ARICHAT: A plan charting the course of the municipality for the next five years was unveiled to the public last week.
During the regular monthly meeting of Richmond Municipal Council on January 28 in Arichat, councillors approved the recommendation of the committee-of-the-whole to accept Richmond County’s strategic plan for 2019-2024.
Deputy Warden Brian Marchand was the lone nay vote. He wanted to give the public another chance to review the plan before a final vote was held.
“I think a document that’s going to lead us for the next four to five years, it should be reviewed by the public before we approved this in its final stages,” Marchand told council.
During the 15-minute question period near the conclusion of the meeting, Richmond Warden Jason MacLean agreed with Robbie Fougere’s suggestion to have the strategic plan on the agenda for the February meeting so the public can review the document and return to council to provide their feedback.
Also during the question period, Helen Slade, with the Seniors Take Action Coalition, criticized the municipality for not prioritizing the needs of seniors and failing to emphasize the issues presented by the seniors of Richmond County. She charged that the feedback offered by seniors was sidetracked in favour of economic development.
“I think it was a sad thing not to have them prioritized in the strategic plan,” Slade told council.
MacLean responded there were many seniors who attended the community consultations and offered input into the plan, and the plan reflects the priorities of those seniors.
“The plan was basically put together on what people had to say, what the folks from the community who attended the session, had to say,” MacLean noted. “That’s what’s actually in the plan.”
MacLean explained the municipality hosted eight community consultations, provided an on-line survey, and there were consultations held at École Beau-Port and Richmond Academy.
Released on February 1 on the municipality’s Web site (https://www.richmondcounty.ca/), Richmond Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Kent MacIntyre said the main goal of the plan is to generate growth.
“The driving force of where we’re going to go for the next five years, it’s the growth of jobs, population and revenue,” MacIntyre told The Reporter on January 31.
Pointing to census data that predicts that by the year 2036, the population of Richmond County will be down to approximately 6,700, MacLean said the time is now.
“In the three sessions that I attended, when you’re going around, it was very clear that lots of people in every session were saying, ‘we need to do something to bring the young people back,’” MacLean told The Reporter last Thursday.
MacIntyre said the five priorities under the plan are: grow the economy; develop the tourism industry; invest in infrastructure; nurture healthy, active communities; and inform and engage citizens.
To grow the economy, MacIntyre said Richmond County wants to promote their heavy industrial park in Point Tupper, and their light industrial park in Lennox Passage, and eventually, the jointly owned business park in Port Hawkesbury. He also wants the municipality to work collaboratively with other municipalities.
To encourage economic growth, Richmond County is working with government and the private sector to bring more broadband and cellular services to the municipality, according to the CAO.
The municipality wants to brand Richmond County as a place to visit and a place to do business by developing a marketing strategy, MacIntyre noted.
On the tourism side, MacIntyre said the county has to offer more to tourists and visitors, then in turn, do a better job marketing the area. He said the municipality does not have adequate mapping and signage.
“We don’t have enough experiences in Richmond County,” the CAO said. “More people that are visitors now, on the tourism side, they want to experience something.
“If we can start directing people around to destinations, they stay a little longer, spend more money, that’s what we want.”
MacIntyre said the municipality is investigating whether they can help make existing events and festivals larger in scale, and assist with promotion.
Although blessed with assets like Point Michaud and Pondville Beaches, the CAO said there aren’t many attractions in Richmond County targeted at families. To accomplish this, the municipality wants to meet with the Department of Natural Resources to see what can be done to upgrade the beaches.
“We would love if Richmond County was known as the family place in the summertime,” MacIntyre said.
Calling Richmond County “the surfing capital of Western Cape Breton,” MacIntyre said they want to market the area to the surfing community.
To further improve visitation, MacIntyre said Richmond County is investigating the cost to erect a water park and the municipality is supporting plans to make enhancements at the St. Peter’s Canal.
“What we really want to do is get the tourists off the road,” MacIntyre.
As far as unique destinations, MacIntyre said the county will continue promoting its many multi-use and ATV trails, and the municipality wants to organize a signature event during the tourism offseason from the late fall to early spring.
To capitalize on the deep musical talent and culture in the county, MacIntyre said one idea is to partner with groups to fund a mobile stage, another is to take advantage of assets like the Friends United International Convention Centre in Kempt Road.
However, the deputy warden claimed there is an over-reliance on tourism in the plan.
“I feel that this is more a tourism document,” Marchand told The Reporter. “I don’t feel we’re going to totally revitalize Richmond County on tourism alone.”
One example of investing in infrastructure is the planned sale of the former West Richmond Education Centre in Evanston, which MacIntyre noted has many potential uses and can generate revenue. Aside from selling some infrastructure, MacIntyre said Richmond County needs to map and manage its infrastructure assets.
With the streetscape project in St. Peter’s complete, and the project in Arichat about to begin, MacIntyre said there are other communities that could also benefit from such a program.
“There may be pockets of beautification and streetscaping that would be required in some areas of the municipality,” the CAO stated. “Over the next five years, we’ll be identifying some of those.”
To nurture healthy and active communities, the first priority for the municipality is to involve people of all ages, MacIntyre noted, and there are more consultations planned with seniors.
Although housing is a provincial matter, MacIntyre said the municipality will continue lobbying for more affordable housing in Richmond County. To attract more developers, he said they are investigating the use of municipal incentives, like deals on sewer and water connections.
In an effort to better connect with citizens, MacIntyre said one priority is to update the municipality’s Web site, another is to improve communication with residents.
To take advantage of education and training assets, MacIntyre said the municipality wants to work with Université Sainte-Anne, Cape Breton University and the NSCC Strait Area Campus.
MacIntyre added that although there are many components to the plan, creating jobs, growing the population and generating revenue are the core of this strategy.
“This came from professionals on how to grow communities, from economic development professionals,” he said. “If we can’t create jobs, then we’re not going to be able to get anyone here to live… And if we can’t create jobs, we’re not going to be able to affect the tax base. Jobs will drive everything and that’s why they’re first.”
The strategic plan can be viewed on the municipality’s Web site at: http://www.richmondcounty.ca/council/municipal-documents.html?own=0.