BCB funding debated
The Cape Breton Regional Municipality’s future approach to economic development efforts came under debate as councillors debated whether to continue to fund Business Cape Breton during its budget session this week.
The 2017-18 CBRM operating budget proposal included almost $288,000 in municipal funding for Business Cape Breton, which last year council designated as the CBRM’s business development entity. The budget summary noted that the organization is also seeking almost $224,000 in funding from the province as well as funding from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities agency to support its small business development centre.
CBRM CAO Michael Merritt said for the current fiscal year, the province has funded Business Cape Breton and the proposal is in to the province to continue that for the coming year. In response, the group’s chair Parker Rudderham told council that he has received a commitment from Municipal Affairs Minister Zach Churchill confirming the province’s funding.
“We do not have any of their money from ACOA, it is still under review at this late stage of the game,” Merritt said. “I have been in constant contact with ACOA, local, Halifax, recently to the president of ACOA to ask why it’s been held up. It has not been accepted nor has it been not accepted at this point in time.”
Merritt said the amount the CBRM is putting into economic development probably isn’t sufficient but he believes its investment is “prudent.”
Dist. 2 Coun. Earlene MacMullin questioned whether the CBRM’s financial commitment to Business Cape Breton is, as with other community groups, contingent on it successfully leveraging funds from other sources. Merritt said that is not the case.
Dist. 8 Coun. Amanda McDougall said that left her, “a little bit gobsmacked.”
“We are very diligent with our community groups and organizations in saying, ‘yes, we will support you but you have to prove that you are going to get confirmation of funding from various levels of government,’” she said.
“I know we need economic development here but the optics of this is horrible in the public. This is taxpayer money, we can’t just make up rules for one organization over another.”
Mayor Cecil Clarke said the difference between it and other groups is that Destination Cape Breton is the only one that has been recognized as the CBRM’s economic development entity.
John Phalen, a former CBRM public works manager, recently became economic development manager with the municipality. McDougall suggested doing more economic development projects in-house, rather than using an outside organization, adding she doubts that this late in the fiscal year the ACOA money is forthcoming.
Council has talked about setting up an economic development committee. Merritt said the coming year would probably be a suitable time to carry out a review “to see if you want to reprofile moneys in-house, specifically to John Phalen and his initiatives or to continue on with Business Cape Breton and such.”
A motion by McDougall to defer the funding for Business Cape Breton was ultimately defeated. The group’s allocation was approved as part of the overall operating budget package.
The administration budget also included a $9,500 increase in travel due to an increase in activity for economic development to be undertaken by Phalen.
The administration budget also included a $80,000 allocation to Destination Cape Breton.