United in community improvement
Tim Simpson, CAO of the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, stands with Economic Development and Communications Officer of North Dundas Stephen Mann, at the North Dundas public session regarding implementing community improvement plans, which was held at the Township office in Winchester on Thurs., March 1. Vetter photo
WINCHESTER – Tim J. Simpson, CAO of the United Counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, and Terry Besner, Economic Development and Communications Officer for SDG, visited the Township of North Dundas’ office on Thurs., March 1, to present information and receive feedback on the Counties’ Community Improvement Plan.
Along with Economic Development and Communications Officer of North Dundas Stephen Mann, Simpson discussed the goals and the methods of what has been worked out so far regarding the CIP. He gave the context and background, laid out some ideas for regional strategies, gave funding examples and outlined next steps.
About 15 people, including North Dundas politicians and local businesspersons, attended, and were keen to give their suggestions and feedback to SDG and also to find out how they can access grants and loans under the program.
SDG County is asking the public in all its townships to either attend an upcoming meeting (one is left – tomorrow morning at 7:15 a.m. at the MacIntosh Inn in Morrisburg) or go online and complete the survey (sdgcounties.ca/CIPnotice).
Although the survey lists four areas of regional focus: agricultural value-add, brownfield redevelopment, reuse of commercial buildings, and development of roofed accommodations; the presenters stressed that other ideas which may have been missed are all welcome.
The point of giving either grants or loans to improve the communities in SDG is to draw in more tourism and make the villages of the area more attractive to future investors and business start-ups or relocations. Adding accessibility and improving facades and entrances, increasing parking where appropriate, possible creation of a standard look or style for signage in the area, increasing heritage and cultural aspects, public art, encouragement of roofed accommodations (small hotels, motels, bed and breakfast homes and inns), commercial branding, farm gate attractions, and other ideas could be eligible for CIP funding.
So far the proposed funding streams are: agricultural value-add and facility improvement projects; brownfield redevelopment; re-purposing commercial, institutional, and industrial buildings; development of roofed accommodations within the County’s rural areas; agricultural value-add including farmgate sales, agri-tourism initiatives, on-site production/retailing, building and signage enhancements, landscaping and grounds improvement; brownfield redevelopment including sites contaminated by former uses (e.g. gas stations); re-use of commercial, institutional, and industrial buildings (applies to un-used or underutilized buildings); interior renovations; hazardous material remediation; landscaping elements; well/septic systems; and funds to (re)develop B&B’s and small motels.
Several business owners in the audience asked for more details, which Simpson said were still in the process of being worked out, but generally the Counties would try to accommodate improvements as much as possible. For example, when asked if the property owner only could apply, or if tenants could also apply, Simpson said SDG was currently considering what other municipalities had done. Some allowed only owners to apply and others allowed both. He suggested it may be worthwhile when completing the survey to mention if it would be beneficial to apply for multiple grants on one property.
Everyone present, whether municipal staff, councillor, business owner or resident, agreed with the principle of return on investment.
“At North Dundas we’ve had good success with community improvement interest-free loans,” said Mayor Eric Duncan. “The cost is interest we may have earned, but the return on investment, as far as effect on the community, is about 10 to one.”
An attendee at the meeting added, “The return on investment may even be higher if you’re helping kids prepare for the future.”
Regarding tourism, several ideas were mentioned, including increasing attractiveness of towns and villages, and maximizing agri-tourism through the Agri- Food Network which has become quite popular in Eastern Ontario. “There’s a lot of interest now in where food comes from,” said Besner. “Having recipes, chefs and events on the farm with home grown, home cooked food.”
One farm owner asked about help with insurance, stating that her farm can only host two groups per year according to their insurer. “Could the counties get us a group rate?” she asked.
Simpson agreed with her. “That’s a good point. Insurance companies prohibit a lot of activities that used to happen.”
There is also the issue, for tourists, of overnight accommodations beyond camping, and more. As Duncan said, “We’re not going to be picky – anything that can bring tourism in!”
Regarding brownfields, that presents a bigger, and potentially more expensive problem. It is estimated there are about 70 old, closed gas stations in the area, for example. Duncan said that as far as cleaning up contaminated sites went, sometimes a grant in the form of tax relief could be an effective and less expensive way to help with clean-up costs.
All in all the discussion seemed fruitful, and the counties encourage members of the public to get their opinions in, by visiting sdgcounties.ca/CIPnotice or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or contacting the economic development officer for your township.
Funding is expected to be available this summer.