South Queens Chamber of Commerce Annual General Meeting
Lane’s Privateer Inn,Liverpool, NS February 28, 2018, 8:15 a.m.
It is always a pleasure to have an opportunity to meet with business owners and operators in Queens. I thank the South Queens Chamber of Commerce for inviting me to attend today’s meeting and speak about the work of Council and our plans for the upcoming year. It is a great opportunity to touch on the many initiatives being progressed by the Region of Queens which appear before Council. A special thank you to members of the business community for such a great turn out today.
We are able to accomplish many things as a Council, but with the cooperation and community support from businesses and residents, Queens County can accomplish so much more!
During the past year, Council has focused on the following 3 priorities:
Growing our Population and Economy; Delivering Desirable Municipal Services; and Governing to Municipal Best Practices. Growth requires many initiatives.
Our new Chief Administrative Officer will be joining us next week. Once Chris McNeill has settled into this position, Council will reassess our strategic priorities and adjust them as appropriate, to continue with our forward momentum.
Local Christmas and holiday activities were a great example of working together to grow our reputation as an active community. For more than a month in 2017, there were holiday celebrations taking place in Queens. From the Christmas Parades in Liverpool and North Queens, Christmas on the Mersey, and the Dickens Village display at the Queens County Museum, many other events continued until New Year’s with the Royal Canadian Legion Levee. The holidays were extra merry and bright throughout Queens, enjoyed by residents and visitors from throughout the province who made a special trip to Queens, to be part of these exciting events.
On behalf of Council I would like to convey our appreciation to all who have chosen Queens as the location to open their business. I am very proud of the work of our local business community and volunteers who ensured Queens was a big part of the South Shore Lobster Crawl. It is appropriate to congratulate Lane’s Privateer Inn on a 2nd place win and the Quarter Deck Beachside Grill on a 3rd place win for best Lobster Roll. Special thanks to the Port Grocer, and White Point Beach Resort for their delicious creations. Canada’s first lobster beer was brewed right here in Liverpool, by the Hell Bay Brewing Company.
The South Shore Lobster Crawl caught the attention of National media and social media sources. Featured stories, videos and internet posts appeared on television and radio stations, as well as newspapers, magazines and most social media. The 3 week event was created to increase business along the South Shore during a traditionally slow time of year for those in the restaurant, retail and hospitality industry.
We are fortunate to have so many passionate volunteers, business owners, operators and staff who support events and activities that engage our residents, as well as draw visitors to support local activities. The holiday festivities and Lobster Crawl are just two recent examples of partnerships and cooperative ventures bringing Queens into the spotlight.
When speaking at your AGM last year, I had only been in office for 4 months, and Council had recently established our Strategic Priorities. Council has accomplished a number of objectives aligning with those priorities. Delivering Desirable Municipal Services and Governing to Best Municipal Practices are interconnected. Council has strived to place increasing information on our web site and social media to provide public access to policies and procedures. That effort will continue. I would invite residents to peruse our web site, especially the visit and relocate tabs. Photos have been added to our web site in addition to links to several local attraction web sites.
Growing the Economy and Population has been, and will continue to be, a top priority of Council. Queens will require an increasing population and a diverse business community to ensure that Queen`s property assessment grows and continues to allow us to maintain services at stable tax rates.
The Region has conducted a number of promotions to entice families to consider moving to Queens. This generated inquiries pertaining to relocating to Queens. Residents attend local events, spend money in our stores and become volunteers. Houses are selling in significant numbers, and it is our understanding that many families have moved to Queens since 2016. Reversing our previously declining population, which was reported in the 2016 Census as being 10,307, is a primary goal of our Council. Success in attracting new residents to Queens is a team effort and Council appreciates the contributions of local citizens in this regard. Attracting new employers and jobs is also critical to population growth. Queens is a great location to work, raise a family and retire.
We value the services of our volunteer community, and recognize the contribution they provide. Support for our fire departments and emergency services providers, including Ground Search & Rescue, in partnership with the RCMP, ensures that we have a safe and caring community. The Region provides funding annually to Fire Departments to support truck replacements, and to replace turn out gear, which must be kept up to date.
We are pleased to provide financial support to a wide variety of recreation and community organizations who contribute countless hours to provide programs and services in local communities.
A $2.1 million water and sewer infrastructure upgrade project was completed on Main Street and School Street in November, which connected Queens General Hospital, homes and businesses in that area to the Municipal sewage treatment facility. The Region of Queens received 75% funding from the Federal and Provincial governments under the Clean Water Waste Water Fund in the amount of $1.6 million. The Region upgraded the water and sewer systems as far as Waterloo Street, at a significant savings to Municipal tax payers. These important infrastructure upgrades were completed by Region staff at 40% below tender cost, and employed local residents. As expected, some inconvenience was unfortunately experienced by residents; however, the end result is pleasing to all.
One of Council’s early directives was to increase activity at Queens Place Emera Centre by targeting 2 major music events and to foster more events in the community. These actions impact the bottom line of businesses, increase the profile of Queens in other jurisdictions, and build a solid reputation as Queens Place being a desirable venue. Recent events included Provincial and Atlantic championships, the Tom Cochrane with Red Rider Concert, the Barenaked Ladies Concert, and many, many more activities. Over the past year, I have been pleased to welcome participants, spectators, and appreciative fans from Queens, the province and Atlantic Canada to many events at Queens Place and elsewhere in the community. The support that events in our community receive is impressive. I am proud to bring these greetings on behalf of our residents.
We are poised to welcome even more visitors this year. The Nova Scotia Major Bantam Hockey Provincial Championships are at Queens Place in March, the South Shore Expo Home, Sport and Travel show is returning in May, and The Washboard Union band in June when Queens County’s own Autumn Rae Carver will be an opening performer. We are happy to welcome the world next February with the 2019 World Junior Curling Championships. Queens is on the world map through the volunteer efforts of the World Junior Curling Host Committee, with support of the Region of Queens.
Another example of partnering in the community is the work of our Recreation and Healthy Communities Department. Our Physical Activity Coordinator position is 75% funded through the Provincial Municipal Physical Activity Leadership program. Norm Amirault has been working with community organizations throughout Queens to help implement physical activity opportunities into their communities.
The long anticipated Mersey Skatepark and bike trail opened on July 1st 2017. Skateboarders, scooter users, cyclists and rollerbladers keep the park in near constant use. Unless there is snow or ice on the park, it has also been used steadily this winter. The skatepark has been a draw for Liverpool and encourages families to linger longer in our area at what is currently billed as one of the best skateparks in Eastern Canada. We have the Queens Skatepark Association and the community to thank for this wonderful addition to our community’s recreational assets. Support was also received from Lloyoll Built who graciously provided the covered wooden viewing structure located at the skatepark site.
Over the past year, Council identified and advertised surplus Region of Queens properties. We worked with developers and community organizations resulting in the sale of several parcels for retail and housing, and some unique developments.
The DEVI International Boarding School has re-purposed the former Mill Village School. Students are attending from all over the world, are also learning about life in rural Nova Scotia. They have been embraced by residents and their positive experiences are expected to instill a warm spot in their hearts for Queens.
Ground will soon be broken at the Queens Crossing lands by Plaza Retail Reit. You have likely noticed the construction fence presently in place. We are pleased that this land is being used for its intended commercial purpose. Plaza Retail Reit leases to hundreds of retail store chains, and tenants announce themselves.
There has been much activity on the multi unit housing development being built by Kent Field Estates near Barss Street, Liverpool. They are planning to have 16 apartment units completed later this year.
Another housing development is expected on the site of the former Gorham School on Payzant Street, in Liverpool. Council has endorsed a purchase and sale agreement for the property, and the proponent has indicated that a multi unit housing development is the intention.
The Quarterdeck Beachside Villas & Grill has demolished the older cottage on the western end of their property in Summerville, and plans to construct additional units. White Point Beach Resort has also stated that upgrades and additional visitor capacity are being considered at their location.
Council is very aware that improvements to internet services in rural areas of Queens County are required, and we are working towards solutions with our Provincial and Federal Governments.
Eastlink is expected to begin construction of their telecommunications tower in Greenfield this month, and be operational by April. This tower will be constructed on the former building supply store site in Greenfield, with $75,000 of the project cost being funded through a Provincial grant obtained by the Region. Remaining costs will be funded by Eastlink.
The Region of Queens is currently involved with other projects that are still in the development stage. I would like to talk about the ground breaking TV Whitespace project that is being spearheaded by the North Queens Business Hub. Staff of the Region have been working with Hub board members to support this innovative pilot program. TV White Space service is minimally impacted by tree cover and has the potential to change rural internet service. A small tower in Caledonia is now serving as far as Kejimkujik National Park. Desired changes to Federal regulations are being investigated, as well as potentially erecting a higher tower in Caledonia.
Many residents have noticed the drilling machine which recently conducted soil and rock assessment on both sides of the Liverpool Bridge. There is no doubt that Mersey Seafoods is gathering required information to enable future decisions to occur. This company continues to be a good corporate citizen and we look forward to the company sharing information when deemed appropriate to do so.
Dr. Al Doucet, Chair of the Queens General Hospital Foundation continues to work on a common goal to maintain a sufficient number of doctors to serve residents of Queens, and ensure required services continue to be provided at Queens General Hospital. Doctor recruitment is high on the priority list. Progress is occurring and, with the support of the Nova Scotia Health Authority, efforts will continue to attract doctors to Queens. Council is also supporting this initiative.
Considerable success has occurred in the first year of our mandate. It should be noted that the Region continues to have meaningful discussions with developers and government departments, however, until a decision is made, we are unable to release information.
The Region has embraced the expertise of our Heritage Advisory Committee. Acting upon their recommendation, Council recently approved Municipal Heritage Status for the Spectacle Lighthouse, located near Port Mouton. It is expected that more Committee recommendations will follow in the future.
The Fort Point Lighthouse was leased to Lane’s Privateer Inn to operate. Their support is appreciated as it is a destination for many tourists who love lighthouses and the harbor view. Our Visitor Information Centre received support services through Penny Lane clients, with the facility being used as their retail outlet during the tourism shoulder season. Customers truly appreciate the crafts which are available for sale.
Our famous Astor Theatre obtained replacement seating and completed floor re-surfacing and other upgrades during 2017. Numerous scheduled events at the Astor continue to be well received by patrons.
The Province is now on track with its restoration of the Perkins House, having recently completed the outside drainage work. Our vacant Courthouse was leased to the Queens County Museum which has turned the building into a “Museum of Justice”. The Museum Committee has acquired courthouse furniture and exhibits from near and far, which attracted a significant number of visitors in 2017. Their plans for 2018 are impressive and will showcase the historical and architectural significance of this beautifully restored Region asset.
Looking to the future, Council has a number of plans and priority paths.
During our first term in office, Council’s direction to staff was to structure a Municipal Budget with zero tax increases to tax rates, and that was accomplished. Our tax rates are comparable to most municipalities in the province, with the 3rd lowest town commercial rate in the Province. The 2017/2018 budget was slightly over $19 million, with a projected surplus of just under three thousand dollars. Staff is diligently crunching numbers to develop our upcoming 2018/2019 Operational and Capital budgets.
There are a number of items for budget consideration that will advance our strategic priorities. Council is continuing to work with the Queens Community Aquatics Society regarding their pool project proposal. A feasibility study is currently being completed and they are expected to be reporting back to Council on the results of that work in the near future.
On February 27th, the Queens Transportation Working Group presented their proposal to Council. They are very close to being able to launch a community transportation program, and are currently seeking partnerships. Council expects staff to review all information and provide a recommendation to Council on the level of Council support for the 2018/2019 pilot program.
Council recently received a presentation from Autism Nova Scotia regarding their request to construct an inclusive playground, adjacent to Queens Place Emera Centre. A decision to support this initiative and partner with Austism Nova Scotia was passed by Council on February 27th. It is their intent to fundraise and work with partners to build a half million dollar playground that will be accessible and inclusive of all ages and abilities. It will also incorporate a small splash pad. This project is good news for families in Queens and the entire South Shore Region.
Our continuing relationship with Nova Scotia Lands regarding the opportunity for businesses to locate at the Port Mersey Commercial Park has been successful. We have made many connections with potential and current clients situated there. Employees of tenants at Port Mersey Commercial Park are nearing the number of employees that were in place at the time of the closure of the Mill.
Aqualitas is a success story which we previously supported. They received their Federal Cannabis Licence in January. Aqualitas expects to reach 60 employees by late spring, and are looking to continue to expand their operation. Aqualitas has the ability to grow within several years to the point where its workforce may exceed the number of workers previously employed at the former Bowater Mill.
Mitigating local water related impacts of climate change in areas such as the waterfront parking lot and Lower Meadow Pond Brook is on the minds of Council. Proper data will need to be collected and solutions formulated. It is expected that funding sources will become available in the near future to enable this to occur. The Region will continue to access programs that allow projects to proceed at minimal cost to tax payers.
The Region will be reviewing downtown planning and revitalization. A growing and thriving commercial district has an impact on all of Queens. The benefits include new residents, a variety of goods and services being available locally, and a stable tax base. The Region continues to pursue attraction of retail stores that will complement existing business.
While a number of great events occur at Waterfront Park, the opportunity exists to continue to expand activities which will further benefit downtown businesses. It should be noted that Privateer Days is a signature event attraction in Queens. The Region will assess the marketing potential of our trademark “Port of the Privateers” with local businesses who wish to advance the initiative. Increased tourism promotion will be a benefit to retail as well as service providers in the hospitality industry. The Region continues to press the South Shore Regional Enterprise Network to support tourism initiatives, including the South Shore Tourism Co-operative.
The upcoming Municipal Planning Strategy Review is part of revitalization and planning efforts, and Council has been discussing ways and means to best support a robust business district. Meetings will also occur with Liverpool businesses to discuss their perspectives pertaining to growth and marketing potential.
Council will continue to task staff with pursuing large scale events to be hosted at Queens Place Emera Centre, as well as at other suitable venues throughout Queens. Large events put Queens on the map as a destination, serve sport and entertainment needs of residents, and are also significant economic drivers. The Region recognizes the value of spin off benefits to the local community from events, and we budget to break even on major events.
Spending time with the members of the South Queens Chamber of Commerce is a real opportunity for me to hear and take back to Council what you see as opportunities, or possible gaps in our community. We are all ambassadors, and we do make a difference. I encourage you to continue to look for opportunities to shine a light on Queens, and to help us in continuing the forward momentum. We are known across the province as a safe and inviting area with a vibrant, thriving community. I thank each of you for your part in helping to create activities, events and the atmosphere that has given Queens a positive reputation. We must continue to entice visitors to embrace our hospitality.