Town prepares next round of strategic priorities
The past year was a successful one for Amherst with the wrapping up of several strategic priorities and the completion of the $12-million sewage treatment plant.
AMHERST – This past year will go down as one of transition for Amherst as it wrapped up a number of projects in and around the downtown and began laying groundwork for the town’s priorities for the next four years.
“I think it was a very successful year for the town. From a financial perspective we’re in very good shape. We didn’t add any debt to the town and in terms of upgrades we continued with a number of streets and sidewalks,” Mayor Robert Small said in a year-end interview with the Amherst Daily News.
The mayor said one of the highlights of 2012 was the opening of the $12-million wastewater treatment plant on the marsh near Amherst. That project is viewed as a model of green technology and has removed the last of the sewage from entering the Bay of Fundy.
Small said 2012 also saw a number of upgrades to the downtown continue while the town moved its offices from the Confederation Memorial Building to the Dominion Public Building on Victoria Street.
More work was completed on Dickey Park with the addition of barbecue pits to make it more family friendly.
“This past year was a bit of a wrap up of the four years of work we have been doing across the town,” Small said.
Another positive for the town, he said, was the creation of the downtown business advisory committee that replaced the Downtown Amherst Revitalization Society. He credited the committee for promoting the business community and coming up with new ways of encouraging traffic in the downtown.
The past year also saw an election that saw Small and four incumbents returned to office including George Baker, Robert Bird, Dave March and Terry Rhindress. Lisa Emery became the first female town councillor in more than a decade and former high school principal Frank Balcom was also elected.
Looking ahead, the mayor said the town is working on its next set of strategic priorities. He said developing a plan to get people off the Trans-Canada Highway and a tax review will likely be top priorities.
“The message from the election and from people we have talked to is that we’ve done the bricks and mortar thing to make everything pretty. Now we have to bring the people into Amherst,” he said. “The regional marketing strategy will help bring people into towns and villages across the county.”
Small said council heard from business and the electorate about taxes and the town will look at ways to ease the tax burden in the coming year, probably starting with the deed transfer tax as part of an overall review of the municipal tax system.
“Let’s find out where we fit so we can attack it, but we also have to understand that if you cut revenue you also have to cut expenditures,” the mayor said. “We have to know what cutbacks could be coming from the province, but it’s a process we’re going to get through in the early part of 2013.”
The town, he said, also plans to move forward with making a decision on a new permanent home for the police department that was displaced by last August’s fire. The department is presently located on the top floor of the library and the mayor is advocating the former town hall building as a permanent facility, although a consultant hired by the town said it’s not the best option.
While the mayor has had a running battle with Premier Darrell Dexter over the loss of government jobs, Small said he expects to continue pressuring government to replace the jobs it has taken out of town.
“We’ve raised the alarm with the province each and every time they’ve announced jobs are leaving. We’d like to see in 2013 what jobs are coming to Cumberland County and Amherst,” Small said.
Besides the loss of government jobs, Small said the industrial park is healthy and he’s expecting some good news announcements on the job front.