Rod­dick­ton-Bide Arm mayor re­flects on the year

A dis­ap­point­ing 2018 but com­mu­nity spirit strong, Sheila Fitzger­ald says

Northern Pen - - Local Mayors Look Back At 2018 -

Last year, in the 2018 New Year’s Edi­tion of The North­ern Pen, Rod­dick­ton-Bide Arm Mayor Sheila Fitzger­ald dis­cussed what she was hop­ing to ac­com­plish for the com­mu­nity in 2018.

Fitzger­ald re­flected on those an­swers and whether the town suc­ceeded in those goals. She also talked about what is on the hori­zon in 2019:

Q. Last year, you said you were look­ing for­ward to work­ing with gov­ern­ment, po­ten­tial in­vestors and in­ter­ested par­ties in the pel­let plant. Since then, a five-year forestry man­age­ment agree­ment was reached with Ac­tive En­ergy and the pel­let plant will go in Hawke’s Bay. How do you feel about that a year later? Did you get what you were hop­ing for?

A. Cer­tainly not. It’s been a tough year. The coun­cil has worked very hard to try to achieve the goal to get the pel­let plant open in our area, to at­tract busi­nesses small and large and ev­ery­thing in be­tween.

With de­vel­op­ments that hap­pened in late Novem­ber, we thought good news was on the Rod­dick­ton-Bide Arm Mayor Sheila Fitzger­ald re­flects on dis­ap­point­ments in 2018, but feels her town’s com­mu­nity spirit re­mains strong.

way.

We worked very hard try­ing to keep the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion open with gov­ern­ment and with po­ten­tial in­vestors into the pel­let plant – and un­for­tu­nately that didn’t hap­pen for us.

A year later, it looks like we’re strug­gling even more so than we were last year at this time. We’ve had the clo­sure of our bank, and we got the Food­land (the build­ing sus­tained a roof col­lapse in 2015) that was also hop­ing there’d be in­dus­try at­tracted to our town and to open. So, the news we re­ceived that the pel­let plant isn’t go­ing to open in our town has had a detri­men­tal ef­fect for us.

What does the fu­ture hold? Not cer­tain. We’re a forestry town, that’s our bread and but­ter. We hear a lot of peo­ple say di­ver­sify and don’t put all your eggs in one bas­ket, but for us the forestry was our Golden Goose.

We’re cau­tiously op­ti­mistic about the sawmill and we’d like to think that we will still profit and build our com­mu­ni­ties based on forestry op­por­tu­ni­ties.

At the be­gin­ning of the year, we were very op­ti­mistic, had high hopes that things would pan out for our town – that we would have in­dus­try up and run­ning, we’d have a rea­son for peo­ple to come back, for young peo­ple to stay.

Now that we’re to­wards the end of the year, with the re­cent news we got of the pel­let plant not open­ing (in Rod­dick­tonBide Arm), we’re cer­tainly in a dif­fer­ent place than we were last year at this time.

Q. You also said last year you were hop­ing to at­tract more small or big busi­nesses?

A. That is still the goal. We want to at­tract what­ever busi­ness we can at­tract in this town, but we’re talk­ing about at­tract­ing busi­nesses when busi­nesses are putting in their no­tice, let­ting us know they’re leav­ing town.

At the end of the day, you need to have a driver and you need to look at what your as­sets are, and our as­sets is the forestry in­dus­try. With­out that main as­set and build­ing on that main re­source, it means that other busi­nesses in town are greatly af­fected.

Q. What are some ob­jec­tives you were able to achieve in 2018 that you were sat­is­fied with or proud of?

A. In terms of re­cre­ation, we were able last year to open our arena and open our swim­ming pool for chil­dren.

To have a fam­ily friendly com­mu­nity, to main­tain our play­grounds, to have our trails avail­able – the fact we’re still able to of­fer that and main­tain the es­sen­tial ser­vices in place de­spite the chal­lenges of not hav­ing a strong econ­omy, we’re still OK. We’re not dis­man­tling in any way, we’re main­tain­ing our own. But we are chal­lenged.

Q. Did you have to raise taxes in your 2019 bud­get?

A. We raised our mill rate by 0.5. We looked at what money we needed just to main­tain the level of ser­vice that we got right now. And in or­der to do that we had to jug­gle our mill rate a lit­tle bit. And we in­creased the min­i­mums – the min­i­mum prop­erty, wa­ter, sewer, those min­i­mums by $25. It’s not huge tax in­creases but it’s just enough to pay the bills.

Q. What are you hop­ing to ac­com­plish in 2019?

A. I’m hop­ing we will still ben­e­fit from the forestry sec­tor. That peo­ple in our com­mu­nity will get work and that peo­ple who are away will get the op­por­tu­nity to come back.

I’m hope­ful we will be able to main­tain the same level of ser­vice as we have now. We have been very cre­ative and driven to make the most of any op­por­tu­nity – ap­ply­ing through any sec­tor that has any money avail­able.

The thing about it, de­spite all the chal­lenges this town has faced, our town in the sense of com­mu­nity spirit and con­nect­ed­ness is stronger now than I’ve ever seen it.

For ex­am­ple, we just had a lighted Christ­mas pa­rade and there were over 30 floats. In the first year I took over as mayor, we only had three floats. Peo­ple are com­ing out and tak­ing an in­ter­est. Peo­ple who are there are there be­cause they want to be there.

It’s not just the coun­cil fight­ing for our fu­ture, the whole town is. The whole town is to­gether in want­ing to see things work.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

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