My primary concern, since the City of St. John’s announced their budget last week, was the horrendous increase in residential and commercial property taxes. As both a homeowner and downtown small businessman I was appalled, as the increases were out of all proportion to the rate of inflation or the cost of living or any other reasonable measure.
In the current recession, downtown businesses are suffering and struggling more then most — we operate on tighter margins with restrictions and constraints on parking and planning and equipment that make it very challenging. Yet we persist — because we love this city, and the old downtown, and we believe in it. The downtown is lively and full of small business and residents, a blend rare in Canada, the envy of many municipalities, a place to be treasured and protected.
Instead we feel abused and neglected.
The harbour fence was my first indication that something was going wrong in the city I love. Who thought this was a good idea? And why did we have to pay for it when so many people hated it?
The Council’s indifference to the rigours of the “Big Dig” was another indication that something really strange was going on. In meeting after meeting business owners wondered, “How can they not see how hard this will be for us? Downtown is a pedestrian area; if the streets are dug up and access barred, we will struggle to get customers in to our premises.” And yet we had blithe reassurances that all was good, and in five or six years or whenever it got done we would all be immensely better off. After a firestorm of criticism it was delayed. But still we wait in fear, because we know it is coming.
Now we also face a tax increase, a massive and destructive one. While the City has touted an average commercial increase of a little over 14 percent, many downtown businesses are looking at increases of over 20 percent, at a time when they are just getting by. Many are appealing appraisals that seem utterly divorced from reality. These are not small amounts of money, commercial mill rates are much higher then residential ones.
Mr. Galgay’s arts cut was mean spirited, and his turnabout predictable — a mere diversion, a distraction from the taxation debacle.
Then last night, the Mayor’s relaxed announcement that we will have to spend millions to buy property in order to offer city services to the Galway development. His demeanour suggested that this is quite alright, actually, and that if anything, we are getting some sort of a deal.
The fact that this land might have been purchased, or bargained for during the planning process, seems not to have occurred to him, or anyone else on Council. These lands were bought for comparative pennies from our own provincial government, and yet the beleaguered taxpayers must now pay a fortune to buy it back. This is not a triumph of timing, it is an epic disaster of planning.
I cannot blame Danny Williams and his partners for taking advantage of those who lack his vision. I can blame those who let it happen.
We will all pay heavily for this blunder.
Please, Mr. O’Keefe, Mr. Galgay, and your other sleeping friends: Resign.
This has all gone horribly wrong. We need to start again.
Bob Hallett (St. John’s)
This letter was originally published on Facebook on Dec. 23, 2015.