In his first address to the Saugeen Shores Men’s Probus Club on Tuesday, March 5th , Mayor Luke Charbonneau laid out before the members where the town of Saugeen Shores stands on many issues and where it is headed in the future.
Former Councilor, Dunc McCallum, introduced Mayor Charbonneau saying that he is the third Saugeen Shores Mayor since amalgamation, following Mayor Mark Kraemer and Mayor Mike Smith and drew comparisons between the three.
“The previous two mayors made an imprint on our community,” said McCallum. “Mark Kraemer was probably the right person for bringing the three communities together under amalgamation. He was quite direct and sometimes very forceful but it was a difficult challenge he faced and he made it happen. Mike Smith was a quiet, prudent, pragmatic and knew-everyone kind of individual and always made sure that we didn’t exceed the budget limitations, but decided to give way to a younger generation.”
“It’s good that we have you, Mayor Charbonneau, to lead us into the next four years,” McCallum added. “Luke has a long history on Council since 2006, has served as Chair of the Police Services Board and Chair of the Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority. He is forward thinking and doesn’t look back except to understand that the history is important to us. He also understand that, as a growing community, we have to look forward and take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to us.”
“In his Inaugural address, Mayor Charbonneau outlined a new vision for the future. He talked a lot about leadership,” added McCallum, “but not the leadership of the Mayor or the Council but instead leadership within the community, saying that ‘We will lead by championing the future, we will embrace innovation and creativity. We will always be relentlessly optimistic about the future of our community and about the potential for new ideas that will change our community for the better’. ”
The Mayor began his talk by pointing out that Saugeen Shores is the fastest growing community in Ontario and that he is very optimistic for the future. “There is no doubt that we have our challenges but there is every opportunity to be optimistic. This is a very exciting time to be on Council and to live in Saugeen Shores and I will be focusing on growth.”
The Mayor said that the first place to always start is with a plan and that Saugeen Shores has a Strategic Plan that was completed in 2017 which guides everything that the town does from planning for the future to day-to-day activities at the Council level and the administration level and that outlines the core principles of the town.
“This is a rapidly growing community,” said the Mayor, “and the more and faster we grow, the more important it becomes to facilitate the growth appropriately and make sure it is happening in a way that strengthens our existing neighbourhoods, makes the community where people, who already live here, can continue to live while making sure that those who want to work and live in Saugeen Shores can. That’s an important core principle.”
He also added that the Waterfront is indisputably the most important asset and it is now at the top of the list of the Strategic Plan. “The key thing is to build and improve the waterfront both for residents and visitors.” One of the challenges, he also pointed out, is to maintain facilities and amenities that will accommodate the growing population.
The new council, according to Charbonneau, is very engaged. “We have one of the youngest councils ever in Saugeen Shores, we have more women on Council and, it’s dynamic. Our job is to make sure that we encourage community leadership and those who are willing to lead. Times change and we are trying to bring people into the process in 2019 using tools at our disposal.”
Going back to the subject of growth, the Mayor pointed out that the construction value ($96Milllion) increased 25 per cent from 2017 to 2018 and to facilitate expected growth, there is infrastructure in place for 20 years of growth. “That took years of vision by those who came before us. We are projecting that, by 2031, the community will grow by 5,000 people, so we are looking at considerable growth. In 2019, we are going to see multi-unit developments and two hotels that are shovel ready.”
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“In my opinion,” he said, “growth is good because it is better than the alternatives. The options are, grow, stagnate or decline. Therefore, growth is the best option. Is it challenge free, is it problem free? No. Growth comes with challenges and problems but I would prefer that to those challenges and problems that come with stagnation. The reason? Because it comes with options. Growth attracts investment. Investment attracts amenities, Amenities attract more people. For those who already live here, the amenities that come benefit us all. Therefore, our quality of life can improve if we facilitate appropriate growth and do it well.”
The Mayor also reviewed the 2019 budget that was recently passed saying the blended rate results in an increase of 3% or $102.45 per household assessed at $310,000. “The design of the budget is to also begin to accommodate the growth so that we can invest where needed.” He also pointed out that the town has established a new Legacy Fund for the future. There is approximately $2Million in the fund but within eight years that dollar value could grow to some $10Million or more.
According to Mayor Charbonneau, when it comes to tax rates in comparison with other jurisdictions in southwestern Ontario, Saugeen Shores is considered on the low end and is below the provincial average. Bruce County, in fact, has the lowest tax rate for multi-residential units in the province. Water rates and development charges are also the lowest in southwestern Ontario. “Therefore, according to the province, we have a low tax status.”
He also pointed out that Saugeen Shores also has the highest average income at $120,585 (2018) in southwestern Ontario. While a good thing for those in the higher income bracket, it also means that when the upper tiers of government, provincially and federally, consider grants, they look at the discrepancy between income and the tax status. Unfortunately, there are those who are not in the higher income bracket and, therefore, for them higher taxes would be untenable but it also means that Saugeen Shores receives little to no grant monies for projects.
The Town is also considering and studying very large key projects for the future.
“We have the Lamont Outdoor Sports Complex of four ball diamonds at a cost of $1.65 Million, we are looking at the possibility of an Aquatic recreation centre working with the YMCA. The YMCA does not construct the building, they run the facility. Therefore, a new building would be between $14 – $20 Million. Then, we are looking the Nuclear Innovation Institute and are trying to come up with a suitable location in Saugeen Shores. Port Elgin needs a new water tower. We have to complete a Water and Wastewater Master Plan by the end of this year. So, as you can see,” said the Mayor, “there is a lot on the plate and, all the while, we have to make sure services are maintained.”