On Thursday morning, April 25th, in Southampton (Saugeen Shores) the business community had the opportunity at the Mayor’s Breakfast hosted by the local Chamber of Commerce to hear what recently acclaimed Mayor Luke Charbonneau and the town have in store for Saugeen Shores in the future.
The event, attended by approximately 70 local people involved in business, was hosted by the Saugeen Shores Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by Trish Leblanc, Mobile Mortgage Advisor CIBC.
Kate Cammidge, Chamber President, said that there are many changes currently going on within the organization. “We are working closely with the town to ensure that the business community is kept informed, abreast of changes, growth, new developments and policy.”
Cammidge said that the breakfast event was to host the Mayor so that he could express what the town’s plans for the future are and to also allow questions to be asked directly to him.
“The Chamber also has the ‘tourism contract’ with the town and we are working on many changes,” said Cammidge. “Tourism plays an important role in the community and many local businesses rely heavily on tourism.” She also went on to explain that the recent attraction, the S. S. Trolley, will have a new audio-video piece this summer that will highlight the local history of the community.
By way of introduction, Cammidge pointed out that, “Mayor Charbonneau is a local business owner of Hi Berry Farms. He is also a family man married to Alison and has three children, Benjamin, Martin and Theodore.”
As he started, Mayor Charbonneau said that, “We in Saugeen Shores have so much to be thankful for – we are the fastest growing community in the region, one of the best places to live in Canada, and Canada is consistently ranked as one of the best places to live in the world. We start from a place in Saugeen Shores where places from all over the world would love to get to eventually. Therefore, we have so much to be optimistic about from where we are and where we are going. This is the attitude that I approach with in my job as Mayor.”
Charbonneau began by saying that the town has a plan that was established in 2017 with key priorities: Operations, waterfront, facilities and infrastructure, leadership and policies and working with leaders from across the community.
“Our strategic plan number one is facilitating appropriate growth. This is a community that is growing very quickly and it’s our number one priority to make sure we are facilitating that growth to ensure this is a community that, first and foremost, continues to not only work for the people who already live here but also that it’s a community where anybody who wants to can live, work and raise a family.”
The numbers bear out the fact that Saugeen Shores is growing:
2018 construction value was over $96 Million, an increase of 25% (2017)
268 residential units, an increase of 60 units (2017)
“We expect to be able to sustain that growth over the next 20 years,” said the Mayor. “Good planning over the past decades has got us to this point where we are ready to grow. We have the infrastructure, we have the capacity and we can handle the growth and we are going to grow. We are projected to grow by another 5,000 residents over the next 10 years. That’s a huge amount of growth.”
According to the Mayor, there are only three options a community has: growing, remaining stagnate or declining. “Given the options, I choose growing every time. Population growth attracts investment; investment attracts amenities; amenities attract people and that means support for the business community, jobs, local prosperity and economic health.”
“Therefore, growth improves quality of life,” added Charbonneau. “It allows to invest in new things such as a new recreation centre and allows us to do more things like plowing sidewalks. However, growth also comes with challenges. Therefore, I have put forward for 2019, a ‘Growth Budget’ that will set us on the path to make the decisions we need to enable the community to grow and make sure we have the amenities that we rely on and to make sure that the people who already live here will have the benefit of the growth in terms of quality of life.”
Charbonneau stressed that Saugeen Shores and Bruce County are considered low-tax rate areas. “We have potentially the lowest tax rate for multi-residential housing in the province. Our average household income is $120,585. Therefore, we are considered a high income community but low tax. Therefore, when the two upper tiers of government look at us, they see the difference and we do not receive enough to pay for the things we need.”
According to the Mayor, changes will have to be made locally to adapt. The Legacy Fund was generated in 2018 to start to build a reserve fund to bite off some of those large projects. “The philosophy is that we can modestly increase tax rates at some 3 per cent.”
“We are trying to improve beach facilities and i encourage everyone to stay informed.”
Following the Mayor’s talk, he fielded questions. One of the first questions was that of instituting paid parking at the beaches. “This is a question that has been raised a few times,” replied the Mayor. “For me, my core priority when it comes to the beaches is to try to find ways to improve them and to improve the visitor experience and we are doing great work on that. A lot of people who are accessing our beaches are people who live here and pay taxes for those beaches so I would like to open up access and my primary focus is to improve the beaches.”
Another question was whether or not small business was being hurt because the main focus was on Bruce Power and the service businesses coming in to the downtown cores. “There is definitely a net gain to having suppliers locate here and to having high-income employees living in our community. To me, that’s an opportunity for small business to market to those people however, the town has been working with the County of Bruce and Bruce Power to try to discourage those service suppliers from locating in the downtown cores. In Saugeen Shores, our ideal in the downtown cores is to have retail and our focus is to have service levels in the highway commercial area and that is working. We are aware of the issue and are working on it.”
The top three priorities for the Town’s new Economic Development position according to the Mayor, is that the municipality is in the position to “… seize the brass ring and to turn what could be a 20 year blip into a permanent economic boom. We believe that we have to ensure we have the staff in place to leverage that and attract businesses and support services. We already have hotels and a new daycare coming in and that’s part of the economic development, business retention and business recruitment for the portfolio of this position.”
When asked about traffic and transportation, Charbonneau pointed out that Saugeen Shores is the only community in the tri-County (Bruce, Grey and Huron) to receive a ‘Bronze’ accreditation as a bicycle-friendly municipality. “The community has been making investments for more than two decades to create a trail network that is one of its greatest assets. At the County level, we are also looking at alternatives for public transportation such as ‘ride sharing’ and we are currently working on a municipal Master Transportation Plan.
With Saugeen Shores recent rating as the 14th best place to live in Canada, Mayor Charbonneau said that he feels the quality of life is sustainable. “To have this quality of life is what are trying to maintain. We can make those investments that will ensure that quality of life is high and rising and while maintaining our low ‘tax status’. We are growing quickly and that growth creates revenue for the municipality. Where we are heading leads us to be optimistic that we will be a high demand place to live in the county and be extension, the world.”
When asked if Saugeen Shores is growing too fast and that it “… might get away from us regarding planning and affordable housing … “, Mayor Charbonneau reiterated that he would prefer to see the community growing as opposed to stagnating or declining. “There are challenges connected to growth but we know that the increase to 5,000 more in population is a lot of people but we are making decisions to plan and be ready for it. I’m sure it won’t be perfect but we are tactfully planning for it.”