The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Peter Turnquest, along with Minister of Transport and Local Government, Frankie Campbell and Central / South Abaco Member of Parliament James Albury met with members of the Hope Town District Council to discuss issues and to strengthen collaboration between Central and Local Government.
Chief Councillor Jeremy Sweeting said they discussed primarily the particulars of the existing Real Property Tax agreement between the Ministry of Finance and the Hope Town District Council, and how they can strengthen the agreement.
They also spoke about budgetary concerns, highlighting the enormous amount of tax dollars that leave the district in relation to the small amount that returns to the districts, as well as some other general concerns within the district.
Based on discussions, the Council feels very optimistic with regard to a budget increase.
Mr. Campbell has promised to return to Hope Town in short order to attend a town meeting on the traffic regulations for the village to ensure consensus on the issue, after which, legislation should follow.
He said that their discussion was fruitful “which will lead to further discussions with Central Government and we will come back and state our position.”
“We had a study done [on traffic in Hope Town] some time back and that report was summarized and given, and it strongly supports the pedestrianization of the historic district of Hope Town.”
“I can say without fear of contradiction that we are minded to consider all that has been presented; there is nothing unreasonable being asked,” he said.
He said that they are asking the council to also be mindful that their contributions are used to assist other areas where the revenue generation is much less
“That being said we will ensure we bring some balance and equity in our decisions,” he added.
Mr. Albury also expects things to “move forward in a positive way as both Minister Campbell and Deputy Prime Minister Turnquest were very receptive.”
“I believe we will see some further agreements and amendments as far as the percentage they will make off what they collect and measures to improve the efficiency in the way they collect it,” he added.
Mr. Albury said that as Central Government readies for the budget debate, “I am sure there will be certain reflections in that from this meeting and meetings to come, as well as progress which will help to reconcile some of the [traffic] issues in the district.”
“What is clear among all parties is that we applaud Hope Town District Council for being a model of what local government should be, and we will see what other local government districts can adopt from them to improve their own performance,” he added.
Mr. Turnquest congratulated the Council on organizing the meeting and the efficient way they manage the affairs of the district.
He was primarily interested in the Memorandum of Understanding between the council and the government with respect to real property tax and “how we can better manage the revenue sharing aspects of that, and how we can more efficiently manage that process to increase the revenue and inclusion even further.”
Mr. Turnquest said he believes there are some areas they can collaborate more on and ensure that all the properties are identified and properly assessed.
“As you know we have had some issues with assessments in this district already, but in addition to the over assessment there are also under valuations,” he noted.
He said that there were also some observations with respect to some additional revenue sources that may be tapped into.
Mr. Turnquest said that as they look at these additional revenue sources “we will seek to empower and incentivize these districts to be able to take advantage of some of that to help them make improvements in their community.”
He said the government’s intent is to have a revenue sharing arrangement with the Councils so they can relinquish more of the Central Government’s control allowing them to grow in the way that they know directly benefits the local community in a more tangible way.