Parrsboro and Area -
It was another year of ups and downs in Parrsboro, and the Citizen recently sat down with new mayor Lois Smith for an annual year-end chat, to talk about the year that was and what lies ahead.
C: One thing we talked with (former mayor Doug Robinson) about last year was the sewer rates, and how they had gone up the previous year. He said he would not be surprised if they went up again this year, but they did not.
LS: No, they did not. They will certainly when we start Phase Two, which will probably be in 2-3 years. That will involve waiting for funding and also finishing paying for Phase One, because we would not want to move into Phase Two unless Phase One was completely paid.
C: And Phase Two will be moving the ouflow from the Main Street side of the aboiteau over to the other side, right?
LS: Yes, joining the outflows together. And I would imagine that there would be some infrastructure work needed probably on this side of town.
C: But there's no doubt we will be going on to Phase Two, right?
LS: Absolutely. As a matter of fact, we discussed it with the current council just before the election, and yes, we were certainly all for moving forward.
C: Of course we had tidal power move ahead on schedule this year. They had said in the fall of '09 they would get something in the water and that's what happened. Have you had any reports on how the turbine is doing?
LS: It's working, it's reporting data. It's actually generating power. Of course, the power is not going on to a grid. It's wasting power right now, but it is generating power. As a matter of fact, I did meet on Wednesday with John Woods and Bruce MacDonald of Minas Basin Pulp and Power. They're here, working quietly back and forth. They have to secure land because they have to go over people's property to put in the transmission lines, which probably will not be done until next fall because they want to make sure the ground is frozen, not to damage any blueberry crops should there be blueberry land they need to go over. Then they're of course looking to put two more turbines in in the spring.
C: What benefits do you see for the town from tidal power?
LS: I see that it will certainly enhance the profile of Parrsboro, re: tourism. There will certainly be an interest generated in this technology. I can see people in addition to the scientists and the people who want to study the actual system visit the building where the cables will be coming in. Scientists will be able to go there and actually monitor the turbines as they are working, so I can see research being done in this centre. My understanding is the building is not going to be as large as they had intended but will certainly serve their purpose for research and monitoring the turbines. As far as spin-offs, the developers of the turbines will use the local labour force. The only time they wouldn't is if there had to be a skilled individual here that could do some aspect of it. As far as getting the site ready, and any construction needed, grading, that sort of thing, they will use local folks for whatever they can hire them for. They do want to have the community benefit. Personally, at this stage, I don't see a great number of jobs being created. I see more people coming into the area, perhaps spending a week or two, obviously using the town services, restaurants, accommodations, bringing family with them which might enhance the attendance at the museum and other attractions we have.
C: With the recession we've had in the past year, how has it affected the town? I think taxes have been paid up, without problems...
LS: I can't see that we have been as much affected as the Americans have been. There have been companies close and jobs lost of course, but locally we seem to be holding our own. Perhaps people aren't spending as much money, they're not buying a new car, maybe they're just being cautious, but as far as the town operations, things are going on as planned. We are certainly well within budget. One cannot promise that there won't be a tax increase but when we start the budget process we will certainly look at trying not to increase taxes if possible. Of course, things can happen, however we have been financially responsible over the last number of years.
C: This has been the first full year of the new council. Have you felt the town going in a new direction, with new people at the table?
LS: Business as usual. Three new councillors said they were rather overwhelmed at the beginning, and most did not realize there was as much work involved, so there is an adjustment for new councillors and I know from experience it takes at least a year to get to know the committees you're on. We always suggested to councillors if they feel they are not progressing within their committees, perhaps its time to change that committee and trade off with another councillor. We weren't planning on an election, so it just happened to be that January was the time of year that the councillors would have sat down and looked at their committees, though present council feel they are now just getting into their committees. (New councillor) Lisa Ward is picking up on some of the committees I was on. I'm maintaining four of them, but Lisa's picking up those and she's also being added to some other more active committees, like sustainable tourism.
C: The town was able to hire a community development coordinator (Mary McPhee) this year. That's really been a plus for the town hasn't it?
LS: Oh it has been. Because Mary is an individual with an agricultural college educational background, she knows plants, flowers and trees. She was a great choice and fit right into that position. She was hired until March 2010, and I'm sure the committee will reapply. Hopefully there will be another program so that will continue on.
The Classics By the Sea (music festival) was also a very good idea, and my understanding is they're looking at doing that again this year
I really feel we have strong cultural presence in town, with Ship's Company Theatre, the band and the music they provide. I think we have to promote our culture. Ship's Company celebrated its 25th anniversary this past summer, which was boost for the town.
C: In the last couple of years the town has helped Ship's Company and the band hall with taxes, showing how much culture is a priority for the town, right?
LS: And the town has always been very supportive of all organizations in town. Just when it gets to budget time, and have list of 35 requests for grants to organizations, you have to spread it around a bit. I think we have a good rapport with all organizations.
C: One challenge for the town seems to be to keep businesses going on Main Street. There are a lot of empty storefronts now. I'm sure that bothers you every time you drive down the street...
LS: It does because you'd like to see someone occupying every building there, whether it be an office or a retail business. However, people who had retail stores, we certainly don't know their particular reason for leaving that business. Perhaps their product wasn't selling, or they didn't have the product that was in demand, certainly overhead... commercial taxes are high. They are. With no great volume of business being generated in small businesses, that may have been one reason, but I also think it may have been a personal reason for the store owners themselves. People say we need a clothing store, we can't buy shoes, but people will go to the box stores. Sometimes you just want to get out and have a day away with your family. Kids want to go to Crystal Palace in Moncton or a movie theatre, there's just other activities.
C: What role, if any, do you see town hall playing in bringing businesses to Main Street?
LS: Through the economic development committee, they've been doing a lot of work this past year with Nova Scotia Business Incorporated, which is going to assess town, and when they are back in Halifax, if someone calls from companies looking for a place establish business, NSBI would promote Parrsboro based on certain criteria. Number one, we have an industrial park available for new buildings to go up. That's not helping Main Street directly, but these folks would also promote an existing business or building.
C: The new nursing home, if it comes, would be one of those new things through NSBI...
LS: We are anxiously waiting. (Town CAO Ray Hickey) spoke with High Crest and they did tell him they hope to be able to tell us something, at the latest, in January. So we'll just wait and see. It would be certainly a boost for jobs, because there would be a fair amount of them. It will not necessarily be on the Scott property. Their preference would be near the care centre and medical centre.
C: It's been a year of transition at town hall. We had (former CAO) Ashley Brown retire, then Ray Hickey come in, and at the same time Doug got sick... How has it impacted the town to go through all of that?
LS: It went smoothly, however, there was lot going on, particularly with Ashley leaving. He really did do his job well. He controlled the town's finances. As a councillor, when I knew he was going to retire, I was concerned, thinking oh my gosh, who's going to replace him? We had intern Dylan Heide do fantastic reports for the town like the energy audit, and I was impressed with Dylan's ability. He also did an emergency measures document, and also integrated a community sustainability plan for Parrsboro. We benefited from having Dylan Heide for a year. Ashley retired and we had probably a dozen applications, a hiring committee, the interviews went very well, and Ray Hickey was the candidate. Ray is on a probationary contract for a year. He's very clever, fitting in with community now, and in a short period of time there has been a lot for him to deal with, with Doug's sickness, etc. Little did he think he'd be having his first election.
C: Everything seemed to happen at once, and I guess it's a credit to town staff that things went as smoothly as it did.
LS: Absolutely, they held everything together. The transition from Ashley to Ray, Doug's sickness and death, suddenly an election everyone was facing, but Betty Anne, Kippy and Janie just hold the whole thing together, they know their jobs so well. In this past year, we celebrated Kippy's 25th year, John Henwood's 35th year, and we celebrated with them. It was certainly a transition for all staff, public works, office staff, and it was big for the new councillors. They were just moving through their first 6-7 months.
C: You must have felt pressure yourself to be a leader through all of that.
LS: Oh yes. You don't know what's going to happen. I knew exactly what I was going to do. I was planning to run for mayor in four years time, not thinking it would be before that. I decided it was now or this is it. It was rather scary resigning that council seat, but I thought you either do it or you don't.
C: A lot has been made of this, and you don't say much about it, but you are the town's first female mayor, and now there are three females at the table to two males, so the balance has been tipped the other way. In the election for council, it was the two female candidates who finished first and second. Are more women getting engaged with municipal affairs? How does it feel to be the first female mayor?
LS: I don't think about it as being a female sitting in the office, although every visitor I've had has made that comment.
C: What goals do you have in mind for 2010?
LS: Maintain the status quo, but obviously upgrading, the water system is very important. Marc has a strategic plan for recreation, and I'd like to see that get in full swing. We have funding for five years for that position from Nova Scotia Health Promotion and Protection. Communities in Bloom was also done through the recreation committee, lights were done at the ball park for coasting in the winter... Volunteers of year were Ken Snowdon, Martina Yorke, and the Perry/McCully family. At Fundy Geological Museum, we have been asked for support for the expansion project, and will be considering it at budget time. We will start looking at the budget probably in February. Four or five times a year times year, we will also have coffee meetings for the public at at town hall.