The city budget that will be released Monday, December 12th will include increases to fees and fines for parking and public transportation, as well as inspection services, public recreation programs, and room rentals.
City Councillor Sandy Hickman says that the provincial government does not do enough to support the city, forcing the municipal government to raise fees on public services.
Effective January 1st, the City will begin charging for use of the Foran/Greene Room, located in City Hall. Many not-for-profits have availed of this free space to host public events, which has made a lot of community events possible that might not otherwise have gone ahead due to budgetary restraints.
The city will also be raising the rate for the use of indoor swimming pools by an average of one dollar. They will also be upping the fees for swimming lessons and the rental of public recreational facilities. These increases will impact low-income families with young children who rely on public pools as an inexpensive venue for kids to socialize and exercise.
The city has already come under substantial scrutiny for the decision to hike bus fares by 25 cents in the New Year, another change that will disproportionately affect low-income earners in the city.
Hickman says increases to fees and fines for parking and public transportation are necessary because Crown Prosecutors employed by the Provincial Government are no longer responsible for prosecuting contested parking tickets. This means that the City will have to employ a lawyer to handle these cases, Hickman estimates this will cost the city approximately $100,000 a year, an expense they will be downloading on to residents.
Hickman says the city was hoping to offset the raised fees and fines for parking by implementing electronic ticketing which would reduce processing fees for parking tickets. He is disappointed that the city was unable to get approval from the provincial government to put electronic ticketing in place.
“I could get into all kinds of things about the Provincial Government, you could write a book about how they don’t support St. John’s,” Hickman says.
Hickman went on to say the Provincial Government unfairly burdens the municipal government by not paying taxes, permit fees, or inspection fees on buildings it owns in St. John’s. According to Hickman this forces the city to set higher taxes for citizens and small business owners.
“Taxes are higher than they should be because the biggest land owner doesn’t pay any taxes,” Hickman said.
Unfortunately recent cuts from the provincial government, like the slashed funding to the St. John’s Boys and Girls Club, combined with the upcoming city budget, will make it very difficult for low-income families to access children’s art activities and sports opportunities as well as other rich opportunities for social interaction and community gatherings.
The results of increased barriers to accessing the social, physical, and cultural opportunities in which children thrive (and grow up to be engaged and creative citizens) will not be fully apparent for a few decades, and life for the next generation may be missing the particular, perhaps indefinable thing, that makes us want to live here.