St. John's City.

  608. The first Municipal Council for St. John's was created in 1888. In 1921 the Municipal Acts were amended and consolidated by the St. John's Municipal Acts, 1921, commonly known as the City Charter. Amendments to this Act were made by Acts of 1931 and 1932. The constitution of the Council and the qualifications for the franchise are explained in Chapter II.* The quadrennial elections are being held this autumn.

The Battery, St. John's, n.d.
Photo by Holloway. From the album of photographs furnished to the Newfoundland Royal Commission, August 1933. Courtesy of the Centre for Newfoundland Studies Archives (Coll-207), Memorial University of Newfoundland Library, St. John's, Newfoundland.
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The Battery

  609. The revenue of the Council for 1932 was $458,963. Expenditure amounted to $416,249, thus leaving a surplus of revenue over expenditure of $42,714. The Council's estimates for 1933 have been drawn up on the basis that revenue and expenditure will balance at $537,650. The increase in the revenue estimate is due to the expectation that an additional $80,000 will be provided by the biennial revision of appraisements which is being undertaken this year. The increase in the expenditure estimate is due to the necessity for repaying out of current revenue part of a bank advance of $100,000 obtained in 1932. In existing circumstances, this is a feat which seems unlikely to be achieved except by means of a further advance.

  610. The Council has no power to raise loans except with the approval of the Government and Legislature. The public debt of the City, including floating bank loans to the amount of $544,428, guaranteed by the Government, now stands at $2,350,314, with yearly interest charges of $118,818, or roughly 20 per cent. of the Council's revenue. Of this total, $1,648,904 has been advanced to the Council by the Government from loans which the Government itself has raised. A detailed statement of the public debt, together with the Council's estimates of revenue and expenditure for 1933 and the balance sheet as at 31st December,1932, are reproduced in Appendix N.

  611. The Council's main activities lie in the control of the water supply and sewerage systems, the repairing of streets, the upkeep of the Cleansing or Sanitary Department and the maintenance of public parks. Public utilities, such as the tramway, electric light and telephone services, are in private ownership.

  612. Water is supplied by gravitation from Windsor Lake, 4 miles from the City. The watershed is six square miles in area and the system has a capacity of 9,000,000 gallons a day. There are 38 miles of mains and water is distributed to about 6,500 families, the daily consumption of water being from 6,500,000 to 7,000,000 gallons. The sewerage system of the City has been much improved of recent years, but there are still a number of houses without sanitary appliances from which night soil has to be collected in carts. A system of payment by instalments has been introduced in order to encourage those in poor circumstances to make the necessary installations, with the result that 456 such installations have been made since 1930. There are 48 miles of streets of which 2 miles are paved: the remainder are mostly macadam. The public parks include a spacious and attractively laid out park which was vested in the citizens of St. John's by its donors, the Bowring family, and is known as Bowring Park. Its yearly upkeep costs $10,000, of which, until 1932, $5,000 was contributed by the Government.

  613. The Council, for the first time in 31 years, failed in 1932 to meet the interest charges on the debt due to the Government, but this was largely attributable to the withdrawal of various Government grants and to the annexation by the Government of certain sources of the City's revenue. It should be borne in mind, however, that these interest obligations properly constitute the first charge on the revenue of the City. The Council is in urgent need of funds for capital expenditure, primarily for the extension of the water supply and sewerage systems at an estimated cost of $250,000 and $82,000 respectively. It is also anxious to proceed with the widening and improvement of certain streets at a cost of $73,000. An attempt was made last year, with legislative sanction, to raise the necessary money by means of a local issue of $500,000 6 per cent. 25 year bonds, and certain preliminary work was undertaken in anticipation that the loan would be fully subscribed. Unfortunately, however, the issue failed to arouse the interest of the public and only $76,000 had been subscribed by the end of June, 1933. The failure of the issue has, in consequence, thrown a heavy burden on the Council's revenue and the present position cannot be regarded as satisfactory.

  614. It appears from the report of the Deputy-Comptroller and Auditor-General on the accounts of the City for 1932 that the rental values on which the City Tax is based† are in many cases anomalous. This weakness will, it is hoped, be corrected by the revision of appraisements to which reference has been made. Abatements of 10 per cent. are allowed if assessments are paid promptly; even so, however, sums amounting to $199,875 were outstanding at the end of last year against which a reserve of $128,500 for uncollectable taxes had been set up. We understand that a new practice was instituted in 1932 under which the collection of amounts in arrear for more than six months is entrusted to a firm of solicitors, the collection of amounts less than six months in arrear being undertaken by officers of the Council. It is hoped that this practice will result in a substantial decrease in the sums outstanding. We fully recognise that in these times of depression there must be a number of cases in which difficulty will be experienced in collecting the amounts due from those who benefit by the City's services, but we have reason to believe that there are cases in which a stronger attitude on the part of the Council would be effective, and we consider that, in view of the financial position in which the Council now finds itself, energetic steps should be taken to insist on prompt payment in all but the limited number of cases in which it can be shown that such action would give rise to genuine hardship.

  615. The failure of the loan issue of last year is particularly unfortunate in that, in our view, capital expended in certain improvements in St. John's would prove a remunerative investment. As can well be imagined, the City, with its long history as a seaport and its slow growth through the centuries, has never been the subject of any comprehensive town-planning scheme. After the great fire of 1892, which destroyed three-quarters of St. John's, the commercial quarter was, to a great extent, rebuilt on modern lines, with brick and stone instead of wood, but for the most part the City sprang up again much as it had been before, while the establishment on the outskirts of colonies of squatters who had lost their homes provided the authorities with a special problem which has become annually more acute. A Town-planning Commission, constituted by statute in 1931, has been investigating schemes for removing some 1,000 families in the centre of the town and establishing them in specially planned settlements outside the City limits, thus enabling what is now a congested slum to be rebuilt and converted into stores, shops and offices. Advice has been sought from housing experts in Canada but the Commission has been held up by lack of funds. Had funds been available, the present would have been an opportune time for such an undertaking, since the value of house property has fallen and prices are low: the work would, moreover, have given much needed employment. As matters stand, however, we can only recommend that the question should be reviewed as opportunity offers, and that in the meantime a general plan of development should be prepared covering not only the City itself but the neighbouring area which is also within the Commission's purview. It would, in our view, be reasonable, in view of the special importance of St. John's as the capital of the Island, that the Council should not be called upon to bear the entire cost of such a town planning scheme, which might properly be shared between the Council and the Government.

  616. We have drawn attention in Chapter VI to the decline in activity in St. John's as a result of the substitution of steam for sail in the carrying of fish to foreign markets, and of the displacement of the local carrying fleet by foreign vessels, specially chartered for the purpose. It is our hope that, as a result of the enquiry which we have recommended, a practical scheme may be devised for encouraging the gradual formation of local mercantile marine. Should this prove possible, a great stimulus will be given to local enterprise and St. John's will regain in full measure the vitality formerly associated with the capital. In the meantime, the number of unemployed, estimated at about 2,000, for whom little or no work can be found in the City, combined with the uneconomic conditions in which the longshoremen in particular elect to work, cannot but give rise to anxiety. Many of these men, we understand, would prefer to return to their homes in the outports but cannot afford to do so; in such cases, we consider that the Government would be well advised to assist men to return to their homes, where there would be greater prospect of their becoming self-supporting, rather than they should remain idle in St. John's with little or no hope of employment and in danger of becoming a permanent charge on public funds.

  * Paragraph 53.
  † The City Tax is based on rental values of about $2,069,000, on which 16 per cent. is charged, a reduction of 10 per cent. being given when paid within 30 days. On stocks of goods held, valued on the average at about $7,000,000, a tax of one-quarter of 1 per cent. is made, a reduction of 10 per cent. also being given when paid within 30 days.

Image description updated May, 2004.

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