Magnetawan council is giving notice it's not going to continue partnering with an economic development group in Almaguin. The Almaguin Community Economic Development (ACED) receives senior government money to operate, in addition to annual funding from member communities. Magnetawan council exercised its right to give one year's notice it is withdrawing from the group. The current three-year agreement came into force in September 2019 and will automatically renew for another three years after September 2022. However, Magnetawan wants no part of a second, three-year term. Deputy Mayor Tim Brunton told council colleagues that while he believes it's necessary to have a concerted effort toward economic development, and in some cases there's a need for a regional approach, Brunton believes ACED's current structure and approach can't be maintained if outside funding ends. A large part of ACED's funding is through FedNor's Community Investment Initiative for Northern Ontario (CIINO) in addition to provincial government funds through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation Internship program. “Currently ACED has a staff that includes a director of economic development, economic development officer, a communications and marketing officer and an administrative assistant,” Brunton said. “The current total funding by the members of ACED is $105,000 a year. So without (senior government) grants, ACED would be hard-pressed to sustain one staff member when considering all salary and benefits costs and then be able to do anything beyond that.” Brunton believes that if outside funding dries up, in its current form ACED can only continue to exist if “significant increases in municipal contributions are made and I do not see all current members agreeing to this.” Besides Magnetawan, members are the townships of Strong, Joly, Perry, Armour and Ryerson, as well as South River, Burk's Falls, Sundridge, Powassan and the Almaguin Highlands Chamber of Commerce. Despite passing the resolution, Brunton and council are not closing the door to economic development partnerships in the future. “I may very well support ACED or some form of it in the future,” Brunton said. “I may recommend that our municipality contribute financially to specific requests to fund regional activity for a program in the future. However, at this time, to commit to another three years is something I can't endorse and I think it's necessary under terms of this agreement to provide notice to withdraw one year in advance.” While the Magnetawan council resolution thanks ACED's effort to encourage economic development in the Almaguin region, it also states that based on a cost benefit analysis of continuing to partner with ACED, it's in the best interests of the Magnetawan taxpayers that the municipality have a dedicated in-house employee overseeing economic development. Magnetawan Mayor Sam Dunnett said Brunton was correct in his position and Dunnett added he doubted the federal and provincial funding to ACED would continue after the three-year term was up. “At this time impacts to the funding of ACED resulting from the withdrawal, if any, are unknown,” said Dave Gray, ACED's director of economic development. Gray says the contributions from both the federal and provincial governments, allow ACED “to operate at full capacity and reduce the municipal contribution significantly.” He expressed optimism that Magnetawan remains interested in supporting regional economic development initiatives and that council's decision to opt out of the agreement had nothing to do with “a lack of value in the program.” Gray adds Magnetawan is in a unique position to partially dedicate a person to “cover economic development services for the municipality which is a key factor in their decision.” Gray also says even though Magnetawan may not be part of ACED as a member community after its departure next year, ACED will continue to help it out if the municipality needs or asks for help. Gray told the Nugget no other member community has served notice that it intends to withdraw from ACED.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget