Sackville mayor delivers lengthy public response to former councillor’s letter

Mayor Higham responds to Mesheau letter

Describing some of its contents as “utterly false,” Mayor John Higham spent 13-minutes at Monday night’s Sackville Town Council meeting replying to a letter from former councillor Shawn Mesheau.

Mesheau’s August 27th letter was published in the Sackville Tribune-Post and also sent to town council asking for a response.

It expressed shock that council would oppose the provincial government’s decision to freeze next year’s property tax assessments when the town recorded a budget surplus last year of $787,359.

“This stand is very self serving and I do not believe represents the position of a majority of property owners in the municipality,” Mesheau’s letter says.

“I am sure there are struggling municipalities in our province who cannot sustain their services with a freeze on assessments however Sackville is not one of them,” it adds.

False premise

Mayor Higham responded that Mesheau’s letter starts from a false premise.

“The premise is that we are either seeking a change to unfreeze the assessment or we’re seeking to raise property taxes,” the mayor said.

He went on to argue that the town is merely asking the Union of New Brunswick Municipalities to talk to the province about its unilateral decision-making.

“This was a unilateral decision,” he said. “The province was responsible for property tax assessments, they made an error and then they chose to put that cost onto local government without consultation.”

Higham pointed out that last week, the mayors of New Brunswick’s three largest cities also called on the province to consult with municipalities on the property assessment freeze and other issues.

“Their words were almost identical to what we’ve used,” he added, “but in this author’s view, we’re self-serving.”

Lack of understanding

The mayor went on to criticize Mesheau’s letter for claiming that the town generated a budget surplus of three-quarters of a million dollars last year equal to about 13 cents on the property tax rate.

“[It’s] utterly false and really describes a lack of understanding of what the financial statements actually say and how the tax rate is actually calculated,” Higham said.

Later, Treasurer Michael Beal explained that the actual operating surplus for tax calculation purposes was only $64,316 while the utility operating fund showed a surplus of $21,083.

Mayor Higham pointed out that when Mesheau sat on council, he served as liaison councillor for the town’s finances at a time when the books were also showing surpluses.

“He moved a motion to increase property tax rates by two cents,” Higham said. “So, there is an utter disconnect between what’s being stated in the letter and what he has actually done.”

The mayor added that the town welcomes informed criticism, but suggested Mesheau’s letter contains internal contradictions and errors that needed a detailed response.

“We’re not perfect,” Higham concluded. “We seek to do things well, we seek to follow best practices…and we’re responsible for what we do and what we say.”

To read the treasurer’s written response to the Mesheau letter, click here and to watch Mayor Higham’s oral response, click here. (Note the mayor’s response begins at the 32 minute, 20 second mark on the recording.)

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5 Responses to Sackville mayor delivers lengthy public response to former councillor’s letter

  1. Sharon Hicks says:

    It is somewhat alarming that our current mayor devotes so much time and energy on overt retaliation to such matters.

  2. Shawn Mesheau says:

    Well don’t I have egg on my face. Guess I had some facts wrong apparently.

    Perception can be one’s undermining. Guess I had it wrong that Council was looking to halt the freeze the province had put on property tax assessments.

    An article I read here on Warktimes and in the Tribune seems to state otherwise.

    As for my error in how one is supposed to read financial documents and the fact I was finance liaison, I should have known this and that I made a motion to increase taxes, seems to be a means to discredit a taxpayer voicing concern.

    Of course, the Mayor neglects to bring up, as there would be no minutes, how I consistently tried to bring forward better ways of budgeting and finding better ways of delivering services. This always fell on deaf ears and for the most part being one of only two councillors of the day trying to bring some sort of change, it was apparent the decades of how the town did things was entrenched and could not be changed.

    As for Councillor Evans indicating that my letter was disrespectful, as I indicated, Council was being self serving. I think he should read the letter again as one’s interpretation can be incorrect.

  3. Rima Azar says:

    If I may reply to the end of the comment by Former Councellor Shawn Mesheau, I would like to say that, in my humble opinion, without knowing you in person but only through your written comments (that I have been reading for a while now), you seem to be not only clever but also decent (of course I may be wrong too :)). Regardless, thank you for your service even when you are not in public service. To current Councellor Bill Evans, although it is only human to truly feel upset (or to say things to show solidarity to the colleagues), I feel like saying the following: A direct act of communication like a (politely written) straightforward letter is usually a sign of respect to the receiver(s) by default. Again, although I may be wrong on that one too, a letter addressed to someone (even if it is an open one) is surely more respectful than no healthy communication. Without direct (healthy) communication, there is a risk of a more passive (-aggressive) communication such as resorting to “blahblahblah” behind the person(s)’ back (I mean talking about the issue in question without his/her/their presence). How can we build or sustain bridges with people than to solve issues? I hope this gives some perspective. What matters is to clarify/fix the issue raised, instead of putting one’s energy on the (hard) feelings about the act of raising the issue. Any issue.

  4. Percy Best says:

    It is sad, but at the same time quite amusing, that the Mayor on one hand seems to condemn the increase in the lack of communication from Fredericton to the Municipalities, while on the other hand seems quite comfortable in doing the same thing to the citizens of Sackville. There sure has been a LOT of closed door sessions lately up in the Ivory Tower.

  5. Sharon Hicks says:

    Having gone back and read the minutes of the meeting where the motion was made for Council to address the province on the matter of the property assessment freeze, there were 3 reasons cited for them doing so, and the first 2 reasons had to do with potential financial ramifications of such a move. The point about concern about the province making unilateral decisions without consulting municipalities was number 3 (and final) on that list. So it would be very easy for anyone reading that to end up with the impression that it was the financial end they were most concerned about. That is what most people would likely conclude.

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