Growing Stratford about balancing costs, say mayoral candidates

Stratford mayoral candidates Gail MacDonald and Steve Ogden in the Island Morning studio with Mitch Cormier. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC - image credit)
Stratford mayoral candidates Gail MacDonald and Steve Ogden in the Island Morning studio with Mitch Cormier. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC - image credit)

Both of the mayoral candidates in Stratford, P.E.I., want to see the town add services without raising taxes, but they have some disagreements about what fits into that formula.

Stratford residents will choose between Steve Ogden and Gail MacDonald on Nov. 7. The two sat down to discuss the issues facing the town with Island Morning host Mitch Cormier on Wednesday.

Stratford has long been one of the fastest-growing communities on the Island, but it relies on Charlottetown for many of its services. That's where the town's teenagers go to high school, and where many residents shop and go out to eat.

"My vision of Stratford is to have a full-service community, to have everything we need on our side of the bridge so there's no need to expend energy to go into Charlottetown for any reason," said Ogden.

And MacDonald agrees.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

"There is a lot of desire for more commercial in our town," she said.

"People do want to shop in Stratford. They don't want to have to go across the bridge to purchase women's clothing, for example. [There's] a need for more restaurants, and perhaps a bank as well."

Development plans

The town is currently working on a proposal from the Gray Group to build a downtown just to the west of an existing large commercial development and south and east of the town hall. The development will come together over the course of the next two decades.

While MacDonald supports the development, she said she has been hearing an important caveat from Stratford residents: With inflation already eating away at people's pocketbooks, tax increases can't be part of growth.

"If our plans for the future include massive projects that will, indeed, result in a tax increase, then we have to go back to the table on that," she said.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

Ogden agrees the town needs to look to other solutions.

"If it doesn't fit within the existing tax structure, we don't do it. We look for federal, provincial funding, we look for private funding," he said.

'Our own rink would cost us'

But the candidates disagreed on how far tax dollars might stretch in providing new services for the town.

Ogden would like to see improved recreational facilities in the town, including a centre with a rink. Currently Stratford residents typically travel to Pownal for time on the ice, and MacDonald believes they are fine with that solution.

"If a rink results in a tax increase, they're OK with driving the nine to 10 minutes to our Pownal rink, which costs us in the area of $50,000 a year," said MacDonald.

"Our own rink would cost us probably closer to a million dollars a year in operational costs alone, let alone the construction of the building."

But Ogden said the town has already taken a closer look at this question, and argues the cost is only one side of the equation.

"We have already commissioned a study that shows a recreational complex would be, in effect, a revenue generator in the long-term," he said.

"That doesn't include a pool, but with the other elements in it it would actually be a revenue generator."

The demand for the facility is there, he said, and the town should be looking for federal, provincial and private funding to help make it happen.