District of St. Mary’s pre­pared to pur­sue new goals

District’s goals the re­sult of Septem­ber pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion with En­gage Nova Sco­tia

The Casket - - Local - SAM MACDON­ALD sam­mac­don­[email protected]­cas­ket.ca

The Mu­nic­i­pal­ity of the District of St. Mary’s is look­ing to grow as a com­mu­nity, and put it­self out there as a great place to live on the east­ern shore.

It was in the spirit of that de­sire for growth that the district hosted a pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion in con­junc­tion with En­gage Nova Sco­tia to see what its most im­por­tant as­set – its peo­ple – had to say.

Res­i­dents shared their per­spec­tives on what St. Mary’s has go­ing for it – and what could use some work, at the Sept. 22 ses­sion. The re­sults of that con­sul­ta­tion were pub­lished ear­lier this month.

CAO Marvin Macdon­ald said the district has in­cor­po­rated what was shared at that con­sul­ta­tion with its own 2026 Strate­gic Plan. What re­sulted from the con­sul­ta­tion was three goals – goals that dove­tail into the district’s 2026 plan.

These goals in­clude in­creas­ing the pop­u­la­tion of the Mu­nic­i­pal­ity of the District of St.

May’s by five per cent by 2021, and in­creas­ing com­mer­cial as­sess­ment by five per cent and a gen­eral re­duc­tion in un­em­ploy­ment by 2026.

An­other goal for the district is youth re­ten­tion – a key eco­nomic fac­tor in cre­at­ing em­ploy­ment and growth.

"We want to keep young peo­ple here, as op­posed to them leav­ing, and go­ing else­where to find work," Macdon­ald said.

"Some of the is­sues we wanted to ad­dress were around pop­u­la­tion, and the loss of it, be­tween Antigonish and the HRM," Macdon­ald said. "We have one ma­jor road through here, no rail, no air­ports and no ocean ports. We have some fish­ing ports and wa­ter frontage, but lit­tle de­vel­op­ment along that frontage."

Macdon­ald said the con­sul­ta­tion was a way for St. Mary’s coun­cil and staff to con­sider how to find op­por­tu­nity in the district, and re­verse what is seen as a lack of pub­lic en­gage­ment.

"A lack of en­gage­ment is an is­sue for all lev­els of govern­ment, but at the mu­nic­i­pal level, we felt that we needed to find a way to get more peo­ple en­gaged," Macdon­ald said.

At the con­sul­ta­tion, coun­cil and staff with the district re­vis­ited St. Mary’s 2026, and a con­ver­sa­tion took place, fo­cused on the district’s goals, on how to St Mary’s 2026 is a10-year strate­gic plan that was drafted up with the in­put of mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil, staff and the pub­lic.

As it name in­di­cates, the plan is guide­lines, a decade in scope, for coun­cil and staff to achieve them – specif­i­cally in re­la­tion to the 2026 plan.

Like many ini­tia­tives to re­vi­tal­ize pop­u­la­tion and eco­nomic trends in Nova Sco­tia, Macdon­ald noted the goals the district re­viewed at the Septem­ber con­sul­ta­tion are a re­sponse to the warn­ings en­tailed in the Ivany Re­port – which warns that se­ri­ous ac­tion has to be taken to re­verse pop­u­la­tion and eco­nomic de­cline in Nova Sco­tia; par­tic­u­larly in ru­ral ar­eas.

The gen­eral feel­ing Macdon­ald had, com­ing away from the con­sul­ta­tion, is that work re­mains to be done, to re­duce pop­u­la­tion shrink­age and in­crease the pop­u­la­tion of the district – and that a lot of that has to do with brand­ing.

One rec­om­men­da­tion from En­gage Nova Sco­tia was for the district to mar­ket it­self bet­ter, specif­i­cally on­line, to build a greater pres­ence for St. Mary’s.

"We’re try­ing to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties for youth, mar­ket our as­sets and cap­i­tal­ize on the ru­ral ap­peal," Macdon­ald said. "We need more mar­ket­ing, vis­i­tor in­for­ma­tion and that type of ser­vice"

"We don’t have a lot of in­fra­struc­ture like restau­rants and mo­tels and bed and break­fasts to ac­com­mo­date large amounts of in­creased tourism," Macdon­ald said. "We need to ad­dress ba­sic things around in­fra­struc­ture in or­der to re­ally get more peo­ple into the area – ei­ther as vis­i­tors or to move into the area to live."

Macdon­ald said the tech­ni­cal side is cru­cial for at­tract­ing peo­ple to do busi­ness in the district.

A lack of lo­cal fa­cil­i­ties, and a lack of good cel­lu­lar and in­ter­net ser­vices were de­scribed as sig­nif­i­cant, re­cur­rent is­sues among those who at­tended the con­sul­ta­tion. These is­sues, Macdon­ald noted, are hin­der­ing the growth of the district.

"If we could deal with the in­ter­net and cel­lu­lar is­sues, there may be some home-based busi­nesses that could be de­vel­oped. There are peo­ple who want that ru­ral life­style, but also want to run their tech-based busi­ness out of their homes That’s a theme of what we’re hear­ing."

"Once we do that, there will be other op­por­tu­ni­ties that present them­selves along with job op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple, and busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties and op­por­tu­ni­ties for ex­ist­ing busi­nesses to ex­pand," Macdon­ald said.

The plan now for coun­cil and staff in the district is to take what they have learned and go back to the draw­ing board. What comes next is very much a plan­ning stage.

"We’re go­ing to start gen­er­at­ing some more ideas, and go back to the com­mu­nity with that and say, ‘what do you think about this?’ That’s the phase we’re at now," Macdon­ald said. "We’ve had some dis­cus­sions, and we’re now get­ting a plan put to­gether, to see how we’re go­ing to work on some of these ini­tia­tives."

Macdon­ald stressed the need for the district to be ready to change, and that they need plans that are flex­i­ble and ready for change.

"It’s a kind of liv­ing thing, with the eco­nomic and pop­u­la­tion sit­u­a­tions – it’s al­ways sub­ject to change and on the move. We have the info now, and we’re go­ing to plan to ad­dress some ini­tia­tives," he said. "We’re def­i­nitely look­ing for in­put and we en­cour­age ev­ery­one to come for­ward with ideas."

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