Our December issue is a “Best of St. John’s” themed one, in which we asked people questions like “Best thing about living here” and the bulk of responses spoke of “downtown culture,” “local business,” and “booming arts scene.” Tourists leave saying the same things. And yet, the new St. John’s budget took its aim at these very things.
The budget was passed by a vote of seven to three, with councillors Art Puddister, Dave Lane, and Sandy Hickman voting against it.
Higher Commercial Property Taxes Will Take a Toll on Business Owners
While we’ll all feel the burn of residential property taxes increasing by an average of 12.7%, local business owners simply mightn’t survive the business realty tax spike of 14.3%.
Here is what Bob Hallett, owner of Tavola Restaurant, had to say about that. “As a business owner and St. John’s downtown resident I am appalled. I have been to numerous meetings this year, and have witnessed over and over again businesses in our city either closing or hanging on by their fingernails.
“Every business owner in this province knows we are in a recession. Belt tightening and cut backs are a fact of life. [The commercial tax hike] is unconscionable and delusional. No business in this city is in a position right now to raise its prices by 20% and have any hope of survival, nor do I know of any enterprise that has that kind of profit upon which it can draw.”
He goes on to say that “Most businesses have already tightened and cut back, and have little room to maneuver. There was no need for this, the mayor and his cabal are leading us off a cliff.”
This is not the “fiscally responsible” decision council is touting it as. In our province, more than 17,000 businesses employ people: 98.5% of them are small businesses with 1-99 employees. 71% of jobs created in the private sector over the past 10 years can be attributed to small business. This is not good for local culture, character, or economy. The smart move is to support and invest in small business. Not harm it.
Arts Funding Slashed by a Devastating 50%
Nationally, Newfoundland, and St. John’s in particular, has a reputation for being an arts mecca of unparalleled proportions. The film scene here is booming more than ever, we have exportably good music in every genre, most of Canada’s favourite authors are from here, we were the only Canadian province with visual artists at this year’s highly esteemed Venice Biennale, etc …
Council is acknowledging this reality by … cutting funding to the arts, tourism, and sports sector in half. and temporarily suspending their $20,000 arts procurement fund.
City Services and Operating Grants to Be Cut
City services to be cut, in hopes private sector companies will assume these roles, include: the summer’s 10-week litter reduction program, the Aquarena’s annual $100,000 operating budget, free bulk garbage days, and the city will no longer do water and sewage repairs on private properties. They’ve also scrapped the automated garbage pilot plan.
It will also cease its contributions to the Grand Concourse Walking Trail, divest itself of the St. John’s Recreation Centre in Buckmaster Circle, and the city will also begin charging for previously free services.
In Better News … Vacant Buildings Will No Longer Be Accommodated
Starting in 2018, the city will terminate its vacancy allowance for commercial property owners, based on community outrage that property owners let properties sit there empty — like the old grocery store carcasses in Churchill Square and Ropewalk Lane. “We’re hearing from communities and neighbourhoods that they want the city to ensure that businesses either clean up, sell, or move on.”