Sault Mayor Christian Provenzano, in a question and answer session held at a Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce luncheon and Fireside Chat Thursday, acknowledged local tax rates and red tape issues exist for developers.
“Taxes are going to continue to be a challenge (in the face of a shrinking municipal tax base),” adding he realizes changes to Fire Services and City Transit weren’t popular.
“Every mayor and council faces this (tax) challenge,” Provenzano said.
Referring to council’s February approval of a 3.54 per cent local tax hike (the municipal portion of the increase being 2.55 per cent), Provenzano said “I would’ve preferred it to be lower than 2.5 per cent...but people are relying on us to provide services.”
Another challenge Provenzano spoke of was the burden faced by the city in performing road maintenance during an exceptionally heavy winter, with Larry Girardi, Deputy CAO, Public Works & Engineering Services, openly stating during Thursday’s meeting the city had lost several vehicles due to stress put on them by extensive use.
When asked by Carlo Spadafora, the Sault Chamber board’s 1st vice president, of what the city can do in cutting red tape for businesses, Provenzano said he has heard loud and clear from developers expressing challenges in dealing with city hall.
“I saw a disconnect,” Provenzano said.
“There are people (city officials) who want to make life easier...but business people didn’t feel that way.”
The mayor said a meeting was held with local contractors regarding the city’s building code, a new web portal set up whereby contractors could more easily interact with city staff, “to make it easier to deal with city hall.”
When asked about taxes on small local industries, Provenzano said “where we have a challenge is our growing costs with a tax base that isn’t growing at the same rate,” stating the city has to make it easier for business owners and developers to get their projects off the ground.
Tough issues notwithstanding, Provenzano said “I’m optimistic we’re going to see growth.”
The mayor said a FutureSSM delegation will be heading to southern Ontario in April to lure skilled workers to Sault Ste. Marie, in cooperation with the private sector, the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation (SSMEDC) and the city’s postsecondary institutions to fill the local skills gap, while also assisting those unemployed in the community.
He described FutureSSM as an optimistic group, being “much more future-focused.”
Provenzano also said “a lot of exciting things are happening,” anticipating an overhaul of Bay Street which will include landscaping and multi-use trails, improving the downtown marina, and next year, an improved Queen Street.
The mayor added the Port of Algoma project is still in the works, with the Sault’s application for a ferrochrome production facility still on file with Noront Resources.
Before Thursday’s question and answer session, Jake Pastore, OLG’s Municipal and Community Relations director, presented a cheque to the City of Sault Ste. Marie for $1,491,111, representing proceeds from Gateway Casinos – Sault Ste. Marie for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, Provenzano accepting the cheque on the city’s behalf.
Thus far, the city has received over $28 million in slot revenue for hosting the casino, which opened in 1999.
Profits for the 2017-2018 fiscal year have been put back into the community for help including with asset management projects for several municipal facilities.
“The OLG is an active community partner that continues to have a positive impact on Sault Ste. Marie,” Provenzano stated in a news release issued Thursday.
“Through the Community Recognition Program, the OLG has supported local charities, community facilities, infrastructure projects and public services. The City is grateful for the OLG’s contributions to our community, and we look forward to further collaboration to benefit residents of the Sault.”
“OLG is proud to be a vital part of Sault Ste. Marie for almost 20 years and we look forward to continuing to build on that support”, Pastore stated in the same release.
“Each and every year 100 per cent of OLG proceeds are invested in Ontario. From healthcare, to education, to community festivals, OLG proceeds are hard at work in Sault Ste. Marie and all across our province. And, we appreciate the contribution of Gateway Casinos – Sault Ste. Marie employees in making life in Sault Ste. Marie that much richer.”