With the success of the wind farm project in Ellershouse, Nova Scotia covered (see last week’s Casket for story), Town of Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher and chief administrative officer (CAO) Jeff Lawrence turned their attention to economic development, as they continued to reflect on one-year in office for Boucher, and council’s first term, following municipal elections in the province in October 2016.
Boucher began by talking about the hard work by town staff, including special projects co-ordinator Steven Scannell, in cooperation with the Downtown Business Association and the Antigonish Chamber of Commerce.
“To create some kind of a model which will enhance the promotion of our town; more geared towards tourists and showcasing events,” Boucher said, referencing a topic which was front and centre at the town’s October public meeting.
Lawrence noted Scannell had just met with representatives of the association and chamber and the discussion also included representation from the Eastern Strait Regional Enterprise Network (ESREN).
“We’re hoping to have something to take to the businesses in the next couple of months for a vote,” he said, referencing the models being considered.
“Based on that, we’ll see what direction we’ll be going. It certainly has taken a lot of Steven’s time and those other organizations time as well.”
Boucher stressed, whatever direction is chosen, the emphasis will be on inclusion of input.
“We don’t want to do anything people don’t know about and don’t feel included,” she said, adding discussions have really been going on for years, not months, in regards to local business promotion.
“We don’t want to push something on the business area that they don’t approve of.”
Lawrence noted the twinning of the highway in 2012 as a genesis for some of that discussion.
“We recognize the twinning of the highway saves lives and we are supportive of it; we also recognize that it changed the competitive nature of our community slightly because it moved the highway a little further away from our town,” he said.
“We’re really trying to see what avenues we have to adapt to that. Again, we support the safety of people from across the province with safer highways, but we need to be aware that it does change the dynamics in our area.”
Both the mayor and CAO smiled when they thought back to the Antigonish Volunteer Fire Department unveiling its new pumper-tanker truck in late-September.
“We passed a 25-year plan for the refurbishing of the fire fleet,” Boucher said.
“That came about with Jeff looking for solutions; looking at MGA (Municipal Government Act) and implementing a fire levy.”
Boucher talked about 30 per cent of properties in Antigonish being tax free but still requiring fire service.
“So he found a solution; to be able to fund the fire department through that, and council jumped on it … recognized it as a very good thing.”
Lawrence said it was important council directed all money, generated through the levy, to fire vehicle and equipment needs.
“It’s all scheduled over the next 25 years; this is how much we owe, this is what the debt-servicing will be for the purchasing of the new pumper-tanker, these are the dates for replacement,” he said. “It’s all funded out over the next 25 years.
“It’s not just saying ‘yes,’ we’ll endorse the 25-year plan, but when it becomes to be 2028 and it’s time to get a new pumper-tanker and we don’t have any money in the reserves … so it’s all worked out and fire services are quite pleased.”
A new committee focused on accessibility was formed over the last year and actions already untaken included improving accessibility at the splash pad at Columbus Field.
Boucher talked about audible lights being installed around town as another step in the right direction, with more accessibility objectives planned.
Lawrence noted money was allocated in the budget to address accessibility needs, adding those could be relative solutions; bare minimum versus most appropriate.
“It’s my belief we’ll move more towards the second, where it’s not just the minimum, where you could get there, but to where we’re more of an inclusive community and look at the ease of access,” he said.
Both Boucher and Lawrence said they were enlightened to some of the challenges after spending hours in a wheelchair, in a program they shared with Municipality of the County of Antigonish council.
“Our eyes were opened wide after spending a morning and afternoon in wheelchairs,” Boucher said. “Just small things you take for granted.”
Engage Nova Scotia
Boucher said the goal of council is to start their budget deliberations much sooner this upcoming year and, with the help of Engage Nova Scotia, “we really want to dive deep into what the community wants; hear what their priorities are as we set our next three years,” she said.
She talked about improving communication internally, with council and town staff, as well as externally, between council and residents.
“It’s a priority for council,” she said. “We think we’re lacking in that area and want to fix it up.
“So we’ll be working with Engage Nova Scotia to pull out what the community is thinking; what do they want,” she added. “We’re really excited about that, it’s, kind of, a new approach.”