More than 100 local business leaders gathered at Algoma’s Water Tower Inn on February 17th for the Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce’s (SSMCOC) ‘Where Are We Now? – A Dialogue with Mayor Christian Provenzano’. The event was sponsored by the Chamber’s community partner, OLG.
The almost one-hour-long discussion was led by SSMCOC President, Monica Dale and covered a variety of issues including taxation rates, development charges, the City’s budget process, immigration and quality-of-life.
With the municipal budget currently under the microscope, the Mayor suggested that one of the things being implemented is an attempt on the part of the City to bring forward the budget process in the future so that it would be completed earlier in the year. He noted that this would give City Council added time to look for cost savings and to gather budgetary feedback.
When asked about business tax rates, the mayor agreed that that the Sault does have higher-than-average commercial and industrial rates. He noted the residential property taxes, along with commercial and industrial property taxes are almost exclusively the sole source of revenue for the city, and while Council and City staff continually look for cost savings and outside funding opportunities, they have to ensure that incoming revenues balance required expenses.
He noted that staff in his office are currently working on a memo looking at tax rates which will be put forward to City Council and suggested that that Council needs to have a discussion on the inequality in the ratio between commercial and residential taxes.
The Mayor noted that he shares the Chamber’s view that development charges are not in the Sault’s best interest at present. The Chamber has maintained that development charges (fees collected by a municipality from developers before construction begins) are best suited to communities that are experiencing what’s known as “rapid growth”, whereas the Sault is not, by definition, a rapid growth community. He suggested that he is in favor of letting a study currently being undertaken by City staff on development charges wrap up, but he is aware that other communities such as North Bay and Sudbury have discussed clawing back their own development charges.
At one point, the Mayor drew attention to two tables of Sault College students that were taking part in the morning’s event as part of their class studies and noted that that we should not lose sight of the fact that the Sault needs to do more to hold onto young people and young professionals, suggesting that these are the individuals who will be buying houses and cars and paying taxes in the future. He suggested that it’s important to ensure that we continue to make investments locally that he referred to as quality-of-life investments that will help attract young people and push immigration to the community.
SSMCOC President Monica Dale notes that she was pleased with the responses that the Mayor provided. “The Mayor was obviously well-prepared for the discussion and knew that the Chamber’s recently-voiced concerns over commercial and industrial tax rates and development charges where going to need to be addressed. These items and the municipal budget are hot button issues right now, given the current economic climate and the specific challenges facing Sault Ste. Marie.”
She concluded, “We’re confident that the Chamber’s voice is being heard.”