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1st Mayor's Breakfast draws a business crowd

March 3, 2015

Town

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Mayor Mike Smith with Jill Roote (L) of the Business Enterprise Centre and Joanne Robbins (R) of the Chamber of Commerce

Saugeen Shores held its first 'Mayor's Breakfast' on March 3rd (2015) at the Plex in Port Elgin.

Mayor Mike Smith

Hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Centre, approximately 40 people turned out to hear what Mayor Mike Smith had to say about the achievements of the past year and what some of the plans are for this year (2015) for the municipality of Saugeen Shores and the County of Bruce.

The Mayor was recently re-elected to his third four-year term as mayor, has served twice as County Warden and is currently the Chair of the Grey Bruce Health Unit.

He pointed out that, although the budget has not been finalized, the town is far enough along to be able to mention some of the things that Council has discussed.

"We are very fortunate to have a Business Enterprise Centre and active and engaged Chamber of Commerce," he said.

Smith said that, over the years he has seen many Councilors, each of whom brings their own talents to the table along with dedication and commitment.

 "We have a new Council, with five new councilors, that is very high energy and that will bring the same dedication and commitment." said Smith.

According to the Mayor, in early January a planning session was held to allow each councilor to bring forward issues or projects that was important to them.

"The next step," he says, "is to try to rank or prioritize those things and we'll be meeting again with senior staff to try to determine how Council can implement them."

Among the items raised that will be priorities for Council are the Waterfront Master Plan,  the future of aquatics, economic development to attract new business, Streetscapes for the downtown cores and more.  "I think with this very high energy Council, we are going to see some very good things."

He said that he was hopeful the 2015 budget would be finalized by the end of March so that staff could begin implementing the operational and capital programs.

"Preparing and approving an annual budget," said Smith, "is always a learning experience.  I've done it many times and I always learn something new.  It tells you everything the town does and, often, we forget some of those things."

It's a two part process, he told the audience.  First, is  how the town will maintain or build capital and, secondly, the on-going programs and services and requests for new ones.  

 Saugeen Shores budget is some $23Million of which $10Million comes through property taxes and the remainder through grants, user fees and transfers.  Together, they finance the operating services and capital projects that are on-going in the municipality.

Saugeen Shores for the last number of years leads all other surrounding municipalities in total residential growth, said the Mayor, and continues to lead the County in total assessment value at approximately $2.4Billion with the County at $11.2Billion.  Therefore, Saugeen Shores makes up about 20 per cent of the County assessment value.

"This is an indication of the value that people have on coming to this community.  Unfortunately, however, our assessment is weighted at about 92 per cent meaning that the total value of all property in Saugeen Shores is residential with the remainder in commercial and industrial or institutional," said Smith.

"What that says is that there is a great opportunity for commercial development as it's an area with very 'well-off' people and a market that continues to build and that is good for the community."

In 2014, the town added 64 new residential permits, four commercial units and two industrial units and there were many renovations, all for a total of $32Million.

In comparison, when looking at some 400 municipalities in Ontario, taxes ranged from $1,385 to $6,001.  Saugeen Shores was $3,209.  Water and waste water costs for 200 cu.metres ranged from a low of $354 to a high of $1,520.  Saugeen Shores' was $797.  Debt outstanding on $100,000 of assessment ranged from zero to $3,500.  Saugeen Shores' was $625. Average household income ranged from a low of $55,000 to $170,000.  Saugeen Shores' average was $117,000.

 "These numbers show how fortunate we are to live in this community," said Smith, "but the Provincial government is now using these numbers to determine if we qualify for certain grant programs and we have recently been turned down for two grants.  Therefore, it's a two-ways sword.  First we don't qualify, but it says a lot about the community and gives it more options than a lot of other communities have."

After restructuring (amalgamation), the municipality invested heavily in infrastructure, such as water systems, that has allowed the expansion of urban boundaries and that provides capacity for the next 20 years.  

One of the most important projects, according to Smith, is the renovation and expansion of the Saugeen Memorial Hospital.  "It has been announced that the expansion is going ahead and will see 11 treatment rooms from the current six, the doubling of the lab facility and improvements to patient treatment and support areas.  Ministry approval is expected shortly and construction should start this year and we expect it will take about 18 months."

The plan has been on-going for a number of years and the community was tasked with raising a significant amount of dollars for the hospital and for the regional project.  "Saugeen Shores has always been very generous when it comes to the health needs of this community," added Smith.

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The Mayor touched on the the County of Bruce and its budget of some $83Million which will be supported by a 3.8 per cent increase in the tax levy. 

"With a budget of $83Million and 700 employees, the County plays a significant role in our lower tiers (of government)," he pointed out, "and it is a big priority for the lower tiers.  For instance, Bruce County Highways Department has approximately 650 km of roads and 148 bridges that it maintains and their budget is $12Million.   The library system operates 17 branches with a budget of $3Million.  Emergency Management Systems (EMS)
staffed by over 100 paramedics and a fleet of ambulances that travel some 24,000 km annually had a budget of $5Million.  The Bruce County Museum & Archives that is a regional attraction continues with a range of events and exhibits and does it all with $1.5Million."

He also pointed out that the County operates two long-term care facilities, Brucelea Haven in Walkerton with 44 beds and Gateway Haven in Wiarton with 100 beds with a budget of just over $3Million. 

Bruce County Housing has over 600 units and has a wide range of services it provides including systems to provide affordable housing on a budget of $4Million.  "One of the disturbing trends," said Smith, "is the growing number of people who cannot afford their utility bills.  The United Way is now struggling and it's a problem in our community that we don't often hear about or see but it is here and it's real.  It's something that needs to be addressed and the issue needs the support of the Province and the County."

Approximately $2.5Million out of its levy is provided to Bruce County Social Services that provides support to areas such as Ontario Works, child care services and a wide range of social services.  "The cost of that has been
uploaded to the province as it used to be approximately $6Million," added the Mayor, "but it will probably now stay around the $2.5Million."

Bruce County has recently held a restructuring review due to employees leaving and/or retiring and to see if there could be efficiencies and better ways of providing services.   According to Smith, there were several recommendations that came out of the review.

"One of them is the changes to the Agriculture, Tourism and Planning Committee.  One of the recommendations was to focus a couple of important sectors.  Those changes will focus on economic development ($400,000) and tourism (just under $1Million) and the 'Land Use Planning' will now have three hubs - Walkerton, Wiarton and now Saugeen Shores at the County Library." 

Business development, enhancing trade and business attraction as well as support for the nuclear industry are all going to see more focus placed on them.  Tourism will include downtown revitalization and Spruce the Bruce community grants.  The new strategy will begin being implemented this year. 

The Mayor also pointed out that access to affordable high-speed internet is essential.  "It is like the telephone, electricity and transportation," he said.  "It is fundamental to the future prosperity of southern Ontario.  An application has now been made to the 'Build Canada' fund to build this network ($230M) and when complete it will provide fibre optic to all 16 counties and over 300 communities.  This application, if approved, will see a rapid implementation with completion anticipated by 2019.  It is to be funded one-third Provincial, one-third Federal and one-third from the lower tiers.  All the counties have already committed monies in this year's budgets."

Smith pointed out the 'Connecting Link' is critical in Saugeen Shores.  It was previously 90 per cent funded by the Province, where highways ran through communities, and 10 per cent funded locally.

In Saugeen Shores, it runs from the CAW road to the 10th Concession (County Library corner) and South St. through to Saugeen First Nation, including the bridge across the Saugeen River, capital assets valued at $22Million. Since 2013, however, the municipality has become entirely responsible for an asset that was previously shared.

Smith said he was encouraged by the Premier's latest statement on roads ...  "Our roads carry our loved ones and are an important part of our vision for a province-wide transportation network.  So when you tell me that having connecting link projects, eligible under the Canadian Community Infrastructure Fund, is not enough to support these vital pieces of our infrastructure, you have my full attention ... [my Ministers] have been asked to address the issue under the 'Moving Ontario Forward' program to address the 'connecting links' because they are a vital part of our communication system and need to be part of the transportation network."

Another development came through the recently passed 'Local Food Act', where the Minister has traveled to China promoting Ontario 'agri-business' and Smith feels there is great 'agri-business' opportunity in Grey and Bruce Counties. 

The Mayor's Breakfast is expected to become an annual event where the business community is brought up to date on Municipal issues.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2015