Economic development committee chair Don Schultz and members Sandy Smith, Sandra Bishop, Jonny Nielsen and Lorne Young attended last week’s meeting of Elk Point Town Council, a visit which Schultz said was “a prime opportunity to find out (council’s) feelings on economic development, and what directions you’d like us to take. We don’t just cover Elk Point, we have one county member and feel that the county contributes to the town and vice versa.”
Each councillor gave input, Coun. Bernice Capjack’s take on the EDC’s role as “groundwork, research on how Elk Point could and should improve, and bringing to council things we could actually do. I value the work you have been doing.”
Coun. Dwayne Yaremkevich, who also sits on the EDC, said the committee’s work “is a slow process, but we’re coming along.”
“I don’t quite understand the relationship between the committee, the town and the economic development coordinator,” Coun. Eugene Buck said, adding that he has “philosophical misgivings” and is “interested in an all-inclusive, healthy community, but opposed to corporate welfare bum giveaways. It’s not healthy to wallow in boosterism, and I want the EDC to be firmly grounded in reality. The town is not a money pit; the town is all the people who live here.”
Coun Ron Fraess asked for a definition of economic development, which Schultz said is “looking at ways to make businesses strong and vital, to enhance the business community and make Elk Point more appealing to (make businesses and families) look at relocating here.”
Fraess sees Elk Point as “vibrant and well-looked-after, clean town. I feel it’s the town’s job to look after and maintain what we have. If there are tax incentives, they should also include who should pick up the slack. Economic development is a very broad picture. People have to have a reason to show up and to be here.”
Schultz further defined the committee’s role as “to get together and gather thoughts to make this town a better place to be.”
“We have representatives from various areas of the community, education, business, the county,” added Young. “We look at ways to help existing businesses and encourage new ones, but we also look at lifestyle – what would make people want to live here. We gather a range of opinions from a range of people.”
On the lifestyle issue, Schultz added, “we did a lot of groundwork on the water spray park, then got the recreation coordinator involved. There are 3,000 seniors moving to Alberta each month because their family members moved here to work – how can we entice them to look at Elk Point as a place to make their home? These are part of what we try to d; we have to try to regenerate the population.”
“One of our most recent focuses is on affordable housing,” Smith noted,
The EDC is “a big group of people with various experience,” Mayor Parrish Tung noted. “They are our eyes and ears. We have to have a population base to support business, and that’s one of the EDC’s biggest jobs right now.” He said that one “really big advantage” of Elk Point is that “you can see a doctor within two days. We aren’t looking at a swimming pool, but at streetlights and other improvements. That’s what the goal is.”
“We got a grant for trail development, and one of our members did some awesome work on planning for it,” Nielsen said
The EDC’s goal is “to keep Elk Point vibrant. We don’t want to see it die. Steady growth is better than a boom,” Schultz concluded. He noted that the EDC is currently “down a few members. We’re soliciting, and will bring the names to council for approval.”
Economic development coordinator Bob Bezpalko was next on the agenda, and reported that Lakeland College would be in Elk Point on Wednesday to install renewable energy performance monitoring equipment at the Visitor Information EcoCentre as part of their five-year contract. An interpretive centre for renewable energy is being considered as part of the centre. The Grade 9 students from F. G. Miller High School are hoping to tour the facility as part of their science program, and Bezpalko would like to see the study of renewable energy become part of the curriculum. He also noted that the town’s website will be expanded with a section on renewable energy.
“We’re looking at a very exciting year.”
Bezpalko had compiled a proposal on tax incentives, which was distributed to council in camera at one of the September meetings. “We decided to wait for the new council before discussed it,” Mayor Tung explained.
“I’m not a believer in tax incentives,” Coun. Fraess said. “The town could be out money. If you’re going to exempt something, you have to decide what you will replace those funds with.”
The mayor clarified that those property owners who benefit from the property tax break do have to pay the education portion of the tax, so the tax-free period does not mean an additional cash outlay for the town. He later noted that buildings are not assessed until construction is complete. “It is actually deferred tax, and can promote the town.”
“We want to have a healthy town,” Coun. Buck noted. “If we can have affordable housing and reasonable taxes, it’s its own reward.”
Coun. Yaremkevich liked the current two-year incentive, which, “in reality is only one year of town taxes, because a building is not taxed in the year it is constructed. I think we should table this and go through this thoroughly before we decide.” He emphasized that, “assessment (of a house) doesn’t matter as long as it’s fair, and is the same for the same size and kind of house everywhere in town.”
Coun. Capjack said she liked “how it is now. I would also like an incentive for business owners to spruce up.”
After further discussion, Council agreed to forward the proposal to the EDC and ask for their feedback by the end of January.
The new cemetery bylaw was given all three readings. It was determined that this bylaw pertains only to the east cemetery at this time, as the west cemetery, located across the road from the Elk Point Recreation Park, is currently cared for by a cohesive group of dedicated volunteers, who take pride in doing so.