WINDSOR JUNCTION: The volunteer board of the LWF Ratepayers Association (LWFRA) feel like they are being targeted by HRM with their area rate review, which passed at regional council on June 19.
At the volunteer group’s annual general meeting at the LWF Hall on June 18, discussion on the area rate review which was to come before regional council the next day followed the conclusion of the meeting itself.
The area rate review from HRM staff recommended that a handful of area rates, including the LWFRA, be reduced to eliminate community grant programs. The staff report indicated that the Windsor Junction Community Centre (WJCC), Keloose, and Lakeview Park would continue to receive the funding from the area rate and not be impacted.
“The report is complete gobbly gook,” said Barry Dalrymple to the crowd at the meeting. “You have to read this report page by page laid out next to each other. It’s absolute crap. It’s based on inaccurate, false information.”
Dalrymple said a lot of the information in the report could have been different if HRM staff weren’t combative when they met with some of the LWFRA board.
“They had their minds made up on this a long, long time ago,” he said.
What is very disturbing for him is that one area rate group out of them all listed is being targeted by HRM—that being the LWFRA. Others in nearby Waverley and Grand Lake are not being touched.
“Out of all the other groups in the report that fall outside what they should do or like to do, they’re all granted exemptions or exceptions,” said Dalrymple. “Not this group (the LWFRA).”
Dalrymple also said despite Councillor Steve Streatch trying to deny his involvement in bringing the area rate review for LWFRA forward, that it was staff, the words in the report are exactly what Streatch wanted. He said Streatch has been frothing at the mouth.
He said the passage of the area rate review will come into effect immediately, if passed.
“It will end the surplus monies, the end of granting money to any community group effective June 19 if it will be passed,” said Dalrymple. “It is going to take away any of the surplus money we had budgeted and targeted for and as part of that if it is passed they will come to us and tell us to redo the business plan that we have already passed, and change it to match their numbers.”
Streatch was not at the LWFRA AGM as he had another meeting on his schedule.
Dalrymple was not sure how the area rate could be changed without a public hearing and a vote by the community—neither of which has occurred.
“They’re going to change it arbitrarily and without any democratic process whatsoever,” he said.
Colleen Menard said it appeared they will get staff to consult with groups to form a policy, which might be another opportunity to raise concern about the change and its impact on the LWFRA community.
However despite the assurance the WJCC would be safe written in the report, there was still concern amongst the approximately 50 people who turned up at the AGM that the three, but specifically the WJCC, could still be hindered by the reduction of the area rate.
“The WJCC is owned by the community of Windsor Junction,” said Marni Tuttle, LWFRA president. “The LWFRA residents are able to attend because of the relationship that we have with the WJCC. Essentially, instead of paying memberships to belong to the WJCC you belong to the ratepayers association.
“To the best of our understanding, the WJCC cannot be transferred or sold and belongs in perpetuity to the Windsor Junction.
“What is at risk is the ability to access and fund. Without grant funds it’s going to be hard to maintain. I think the risks is around the facilities, so there will always be a beach and it will be what it is as it decays; the same goes for the baseball fields and WJCC itself.”
Tuttle said the WJCC employs 34 full time and four part-time summer jobs for youth through the money from the LWFRA. That would disappear if the area rate continues to be reduced.
Kirk Stephen said he use it, his kids use it. It’s a gem in the community.
“My gut feeling is that it is Mr. Streatch’s priority to get it (the WJCC) in the ownership of the HRM somehow,” said Stephen. “I know he can’t do it, but that’s his goal.”
Tuttle said what the LWFRA knows is that the WJCC is safe,but calls the current reduction worrisome.
“I think that’s a slippery slope in terms of the long-term usage,” she said. “I think the two most pressing issues right now are the inability to provide grants to our existing partners, neglecting of the tradition of providing grants to projects lead by our seniors and the lack of consultation.
“I’m tired of reading reports from HRM saying that we will or we have been consulted, when that has not been the case in any way, shape or form.”
At council on June 19, Streatch said the LWFRA has not approached him for support through his capital councillors account, but it is something he would welcome.
“During the election in 2016 it was made clear to me that a change needed to happen,” he told his fellow councillors. “I don’t want to take away at all from the volunteers who have worked very hard to administer this rate to the best they can to provide recreational opportunities. But, your worship, it is time for a change.”
He said the area rate has come up many times during his time on council over the past two years, with the main thrust the community wanted assurances that was protected was the WJCC.
“It is funded by this rate, and the report indicates it will continue to be funded through this area rate,” he said. “It also speaks to the local Keloose festival and Lakeview Park and the associated activities there.
“What it does do is eliminate a component that is just not where the municipality is today, and that is clearly outlined by the staff in the report that the collection of the surplus to be distributed at a discretionary level into the community.”
Beaver Bank councillor Lisa Blackburn, who also represents Lucasville and Upper/Middle Sackville, said she had concerns with the motion. She felt ratepayers associations would be surprised by the review, especially since for many it’s coming after they’ve set their budgets for this year and are three months into that year.
“I think a deferral is needed on this to let the groups know,” said Blackburn.
The motion at the June 19 council session passed 14-1, with Blackburn the lone vote against the motion. Councillor Shawn Cleary did not vote.