AMHERST – Town council is taking action on the downtown and businesses in the core are responding favourably.
A meeting last night at Town Hall saw Mayor Robert Small lead a presentation about forming a Downtown Business Advisory Committee, composed largely of business representatives, to advise council on decisions affecting commerce in the heart of Amherst.
Business owners turned out for the meeting in solid numbers, with most of the chamber seats filled. CAO Greg Herrett said the consensus at the end of the gathering was that the committee should form.
Michelle LeBlanc, co-owner of McCully Market, commended council for the idea and spoke positively about the downtown’s potential.
“Great things can happen,” she said.
The Downtown Amherst Revitalization Society has retired from service. Councilor George Baker, who was a representative with DARS, said the society felt like it had fulfilled its role and he personally had concerns that it didn’t have enough business representation.
Small outlined some of the challenges council feels small business owners in Amherst face. “Leakage” to Moncton is a big problem, and taxes don’t drop because government costs don’t drop, he said.
Some criticisms were leveled at council. The decision to oust Tantramar Theatre was one talking point. Another was the perception that business is cutting expenses but town hall isn’t being as rigorous in decreasing costs.
The committee, as imagined by a document drafted by council, would be composed of five business representatives and two council members, with the director of Community and Economic Development serving as an eighth, non-voting member. It would “provide advice and guidance to town council” and “provide support on specific opportunities and projects as requested by Council,” among other functions.
Mayor Small stressed that the committee would be the business community’s to define and shape. The committee will be a topic of discussion at a May 28 meeting.
David Mosley, president of the chamber of commerce, said the idea is a positive step, and that council and local businesses want to take action. But he had a caveat.
“The town (should) start doing business more with local people,” said Mosley.
Local suppliers should have first dibs on municipal spending, according to the president – more local spending would show more commitment. He also felt bylaws could be crafted that forced new branches of big chains to open downtown and to conform to the general appearance of the area.
DARS was funded with an area rate. For this year, at least, the new committee would like to move ahead without those funds, and without those taxes being levied on businesses, according to CAO Greg Herrett. The final decision will be made by council.