that’s certainly the case at this stage. Because we know that we’ve given help to the people who are in need and we will continue to do so.”
Snook also told The Labradorian that council plans to set up a committee that will be focused on dealing with seniors’ issues in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
“We’re in the process now of establishing a new seniors’ committee and we plan to work on these issues and be strong on seniors’ issues over the next four years.”