AMHERST, N.S. – Dr. David Kogon is halfway through his first term as mayor of Amherst and he is sensing a shift in confidence and attitude among resident and business people throughout the community.
“There’s a spirit in town that has increased a lot just over the last year. We’re seeing that in the number of people who are coming out to events and the feedback we’re getting,” Kogon said. “You hear 10 times as negative feedback as positive if everything is even, but we’re getting disproportionately more positive feedback than negative. I think the future is very bright for Amherst.”
Looking back at 2018, Kogon said things went very well in the town. While it would’ve preferred to maintain the resident and commercial tax rate, the change was only half a per cent and allowed the town to increase its level of service while focusing on its strategic priority areas including seniors and active transportation.
“We’re very pleased we were able to hold the line on taxes lower than the inflation rate,” the mayor said.
The mayor said economic growth remains the town’s main priority. There were four building permits for business expansions totaling $13-million including growth at LED Roadway Lighting, Weston Foods, Atlantic Windows and Gordon Food Services in the industrial park.
“Stability and expansion of existing business is a much more achievable goal for most communities than hoping to get the giant business to come in,” he said. “I think we’ve done well.”
The town hired Rebecca Taylor as its business development officer this past year and she is beginning to make some inroads at promoting Amherst as a place to do business, to live and to play.
“That’s helping to promote the town and we’re just now starting to see the benefits of that,” the mayor said. “Like it or not, business and economic success allows us as a council to do what we need to do without being forced to have exorbitant increases in the tax rate and that’s what we’re trying to do to make Amherst a better place to live, work and play.”
On the infrastructure front, the first part of the Willow Street project was completed while the new reservoir at the top of Willow Street was completed that has increased water flows and has safety benefits in better enabling the fire department to fight fires in the community.
The past year, the mayor said, council was approached about physician shortages and both he and Deputy Mayor Sheila Christie became involved in the physician retention and recruitment effort along with Oxford and the Municipality of Cumberland.
The town, he said, showed its commitment by putting up the $10,000 to support the local committee that sent representatives to recruitment fairs in Digby and in Toronto. Those efforts, plus his own connections in health care, are starting to see results.
Kogon said a physician has been recruited for Springhill, while there are two residents coming from the Dalhousie medical school in each of the next two years through a provincial program while one resident working in Moncton has committed to coming to Amherst while another is doing a site visit and is interested in coming here. A third, he said, wants to come and check the town out because she has heard good things about the community.
It’s also looking as though a pair of anesthetists could be coming to the regional hospital soon.
The town is working with Amherst Heritage Trust and the federal government to hopefully find a solution to the future of the Col. James Layton Ralston Armoury and it’s working with its counterparts with the Municipality of Cumberland, Sackville, N.B. and federal and provincial representatives to address concerns with the dikes on the Tantramar Marsh and rising sea levels.