Editorial: Economic Development – It’s time to split or get off the pot

Morinville’s taxes are – give or take a percentage point or two – made up of 93 per cent residential and seven per cent commercial / industrial. Economic development is often considered to be encouraging business growth and attracting new business, new commerce, and new industry to a community. It is not of course limited to that narrow definition by any means.

For as long as we can recall councillors individually and collectively have preached the wisdom of doing something to increase the tax split so that the municipality did not rely so heavily on residential taxes. Numbers tossed around were working to increase the split from 93-7 to something in the neighbourhood of 85-15 or even 80-20.

And yet last Tuesday night councillors, in their desire to trim down the proposed 2012 budget, voted unanimously to trim down $80,000 earmarked for economic development to just $40,000. This idea was brought forward by Councillor David Pattison. It was surprising because on Oct. 11, 2010, then candidate David Pattison published an open letter to the community on his bid for office. At that time the would-be politician told the electorate economic development was important to him:

“Economic development is important in setting future direction for growth of our community. It is a source of employment for local and regional residents, and offers future opportunities for our children to live and work in Morinville. We recognize the importance of supporting our local business community. They are our neighbours and their livelihood depends on our patronage. Residents have said to me that the existing businesses are the best ambassadors and examples on which to attract new business to Morinville. I believe that Town Council can work more closely with the Morinville District Chamber of Commerce to identify, target and attract new complementary businesses to our community.”

Now in fairness to Councillor Pattison, perhaps he intended that to mean those goals could be accomplished with existing resources and talent, between a municipal organization and a non-profit business advocacy group with no expenditure of dollars.

Mayor Lloyd Bertschi, who also voted in favour of the cut last Tuesday night, was more to the point in his Oct. 14, 2010 guest editorial when he was looking to secure his mayoral seat:

“Our current 90/10 residential/non-residential tax split is unsustainable in the long term. In the 2010 budget the Town Council allocated monies to fund the creation of an economic development strategy. As your Mayor this strategy will not sit on a shelf and gather dust. The time for talk is over … it is time for action. We will hire an Economic Development Officer to implement the strategies identified in the research.”

As of the end of 2011 Morinville has no economic development officer and to our knowledge no economic development strategy or committee.

The Mayor and Councillor Pattison were not alone in their campaigning on economic development and levelling the tax split. To our recollection all candidates both elected and unelected campaigned to that end. It was a substantial issue.
But here we are a year and some months later. It is time to split or get off the pot. Either Morinville is sincere in increasing the commercial side of the tax split or it is not. The fact that cannot be ignored is that Morinville has seen an 11 per cent population growth between 2009 and 2011, outstripping St. Albert on a unit for unit basis, not adjusted for population. This influx of residents was accomplished not because Morinville has a lot of businesses to offer shoppers, but because the community was perceived as an affordable and attractive place to buy a home.

Perhaps Morinville needs to follow this success pattern, focusing on slow but steady residential growth as the Municipal Development Plan and Municipal Sustainability Plan seem to indicate. The interesting thing about business is that capitalists and corporatists alike will go where there is market share to be had and market share is usually found where there is population and population growth.

The important thing for business owners and residents looking for more shops to remember is there is no magic bullet to solving the residential / commercial tax split or ensuring Morinville has the McDonald’s and other corporate icons people feel entitled to have. Many initiatives play into economic development. The Coeur de Morinville Plan would potentially create a residential / commercial mixture on Main Street, creating resident clients for resident businesses. The Highway 642 Functional Study will continue to lobby the province so businesses that want to locate on our main drag do not have to jump through as many hoops to create viable commercial enterprise. And Planning and Development can encourage economic development by continuing to alter bylaws, policies and customer service approaches so that business can flourish within reasonable guidelines for all. Ratepayers can encourage economic development by simply supporting Morinville businesses.

We all need to split or get off the pot with respect to economic development. Either we must be content to be a bedroom community where business will follow residential growth as the cards of commerce flow from the deck or we need to live up to campaign promises about putting plans in action.

If the former is the case, $40,000 for economic development is too much; if the latter is the plan, $40,000 is likely not enough.

-SD

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2 Comments

  1. Excellent article. It’s always important to be able to give an outline of projected growth to clients, so a defined plan and consistent message from Council would be essential to that.

  2. There is a difference between doing the right thing and being seen to do the right thing.

    It’s great to raise one’s hand and vote to cut economic development spending, so one can be SEEN to be doing the right thing and keeping spending down.

    For years, council has waited to do very much in terms of economic development because of the need to get long range planning documents in place, so they would then know what type of development officer we would need. For example, if you do not know what the long range plan is, how do you hire the right kind of development officer? Do we need one that specializes in industrial growth or one in commercial growth or some other specialty?

    Those long range plans are for the most part in place so now is the time to act.

    To DO the right thing!

    There was a time not that long ago, when council chambers were FULL with angry rate payers who (although there for a different reason) were asked about the town starting efforts to get another industrial park going. The response was overwhelming. YES, they said!!

    The following day the Chamber of commerce echoed the night before by saying YES to the same question.

    By increasing the industrial/commercial rate compared to the residential rate council will be DOING the right thing because they will be able to keep long range tax increase to a minimum as the industrial/commercial rate increases.

    STOP trying so hard to get our vote by doing what you think is politically correct. Act in Morinville’s best interest. Then the vote will take care of its self.

    The industrial park is just one area that I think we should be pursuing. An economic development officer would be able to identify many more.

    There has to be many more because right now we are pursuing none.

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