Wide ranging economic recovery plan clears first hurdle

By Kirk Winter

Continued improvements to downtowns is one of a handful of focuses for the city's economic recovery.

Council enthusiastically endorsed, in principal, the recommendations of the Economic Recovery Task Force presented at their committee of the whole meeting on Nov. 3.

These recommendations include improvements to the downtowns, investments in boat launches and trails, a commitment to move forward with plans for increased broadband capacity, developing a cultural sector recovery grant program and continuing to partner with the Kawartha Lakes Innovation Cluster.

Rebecca Mustard.

Rebecca Mustard, manager of economic development, shared with council the work of the task force that began last May and culminated with these recommendations being brought forward to council almost six months later.

Mustard explained that the task force met 13 times looking at three key areas to assist economic recovery post-pandemic. The task force focused on critical infrastructure investments, planning and development stimulus and business recovery and support.

“We are going to need to do things differently,” Mustard said, “to reflect a changed economy.”

The report was multi-faceted and included what the members thought were “the most shovel ready projects” and ones that gave the city “the biggest bang for its buck.”

Specific recommendations approved in principal by council were:

  • That permit fees for park use, patios and events in 2021 be waived, with forecasted reduced revenue identified in the 2021 budget;
  • That the downtown Fenelon Falls reconstruction project be included as a decision unit in the 2021 capital budget;
  • That an increase in garbage cans and frequency of waste pick up in our downtowns and major parks be costed and included as a decision unit in the 2021 budget;
  • That portable washrooms and associated directional signage in our downtowns and parks be costed and included as a decision unit in the 2021 budget;
  • That accelerated investment in our boat launches and trails for improved access and enjoyment be costed and included as a decision unit in the 2021 budget;
  • That Council supports the work of EORN and EOWC for the Eastern Ontario “1 GIG” proposal for increased broadband capacity;
  • That Council directs staff to develop a cultural sector recovery grant program for 2021, which could be applied to operating costs for our arts and culture community, and report back to council on the scope of the program by end of Q1 2021;
  • That Council approves a modified extension to the Kawartha Lakes Innovation Cluster Pilot program until Dec. 31, 2021, through in-kind support to provide specific support for high growth businesses.

Mustard pointed out to council that there are currently 134 applications before the city planning department and that staff were looking at ways to fast track and streamline their approval process.

The economic recovery task force also recognized the importance of tourism and small business to the future economic health of Kawartha Lakes in their report.

“An overhaul of the Explore Kawartha Lakes.com website led to a 250 per cent increase in first time visitors to the site in 2020,” Mustard shared.

“We also worked closely with the four business improvement associations to help local businesses improve their digital presence and help our downtowns,” Mustard added.

John Gillis, president of Innovation Cluster-Peterborough and the Kawarthas picked up where Mustard concluded, noting the successes they have been having in creating and supporting technology start-ups in central Ontario.

“We have many positive things coming in 2021,” Gillis said.

“One of our local start-ups is looking very promising and could create 1,000 good jobs over the next three years,” Gillis said.

Gillis said the innovation cluster was working with 58 clients in Peterborough and Kawartha Lakes, and that their work would not be possible without their municipal partners including Kawartha Lakes council.

“I hope these recommendations will give us a little shot for 2021,” Mayor Andy Letham said at the on-set of the question and answer portion of the presentation.

“We are going to have to do things differently,” Letham continued,” and we need to find new ways to do business. We cannot go back to the way things were before.”

Councillor Andrew Veale was very supportive of the push for rural broadband saying that, “Some interested individuals couldn’t even participate in the meetings let alone do more business on-line because their broadband is so poor.”

“I am optimistic that there will be money in the upcoming provincial budget for broadband not just in central Ontario but right across the province,” Letham said.

Deputy Mayor Patrick O’Reilly told those in attendance that he expected an application will be coming to the planning department on Nov. 4 for the development of 2,000 additional housing units in the north quadrant of Lindsay.

Councillor Ron Ashmore was happy with most of what he heard but suggested that the task force was barking up the wrong tree on a couple of issues.

“We should be concentrating on more manufacturing jobs,” Ashmore said. “That should be a priority. We should be making things like medical equipment right here in Canada.”

“We should be looking at Spacex Starlink satellite internet for rural Ontario rather than tower-to-tower communication,” Ashmore said. “We are going the wrong way with broadband I think.”

The report from the task force was approved in principal unanimously and will be brought back to council on Nov. 17 for a final vote. If approved, action items requiring money will be added to the upcoming budget discussions that begin in December.

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