The Hope Town District Council conducted several town meetings over a few days, on February 2 and 6. 2018, including Great Guana Cay, Man-O-War and Hope Town where they sought to inform and listen to their constituents on matters concerning them.
Chief Councillor Jeremy Sweeting, speaking for the council, updated the audience on the progress of their Real Property Tax collection initiative and addressed that issue of the amount of return the district receives from Central Government.
Mr. Sweeting noted that their budget for the fiscal year 2017/18 was $460,000 less 12 percent which government holds back with the expectation that Council provide proof that the additional money is needed. This leaves the Council with a budget of about $404,000 to work with.
He said that with the help of Secretary Marjorie Chapman he compiled statistics on how much tax dollars were collected by the government per case of beer sold by restaurants only in Hope Town. Government collects $9 per case for domestic beer and $18 per case for imported beer.
He said they found that Hope Town restaurants sold 5,261 cases of domestic and 1079 case of imported beer earning the government $47,349 and $19,422 respectively totaling $66,771. Additionally VAT collected on 152,140 bottles of beer amounted to $68,463 bringing the total taxes collected to $135,234 which alone would cover almost completely all contracts that the Council is engaged in for their district.
Mr. Sweeting then laid out the success of the Real Property Tax Collection for the inaugural year (which began February 2017) noting that the Council had collected 45 percent of all taxes in arrears in Man-O-War. The properties there account for 19 percent of all properties in the district.
Man-O-War accounted for about 72 percent of all Real Property Tax collected for the entire district, followed by 27 percent for Hope Town and 1 percent for Great Guana Cay.
The total property taxes collected for the entire district for the first year is $803,172.07, nearly double the Council’s budget.
Mr. Sweeting noted that the current Memorandum of Understanding between the council and Central Government is that the Council will receive no less than two percent and as much as ten percent of what they collect. He said that the Council is seeking to have the government adjust the percentage, noting that a foreign firm was hired several years ago to collect Real Property Tax and he understands that they keep 25 percent of what they collect.
He said he is also seeking government’s assistance in expanding the Council’s role in collecting other taxes in the district, targeting delinquent port fees in the area.
In Hope Town, residents noted that their concerns are growing as traffic in the historic district of Hope Town is a problem, putting a strain on locals and visitors. Someone counted as many as 147 vehicles passing through the area, which is gated. The Road Traffic Act states that there is to be no vehicular traffic beyond the Methodist Church.
It was discussed that stipulations on who has a key need to be enforced. They also discussed the possibility of setting up an electronic gate. The Council is also looking to Central Government to pass legislative amendments which a Committee had submitted three years ago.
There was further discussion about parking issues near the main public dock as the area is often congested and creates difficult for vehicles to turn around at the spot.
It was also pointed out that there are issues with vehicles that are not licensed or inspected. Chief of Police for Abaco, Kevin Mortimer, noted that ticketing is only permitted in New Providence and Grand Bahama. However, a person found with expired license can be sent before the courts.
There were also concerns that persons were paying for an inspection sticker, but receiving no inspection. Representing Road Traffic, Anthony Campbell said that the Department was short staffed and they were looking into training police officers on the cays to carry out inspections.
Residents remain upset with the condition of the Dune Road which is becoming increasingly hazardous. The Dune Road was washed out in Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and was never properly repaired over the years.
Another issue was raised that citizens reports of illegal activities that were reported on several occasions were ignored leading to an escalation that ended with a person being stabbed seven times. The person in question was believed to be illegally selling items and contraband on the side of the road near residences. The Police noted that the stabbing was unrelated to his vending business.
Another issue which appeared to be related involved a structure that was condemned by the Department of Environmental Health Services, according to one resident, however, persons continued to live there.
Great Guana Cay
Residents of Great Guana Cay expressed concerns about a clinic that was built, an obligation of Baker’s Bay according to the Heads of Agreement, which is behind their gate. It was noted that the community center, police and fire station were also behind Baker’s Bay’s gate. The concern was how they could be for public use if they are located beyond Baker’s gate.
Mr. Sweeting said that the Council is seeking to set up a meeting with Baker’s Bay soon. He added that the Council is also working with Baker’s to provide transportation to the landfill for large items such as appliances and yard debris. The Council will provide the bin.
Further, there were concerns expressed over the loss of a fishing spot believed to be due to the development of Baker’s Bay. It was also believed by some that buildings/construction in the area is infringing on an area set aside as a preserve.
Residents are seeking relief from vehicles speeding in and out of the settlement. It is a hazard for many who like walking for exercise as they feel threatened.
There were also issues with unlicensed golf carts and vehicles, some haven’t been licensed for years according to some.
Mr. Mortimer said that they would seek to perform more road checks; however, noted the difficulty as persons warn others when these exercises take place.
It was also suggested they speak with the Minister of Transportation to look at legislation restricting traffic in the settlement. Also the use of speed bumps and speed limits was discussed.
Mr. Mortimer emphasized that the police will do what is needed to control the traffic issues, but added that persons take due precautions as they seek to remedy the situation.
Residents noted that the public dock is in bad shape and in need of major repairs. They will look into quotes on repairs for the dock and hope to address it as soon as they can.
There has been a request in to Lands and Surveys for a small piece of land for the community for almost fifteen years and the resident has been unable to get a response. Council said that they will send a letter of support for the request, but also noted that Lands and Surveys “is not responsive.”