In January, 2010, an optimistic Mr. Ron Holland was hired as the new manager of the City of Wetaskiwin economic development department. There would be lots of ideas and a vision on how to grow the City of Wetaskiwin, economically with the intent being to reduce the tax burden on residents and businesses.
As described in the link, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_development, “Economic development is the sustained, concerted actions of policy makers and communities that promote the standard of living and economic health of a specific area. Economic development can also be referred to as the quantitative and qualitative changes in the economy.”
The new council, mayor and administration at that time were expecting some noteworthy growth and development. “The momentum of the two major construction projects on Wetaskiwin’s east-side, the start of the regional aquatics and fitness centre (Manluk Centre) and the Main Street revitalization program will help attract even more investment in our community.” This was one of the arguments put forward by the city for funding these two major projects.
The anticipated growth and development hasn’t happened. As reported by the city, “The most recent census data for the City of Wetaskiwin is from the 2011 Federal Census showing the City with a population of 12,525. This represents a reported increase of 1 per cent per year since 2011”.
On June 15, Holland once again sat in front of council to present the Economic Development Action Plan, 2015 – 2018. The new plan is different. It has some stated some pretty ambitious goals and quantifiable actions: retail openings will increase by 10 in 2015, 15 in 2015 and 25 in 2017 for a total of 50 new retail outlets. And new retail developments will increase by 1 in 2015, 2 in 2016 and 2 in 2017 for a total of five new retail developments by 2017.
What is missing in the plan are specific dollar amounts attached to each action and what might be expected as a return-on- investment. Simply, are all the actions proposed in the plan financially feasible within the economic development budget? Checking the City of Wetaskiwin report for 2014, it shows the economic development budget was $434,128. It also shows revenue to be $127,925 leaving a net operating cost of $306,203 each year. This does not include many other expenses borne by the city such as communications, advertising, marketing, displays and other special events.
The plan has a focus. “It has been developed with the goal of achieving balanced growth in all industry sectors. However, special attention will be given to the newly developed South East Industrial Park and a continued focus will be directed towards resolving our on-going challenges in the retail area.”
Surveys have proven lack of retail has been an ongoing challenge for Wetaskiwin. In 2012, Wetaskiwin city council commissioned the Mustel Group of Vancouver, BC to undertake an analysis of the retail shopping patterns of Wetaskiwin-region consumers. Shocking results revealed that eight out of every 10 Wetaskiwin residents shop outside the City of Wetaskiwin on a monthly basis.
The 2015-18 City of Wetaskiwin Economic Development Plan suggests it will address this issue. “The Retail Development Program will continue the initiative of promoting the retail opportunities in our community.” The plan also states, “For the past several years, the Economic Development Department has attended both the Canadian and western Canadian conference/trade show events which are organized by the International Council of Shopping Centers. We will continue to work with the local owners of retail properties to assist them in their leasing programs, ensuring that prospective retailers and shopping centre developers are aware of the Retail Opportunity Study.” Holland olHand Mayor Bill Elliot will be attending the 2015 International Council of Shopping Centers Canadian Convention in Toronto, October 4 to 7.
In the meantime the city has been forced to raise taxes and user fees and borrow money to operate the city. Unfortunately property taxes and utility increases are not tied to one’s ability to pay. And if the community economy stays stagnant, this is out of the control of ratepayers.
The approved City of Wetaskiwin 2015 municipal budget calls for a tax increase of 4 per cent to fund municipal operations and capital expenditures and a 2.5 per cent dedicated infrastructure improvement charge for a total increase of 6.5 per cent. Utility fees are scheduled to rise by 5 per cent. Budget 2015 also includes a new environmental levy of $10 per month, which will assist in meeting the environmental regulations for the closure and post-closure costs associated with the city landfill.
Other goals presented by Holland in the economic development plan include marketing all serviced industrial land sites which are ready for project development and attracting a major industrial developer who would create a major industrial; marketing all retail locations in our community and facilitating the development of vacant retail land within the city. Also included is growth in the residential (housing starts) and commercial (hotel rooms and office space) and to continue the Business Visitation program.