Both mayors from Battleford and North Battleford could point to retail growth and some similar infrastructure challenges in their communities when they spoke at the annual State of the City/State of the Town address at the Western Development Museum.
For both Mayor Ryan Bater of North Battleford and Mayor Ames Leslie of Battleford, this was their third State of the City/Town address since being elected in 2016. The Battlefords Chamber of Commerce organized the noon-hour luncheon last Thursday, and as usual the event produced no shortage of news.
Here is a look at the highlights from what the two mayors focused on in their addresses this year.
Mayor Ryan Bater of North Battleford:
Bater began his speech by pointing to the growth in the city.
He had just returned to the city from meetings in Estevan, and as he returned from the long drive the other day he said he noticed the “beautiful things” and growth they had seen in the city.
“The first thing I saw was the 1158, the train that’s being unveiled tomorrow,” said Bater, noting the WDM’s restoration project. He also pointed to the two new hotels and the downtown development.
“I just thought we’re really fortunate, I think we should all remember how fortunate we are to live in such a beautiful place, a place that has been growing, with one of the highest qualities of life in Saskatchewan.”
He spoke at length about downtown being “the highest priority” of the municipal government since 2013. Bater noted downtown was “better looking, it’s more inviting, it’s pedestrian friendly.” He also pointed to the grand openings of the Capitol Annex as well as Giant Tiger downtown.
Bater added the new cinema is “reducing leakage” of dollars to Saskatoon. “Because that’s here now, those dollars are being spent in our community,” said Bater.
He also pointed to the anticipation for the Giant Tiger grand opening.
“I got there at seven in the morning and there was already 30 people in line,” said Bater. “By the time they opened the doors at eight, there was like 100 people.”
He spoke of the investment the city has made downtown and noted the city has not had to wait until all the infrastructure was done to see a return on it.
“We are seeing a return as it’s happening which is really encouraging.”
Bater also pointed to a new 63-stall parking lot going up beside the theatre and said UPAR work will happen on a single block of 100th Street this summer. The mayor also spoke of the extension of the downtown incentives beyond this year.
He also spoke of the $13.6 million upgrade to the sewer trunk main, with one-third dollars for the project coming from the federal government and the province. “To get 33 cent dollars for a major project like that is not an opportunity that comes along very often and not one we are going to pass up.”
As expected, Bater addressed the recent financial challenges of the city.
Bater mentioned they were in a “reset year in general” at City Hall, pointing to a new city manager, director of leisure services, director of human resources, and director of finance, among others. He also noted the city’s efforts to get on a solid financial footing.
“Ever since the provincial budget of 2017 there have been questions around city finances,” said Bater. He spoke of the city’s efforts to address a $2 million hole, and to reduce dependence on land sales for operational revenue.
“When we sell land, we want that money to go into a dedicated fund to buy new land.”
Bater acknowledged the staff reductions at City Hall, with the reduction of $1.3 million in salaries.
“Obviously a difficult time for everybody involved but a necessary action to take when a civic government is faced with those enormous financial pressures.”
Bater spoke on other items, including remarks at the end of his address towards regional co-operation with surrounding municipalities and First Nations. He hoped there would be news to share soon about a “systemic framework” in place.
Bater’s address also included glowing remarks about the CUplex. He pointed to CurlSask’s high performance centre at the curling centre, and to statistics showing the aquatic centre drew 988 unique students a week for swimming lessons.
“The people of North Battleford have to be very proud of the recreation facilities that we are offering the region,” said Bater.
These comments drew a reaction from Rob Rongve, the former CUplex fundraising co-chair, during the question and answer session.
Rongve called Bater’s remarks “very encouraging,” adding, “I know prior to the development you voted pretty well against every resolution getting it going, so I appreciate the turnaround and change of mind that now you see the value in the investment in the community.”
“Thanks for the question, Rob, it’s always a pleasure,” responded Bater, who pointed out he was first elected to council in 2012, which was after the CUplex had started construction.
“To suggest I voted against it in any way is just wrong,” said Bater.
Rongve had also expressed concern about the optics of council voting itself a pay raise while at the same time laying off city employees.
That prompted a response from Bater on the entire change to the remuneration policy and the rationale. He explained the increase was to make up for the elimination of a one-third tax exemption for elected officials.
“Most municipalities, the overwhelming majority, made changes to their remuneration policy to make councils whole,” said Bater.
Bater also noted the new formula was adopted in January, while the factors that led to the staff reduction happened in February and March. “Suggesting that one had an impact on the other just isn’t logical,” Bater said.
Mayor Ames Leslie of Battleford:
Mayor Bater’s counterpart from south of the North Saskatchewan River could also point to new retail development in his town.
“It’s a great day today,” said Leslie. “Today we re-opened what was Super A with our partners, the Co-op.”
Leslie was referring to Discovery Co-op’s new grocery store in the former Super A Foods location on 22nd Street. He welcomed the Co-op’s investment at that location after the length of time that the grocery store location stood empty.
“It is widely known that we miss it,” said Leslie, who added “it is a big and important part of downtown.”
Leslie also spoke of the other development in Battleford. He pointed to $70 million in investment over the last five years, $57 million of what was last year alone.
He particularly pointed to the town’s partnership with Thunderchild First Nation, who have been working to develop an urban reserve on 90 acres. The Westleaf cannabis production facility is two months away from being operational, said Leslie.
“We are definitely excited to see that first step in highway development along Highway 16.”
The Battleford mayor also spoke about a possible truck stop along Highway 16, which Leslie called a potential benefit to “both our communities.” The town is also in talks with Poundmaker First Nation on supplying them with water for their “Poundmaker 2” residential area located nearby.
“If we can supply them with water we can start to expand more housing out there for those who are working and wanting to live in the Battlefords,” said Leslie.
A challenge facing the town is historic buildings that are “crumbling and falling apart,” Leslie said of them. It means some hard decisions, and administration and council have been preparing a study to understand where they need to go next and what to do.
There have been efforts by the town and the board of Fred Light Museum to expand it into a tourism hotspot, with the addition of displays and some outside buildings. Leslie also pointed to tourism, and attractions such as the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame and the new Land Surveyors of Saskatchewan museum.
“Tourism is going to be the way of the future that we can continue to grow and continue to incentivize businesses to want to be part of our community,” said Leslie.
Leslie also said there would be an investment of money in infrastructure and in downtown. He pledged “modest investment” to improve the appearance, safety and awareness of the downtown core.
In other plans, Second Avenue from to 29th to 35th Street will be “ripped up,” said Leslie.
“We will be replacing water pipes, curbs, gutters, as well as repaving,” he said. “I think it’s been a bone of contention for this council for about six years and we’re finally seeing it being done.”