Sidney council approved an agreement designed to help the community recover from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic by a single vote.
Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith joined Couns. Sara Duncan, Chad Rintoul and Peter Wainwright to support approval of a two-year-agreement with the Sidney Business Improvement Area Society (SBIA) to fund a business development manager for “support services to all business areas in Sidney,” (not just the downtown core).
The municipality’s total annual commitment toward the post is $60,000 while the SBIA will contribute $65,952. Couns. Barbara Fallot, Scott Garnett and Terri O’Keeffe opposed the measure. Sidney’s share of the fund comes from the federal-provincial COVID-19 re-start grant of $2.75 million announced last year.
“What I am concerned with the current MOU (memorandum of understanding) is there is no provision for a review, there is no option for council to consider not funding the second year if we feel that the program is not meeting the expectations of the people in the community,” said O’Keeffe.
She also pointed to language that speaks of providing more direct support to negatively impacted sectors such as hospitality and tourism.
While that might be true, this language could be read as conflict of interest, said
O’Keeffe said that could be seen as a conflict of interest, as the SBIA could want to support its members who are primarily in those sectors. “If the SBIA feels that their members need more attention, it should fund support through its own levy. The taxpayers and other business sectors shouldn’t have to pay for that via the town’s contribution of $60,000,” she said.
Wainwright, who helped to draft the final MOU, defended it, including changes to its length to a true two-year-term. A one-year-term followed by a review six months into it (as O’Keeffe favoured) would have made it difficult to find somebody qualified, he said. “After quite a bit of discussion, it was felt that two years were essentially necessary for the evaluation of this.”
McNeil-Smith said the agreement could be revised in the future once the development of a $60,000 economic development strategy funded through the re-start grant had run its course.
“I contrast this (agreement) with doing nothing — we are in the worst economic crisis in at least a generation,” he said, predicting that the economic recovery will go beyond 2021 and 2022. “I strongly urge council members to consider this.”
Humble said earlier that the agreement strikes an appropriate balance between accountability and flexibility.
The business development manager reports directly to the Sidney BIA with the economic advisory committee (EAC) playing an advisory role. This said, the manager will attend EAC meetings to provide updates and receive advice. The BIA will provide direct reports to Council as Council will provide oversight of the agreement.
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