COVID-19 impacts remained on the minds of RM of Edenwold councillors at their Dec. 8 council meeting as they reviewed an economic development strategy to further assist local businesses and residents struggling through the pandemic.
RM administration presented additional options to bolster the municipality’s economic recovery plan, including working with Economic Development Regina on the AudacityYQR business mentorship program, a Community Proud request-for-proposal process to promote local businesses, and a business count survey.
“We had talked about a mentorship component before and the good thing about AudacityYQR is it is already in existence,” planning associate Ross Zimmerman. “The RM doesn’t have to do anything but put this program on our social media. If people have business ideas they are thinking of starting up, AudacityYQR is one avenue they have to talk with other entrepreneurs.”
Zimmerman said the Community Proud program would be an extension of current policy favouring local businesses in requests for proposals.
“This is something we already do — we just don’t tell people we do it,” Zimmerman said. “This puts into writing that the RM supports local business by prioritizing working with local companies in doing RM contracts.”
As for the business count survey, Zimmerman said this builds on a previous survey done in 2017. Then, 120 businesses were polled and 99 submitted responses. Zimmerman suggested the survey could include questions on how COVID-19 has impacted their businesses, whether the RM was a good place to do business and query businesses on transportation issues.
Administration also updated council on how earlier economic development incentives worked, including a request to increase the RM’s Green Fund to $20,000 and finding ways to improve internet service in rural areas.
The Green Fund offers grants for businesses to spruce up the aesthetics of their properties to better match nearby residential areas. Unused money from low uptake from the business community in the last phase’s first aid courses meant there was approximately $1,000 more to allocate to the Green Fund, which council agreed to do.
“We’ve had good successes with that, and we threw in that hazardous waste day that Pilot Butte partnered with us on,” RM administrator Kim McIvor said. “That turned out to be a very successful program, so that will be back for discussion later. With enhancing the Green Fund, with such good uptake on the $10,000 we put into it, let’s see if we can build on that momentum and keep it in place for next year because if can help our businesses in any way, that’s something we should do.”
Reeve Mitchell Huber said increasing the Green Fund from $10,000 to $20,000, was “not a big ask.”
“If you can improve the neighbourhood, it’s a way to dress things up without taking on that work ourselves,” Huber said of the Green Fund grant program.
While some of that Green Fund money was for increasing landscaping trees and other greenery, some businesses used the fund to improve their parking lots as well, a loophole Councillor Wayne Joyce wants to close.
“If someone is going to pave their yard, they will pave their yard,” Joyce said. “We shouldn’t be giving them money to do what they were going to do anyway. If it’s a Green Fund, it should be a Green Fund. Our ratepayers want to see more greenery in a business park and things that take away from that. South Plains (Drive) is the most offensive because it’s lot after lot of equipment. People would rather see some greenery there so it doesn’t look so offensive coming out of or going into a residential area.”
Council consensus sided with Joyce in favouring the removal of a paving component to future Green Fund allocations, then voted to increase the Green Fund to $20,000.
An update on an off-leash dog park proposal for Emerald Park was also brought to council in advance of budget discussions for 2021. A 12-person community committee has met twice to consider what could go into a dog park, such as segregated areas for small dogs or large dogs to avoid conflicts, water stations for dogs and their owners to stay hydrated, and the provision of shady areas and benches to allow people and dogs to get a break from the sun for a while.
“The advisory committee has done all it really can, and as a result, planning and development is asking for council to approve (funding for further study of the development of a dog park),” Zimmerman said.
The future location of a fire hall in Emerald Park could be a factor in where a dog park is located.
Jedlic said a dog park could have qualified for Investing in Canada Infrastructure program funding if it were a shovel-ready project. Initial funding from the RM is needed for plans to be developed and the project to reach shovel-ready status.
“We can’t apply for grants until we have a plan we can actually submit,” Jedlic said.
Huber questioned whether possibly spending $100,000 to build a dog park as business and residents struggle financially through a pandemic was palatable to council. Jedlic said the ability to get grant money to lower the RM’s cost to build the park is compromised if the municipality doesn’t approve the costs to develop a plan for the park. She agreed the placement of a fire hall should come first.
Council deferred a decision until a later date.
Deputy reeve selected
Stan Capnerhurst was chosen to serve as Deputy reeve. The Division 2 councillor has served on Council for the past 12 years.
Keith Borkowsky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Quad Town Forum