ARICHAT: A detailed breakdown of tenders and costs connected to Richmond County’s multi-million-dollar tourism strategy was followed by pleas from two community economic development groups for the municipality to consult with them on the best ways to proceed with the county-wide project.
With a municipal decision on the fate of the $6.6-million strategy potentially weeks away, and having received less than five per cent of the $2.2-million committed by the provincial government in mid-2014, interim Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Maris Freimanis spent a portion of last week’s regular council meeting reviewing the costs associated with various aspects of the tourism plan, as well as the municipality’s current financial position and the potential routes required to launch the strategy in its current form.
Freimanis noted that several tenders for the various Isle Madame infrastructure components of the Richmond tourism strategy had come in over budget. These include over-estimations of $31,000 for each of the Babin’s Hill Look-Out and Universitie Sainte-Anne’s Marine Research Centre, as well as cost overruns of $400,000 for Arichat’s LeNoir Landing, $125,000 for a development at Green Island, and $24,600 for the Veteran’s Plaza project, putting the tourism strategy’s overall cost to date at $600,000 over budget.
Beyond these potential pieces of Richmond’s tourism puzzle, Freimanis noted that the projected annual operating cost for the strategy beyond its third year of operation would run between $200,000 and $300,000.
Immediately after sharing these figures, the interim CAO updated the state of the municipality’s finances, with particular attention directed at Richmond’s financial reserves. Noting that, as of March 2016, the county carries $1 million in Canada-Nova Scotia Gas Tax Funds, $230,000 in its capital reserve, $65,000 in its water utility capital reserve, an infrastructure operating reserve of $331,000, a tax stabilization reserve of $2.7 million and a water utility depreciation reserve of $868,000, Freimanis suggested that the municipality may only succeed in launching the current tourism strategy by borrowing from its reserves or requesting a loan from Nova Scotia’s Municipal Finance Corporation.
With the municipality having already committed $2.2 million, in addition to the receipt of the same amount from the federal government through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), Warden Brian Marchand pledged to review documentation received last week from the office of Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Michel Samson regarding the activation of the project’s provincial funding.
Marchand also promised that he and other municipal officials will continue to meet with tourism stakeholders such as the St. Peter’s Economic Development Organization (SPEDO) and the Isle Madame Tourism and Trade Association (IMTTA), after representatives from each group pressed council to proceed with the strategy based on the available funds near the tail-end of the January 23 council session in Arichat.
“Our intent, if we don’t go ahead with the plan as it is, is to have a Plan B or a Plan C,” Marchand told IMTTA chair Lisa Boudreau during the meeting’s public question period.
“We’re not going to leave everybody high and dry – we’re going to find what’s going to be the best plan going forward… We need community involvement, for sure.”
While Isle Madame councillor Alvin Martell recalled that Samson had asked council to send a formal request for the province’s share of the tourism funding during a meeting between the MLA and councillors last October, he added that the municipality now finds itself in a difficult position.
“We’re talking about leaving $4.4 million on the table in external funding, and it might take a long time to get that again,” Martell warned.
“Having said that, when you look at our financial situation, we need to be diligent in what we do.”