Economic development a top priority for municipal candidates

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News

 

By Barb McKay

 

Economic development and affordable housing dominated the discussion during last week’s Municipality of Kincardine all-candidates meeting.

 

Approximately 250 residents came out to the meeting hosted by the Kincardine and District Chamber of Commerce at the Davidson Centre last Wednesday to hear where municipal candidates stood on important local issues.

 

There are 13 candidates running in the 2018 municipal election – two mayoral, three Ward 1, two Ward 2 and six councillor-at-large hopefuls. Randy Roppel has been acclaimed as Ward 3 councillor. The candidates were each given the opportunity to make opening remarks to explain to voters why they are running.

 

“Being mayor is another way to give back to my community,” said incumbent mayoral candidate Anne Eadie. “These are exciting times and I want to be part of them.”

 

She talked about progress that had been made over the last term to bring natural gas to the municipality, the transition of Bruce Telecom to a municipal services corporation and working with Bruce Power to welcome new businesses into the community.

 

Ron Stephens, who is also running for mayor, welcomed the crowd that had gathered for the meeting and said he wished more young people had attended. He said a question was raised during the last municipal election about looking into the municipality’s finances and that is something he would pursue if elected.

 

“A lot of money has been spent here and we don’t know what on,” he said. “We need a clean slate and the only way to know where your tax money is going is to do an audit.”

 

Stephens said he had concerns about the plan to bring natural gas to Kincardine. He questioned whether natural gas would be coming from the ground or if the project had anything to do with bio-digesters. Later in the meeting Eadie answered his question.

 

“I am on the natural gas committee and we’ve worked really hard,” she said, “and I assure you that bio-digesters are not part of the plan. It’s out of the ground.”

 

Ward 1 candidates include incumbent Maureen Couture, Gerry Glover and Adam Cherry. Two candidates will ultimately be elected.

 

Cherry said he has been out canvassing and has listened to constituents.

 

“People have a few things that they want fixed,” he said. “There are mobility issues at the beach and downtown.”

 

Couture said one of her top priorities is affordable housing. With real estate prices continuing to rise she would like to see the municipality offer incentives to developers to encourage them to build affordable homes.

 

Gerry Glover said he is running for council to make a positive contribution to the community. One of his focuses is on economic development and attracting new businesses to the community.

 

Two candidates are running for a single seat to represent Ward 2. Linda McKee is running for a second term and said the municipality needs to continue to make investments in the community because of Bruce Power’s refurbishment project. She added that the municipality needs to continue with the natural gas project and make some investments in recreation in Ward 2.

 

Bill Stewart is also running for the Ward 2 seat and said he is dedicated to serving the community. He said there are infrastructure needs in his ward that need to be addressed, including roads and culverts, and he would like to see improvements made to the Bervie Park.

 

There are six candidates for four councillor-at-large seats. The candidate with the most votes will become deputy mayor. Gord Campbell, Laura Haight and Andrew White are all seeking another term on council and are joined by Dave Cuyler, Doug Kennedy and Marie Wilson. White was unable to attend the all-candidates meeting.

 

Campbell said the municipality needs to build an extension to the main runway at the Kincardine airport to accommodate larger private aircraft that are landing at neighbouring airports for business related to Bruce Power. He said he also supports further development in the municipality.

 

Cuyler said he wants to explore ideas to attract new business the municipality.

 

“Bruce Power is a wonderful partner in our community, but it shouldn’t be the only one,” he said.

 

Haight said as the municipality is experiencing growth, investments in infrastructure need to be made, not only for today, but for decades to come.

 

Kennedy, who has been heavily involved in recreation initiatives, said he wants to demonstrate that he can make improvements in other areas. His priorities include improvements to the hospital, improvements to parks and facilities and restoring the Blue Flag status to Station Beach.

 

Wilson said the municipality needs to foster economic development and progress further with servicing land in the municipality for future development.

 

Residents who attended the meeting had an opportunity to pose questions to the candidates. Darrel Perry, a downtown business owner and BIA member, asked the candidates what they believe needs to be done to make the downtown more vibrant and to attract new businesses. Jim Prenger of the Penetangore Regional Economic Development Corporation asked what the municipality could do to move offices out of the downtown.

 

Eadie cited Bruce County’s Spruce the Bruce grant program and added that the municipality needs to look at ways to attract retail businesses.

 

Stephens said when towns like Goderich and Hanover have thriving downtowns, Kincardine should be doing more.

 

“It’s almost like Kincardine has hit a standstill, is almost going backwards. We have to work so we have a situation where we aren’t at a standstill.”

 

Haight said extending municipal services to development lands in the municipality is important to move offices out of the downtown core. She said the Ontario Peninsula Farms land behind the Sutton Park plaza is serviced and hopefully office buildings will be constructed there.

 

Kennedy said there are some good downtown events but there could be more.

 

“We need to work as a team to do more of that to bring people downtown,” he said.

 

Wilson said she thinks Kincardine has a great downtown, but there is always room for improvement. She agreed that once there is more land serviced for commercial development businesses will move their offices out of the downtown. She said she has heard from constituents that there needs to be a greater mix of retail downtown.

 

Cherry said there is a need for additional parking downtown. He added that businesses could work together more on initiatives, such as a loyalty program, to draw people downtown.

 

Couture said the municipality could work more closely with the BIA. She added that there is a need for greater parking enforcement downtown.

 

Stewart said the town needs to attract more specialty retailers to compete with online shopping. He suggested that some of the historic homes on Princes Street could be converted into office space to open up retail space downtown.

 

McKee commented that the municipality has recently hired an economic development officer and progress is being made.

 

Glover said he agreed with the comments made about the need for serviced land and said he would be remiss if he did not pass along comments from constituents who are confused about where to get information about tourism and events, because the location of the visitor centre keeps changing.

 

Affordable housing was another prominent topic of discussion during the all-candidates meeting after one resident commented that before eight units were built in 2017, it had been 26 years since affordable housing had been constructed in the municipality. How is this town going to being in housing that is affordable for people working in the restaurant and retail industry, the resident asked.

 

Couture said it isn’t easy because developers want to make money, but the municipality could offer incentives for builders to take on affordable housing projects by waiving fees or reducing taxes.

 

Glover said the municipality could work with the county to identify surplus land that could be used. He said high development fees are a drawback.

 

“My brother-in-law is a builder and one of the deterrents is the high cost to build here,” he said.

 

Cherry said affordable housing is needed in Kincardine so that businesses can keep employees here. Kennedy, who manages a restaurant, agreed.

 

“This is something I deal with on a monthly basis,” he said, noting that restaurants have a hard time keeping staff because they can’t afford to live here.

 

“This isn’t just a problem for young people,” Stephens said, “It’s hard for seniors as well.”

 

He said surplus municipal land should be used to build affordable housing.

 

Eadie said Kincardine has been identified by the county as an area in need of more affordable housing.

 

“The county is responsible for social services, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do something.”

 

Other issues identified by residents included extending hours of operation at the waste management centre in Armow, installing new playground equipment in Bervie Park, extending the runway at the airport and improving animal welfare, all concerns that candidates agreed should be looked into.