By Jaymie L. White
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
STEPHENVILLE — The most recent town council meeting took place on Thursday evening, July 20. Matters discussed included an amendment to a previous motion, Artfest Stephenville costs, and live streaming council meetings. Councillor Susan Fowlow was not in attendance.
Stephenville Airport Corporation
Coun. Myra White, on behalf of the Finance Committee, stated that the Stephenville Airport Corporation (SAC) requested the approval to amend a previous motion where, upon the sale of the airport properties in fiscal year 2023, will write off and prorate property and business tax to the date of sale and all estimated property tax and all outstanding interest related for the SAC. The estimated property tax and business tax with interest up to December 2023 is $417,374.59.
“It’s an amendment to the motion we did in September, September 20, as a precedent that we do every year when we write off the business and property tax for the Stephenville Airport Corporation. We’ve been doing it for 30 years and we tend to do it at the end of the year, but because the pending sale could happen any day, on closing, we had to get the amendment to say that on the day of closing, we would write off prorated,” explained Mayor Tom Rose.
“So if we closed at July, for example, the end of July, we would only write off taxes for seven months of this year, and the new entity and owner would start paying taxes, property and business tax, starting August 1, but we don’t know exactly what day the closing is so that’s why it is amended to say on day of closing.”
Coun. Lenny Tiller noted that residents were not getting paid.
“Everyone else got paid. Everyone else was seen as a liability, taxes as a liability in a business. The residents of this town are left out in the cold and told to wait. Everyone else got paid at the time of sale except for the residents,” said Tiller.
“Let me just clearly state that the Stephenville Airport Corporation set terms in the sale agreement. In the terms of that sale agreement, paying taxes to the town of Stephenville wasn’t part of the requirement in the terms,” said Mayor Rose.
The motion was passed by a count of four to one.
Coun. White stated that a request for funding was submitted for the art festival in Stephenville in the amount of $4,550.53. Council asked for clarification as to how the funds were spent.
“This was for the Artfest event. We had three mobile events during the PBS shoot in Stephenville. We had an event that took place to kick off the four day Artfest weekend at least, where we had entertainment and a comedian. We also had an event that took place on Friday at the Redwood where a local traditional band played, and then we had several local groups perform at our town square on Saturday. So all of those events had coverage from PBS as it’s going to be in the documentary and showcased on the PBS network,” explained Mayor Rose.
“The other thing in this was that there was a cost that we had to pay for two, the mayor and the CEO of Art Fields out of the U.S. We had to cover their hotel costs because, when we sent a delegation down, myself and Marissa Abbott, Lake City, North Carolina paid for our hotels down there, so they had asked if we could pay for that. So part of that cost came in and really, if we would have took the cost of roughly the hotels which was equated to what the dinner costs, we would have been only over by about $1,600 on what we anticipated in the grant. So we never know how these events on the cost recovery was going to happen and that’s how it was set up.”
The motion was defeated, with two votes for and three against.
“I don’t know how, but we’re gonna have to pay, but my costs, I’ll soak then up myself,” said Rose.
Live streamed meetings
Coun. Myra White put forth a motion for public council meetings to no longer be streamed online, effective Aug. 10, 2023.
Coun. Lenny Tiller explained why he believe this to be the wrong move for council.
“We’ve had many discussions about around this table, trying to find ways to do better outreach and drive to our meetings because we don’t get a lot of people on the platform that we use, and we’ve had those discussions of what we should do, and is there better platforms, and what I hear from the residents, most especially the older population, is the system is so complex for them to access. It’s something very difficult. So Pop watches all of our meetings when he’s up to it, but I always have to sign him in before I leave and he flips back and forth because he can’t get in himself,” said Tiller.
“To take live stream away after all this time when people got used to it, it’s kind of a detriment because it does more than just being transparent, it makes things accessible. So we know not every resident in this community is in a position where they can get here every second or third Thursday night to walk in to see our meeting. It’s not an option. My feeling is that residents should be able to watch our meetings on their time when they want and that’s why I always felt we should be expanding the horizons, posting them in more places, being fully transparent and accessible on it and make it very convenient.”
Coun. Myra White saw things a little differently.
“If this was supposed to be the best thing for the town of Stephenville and the people who watch it and the people who can’t get out to the meetings, I feel that this has become not a good thing for our town. I think it’s bringing up a lot of things that should not be said and accusing people of things that are not right and not the whole truth gets told. So I am finding this more of a vendetta against a person or two, people on our council in our community, and I don’t like it. And if that’s what we’re doing, we’re going down the wrong path,” said White.
Coun. Tracy Boland and Coun. Tristan Hulan echoed the sentiments of Coun. Tiller.
“We do need to move forward with keeping it live, maybe do it better so that more people can chime in. I’m not really sure how we can reach the seniors, maybe another newsletter. I don’t know. But transparency definitely, definitely is the most important thing for this council. So I get why this is put forward because social media is…. at the end of the day, we are human beings. We did step up and be councillors, but we are human and we do take a lot of slander on social media and a lot of the stuff is untrue,” said Boland.
“I see both sides of it for sure. I’ve been in business a long time, so I don’t tend to pay much attention to negative noise anymore. You always take into consideration what people have to say about you and you try and evaluate the best you can, but as someone who is currently sitting here able to attend this meeting via teams or a social media platform, I think taking it away would be regressive. It is a great tool for so many people nowadays, myself included, who do lead busy lifestyles, as well as people who may not be able to get into the chambers to actually view a meeting,” said Hulan.
“So I do see both sides of the coin, but my standpoint on it, I believe it’s something that we should keep because it increases accessibility for people not only from here, but from abroad, to be able to view the meetings and kind of stay in tune with what’s going on.”
Coun. Laura Aylward believes removing the live streams wouldn’t have as negative of an impact as not many individuals feel the need to stream the live meetings.
“The people that have attended those meetings here live, I could almost count on one hand, two hands, anyway, and we’ve had open houses. We’ve invited people to come out, and we’ve had food for them. We’ve welcomed them and we’ve had maybe a handful of people that came. Prime example, since we went live, the most we’ve ever had maybe was 30, but most times is only four or five or six. So the people of Stephenville in my view, think council is doing a good job, so they don’t need to listen to them,” said Aylward.
“They’ve told me that for years and years and years. Why do we need to go and listen to your meetings? We know your council is doing a good job. I’ve heard that many times. But these people that go, and I agree with Councillor White that what’s been going on to a couple of our councillors is not acceptable.”
The motion was defeated, with two votes for and three against.