By Dan Rankin
The second annual Breakfast with the Mayor Event, presented by the Exeter Business Improvement Area and the South Huron Chamber of Commerce, was held on Tuesday, May 3 at the Exeter Legion, with attendance up about 70 percent from last year’s inaugural event.
“Maybe next year we’ll be standing room only at the back,” said Exeter BIA chair Fred Godbolt, one of the hosts of the event. “For the past 18 months, our two organizations have really focused on collaboration to raise the bar for business advocacy in Exeter and South Huron. We have also worked diligently to build stronger communications and interactions with the municipality, council and staff.”
South Huron Chamber of Commerce board member Melanie Miller also hosted, noting that the chamber had recently created a new strategic plan in conjunction with Conestoga College.
“All of us on the chamber board are really excited about the changes we’re going to be seeing in the coming year,” said Miller, noting that the chamber’s annual golf tournament is scheduled for May 17 and opportunities to register teams and sponsor portions of the event were still available.
Other speakers prior to the keynote speech by South Huron Mayor Maureen Cole (who spoke on her birthday) included Marty Rops, regional manager from Libro Credit Union, Tina Buechler from Conestoga College, Exeter Scotiabank branch manager Tracy Benson, and John Mombourquette and Heather MacKenzie- Card from Fanshawe College.
Mombourquette and MacKenzie-Card were there to announce Fanshawe’s new “business entrepreneurship and management program,”
MacKenzie-Card said the two-year program includes a mentorship aspect that provides those enrolled with hand-on experience and skill-set development. “When the Goderich campus begins offering classes this September, 15 students are expected to enroll,” she said, adding that eventually over 20 students could get signed up.
During her speech, Mayor Cole highlighted how far she felt she and Council have come during their term. “We’ve had amazing participation and engagement in the past year with the development of the strategic plan, the Huron County and South Huron economic development plan, and the age-friendly plan,” she said. “There was very meaningful public engagement with diverse facilitators and participants, and each plan reinforced and validated the community goals and objectives.”
In that time, Council has adhered to the principles of respect, honesty, listening, integrity, fiscal responsibility, and cooperation, she said.
She talked about other ongoing developments, including the formation of a steering committee for a residential hospice under the funding of the South Huron Hospital Foundation. “There is a vibrant group of community minded individuals from throughout the municipality ready to forge ahead with this important project,” she said. “They’re hoping to soon have an application go forward to the LHINs for operating costs. The upcoming South Huron Hospital Foundation gala on June 3 will kick start this capital campaign for a local hospice.”
Much of what Mayor Cole said, and several questions she was asked during a brief Q and A following her speech, dealt with the need to improve recreational facilities in South Huron. “The most common notion conveyed in the strategic plan, reiterated with the age-friendly plan, was the need for an updated recreation centre,” she said. “Most explicitly in regard to either a new pool, dual hockey arena, or recreation centre YMCA for all ages. Further in conjunction with this vision, was the notion that facilities should be accessible to youth and seniors.”
Input they received “identified push-back towards council’s current preference, to retrofit the existing outdoor pool, mainly because of seasonal use,” she said. “To this end, Council has committed $210,000 for consultant engineering costs for review of the South Huron Rec. Centre, and another $60,000 for a consultant for engineering costs for the Exeter Swimming Pool.”
After inspections and drawings however, such upgrades could eventually cost in the neighbourhood of $9 million, she said. “It’s no secret that our community cannot raise that amount through taxes,” said Mayor Cole. “We are going to need community support and senior government level funding. There are opportunities to explore with the 2016 federal budget. It includes infrastructure funding in the next two years for economic growth, job creation, immediate infrastructure needs for communities, and to provide a starting point for long term strategic investments in green infrastructure, recreational and cultural infrastructure, and public transit.”
Cole said she could gather that “there is a very strong desire to move forward” on improving recreational facilities in the municipality, and would “take that back to council.”
“You have councillors you can approach and say ‘this is important for us,’ so they can bring it back to council and say ‘this is what we’ve heard in the community’,” she said.
Also identified in the strategic plan, she said, was the need for “increased communications and municipal leadership as well as the need for transparent and accountable and collaborative governance.”
In this area, “there is clear recognition that positive changes are taking place,” she said.
“I’m committed to making this work and following the principles and the strategic plan so that we can move forward collaboratively and together,” Mayor Cole said. “We have momentum within our community to move forward with positive community spirit. I look forward to further public engagement and continuing to strengthen the relationships that we have with the BIA, the Chamber, the Council and the stakeholders.”
She encouraged people to reach out to her with their comments and suggestions at M.Cole@SouthHuron.ca.