Issues ranging from economic development and recycling to the new arrows and lanes on city streets were raised with the candidates vying for a seat on city council in this year's municipal election, at the all-candidates forum on Thursday evening at McKenna Hall.
Hosted by the Weyburn Chamber of Commerce, they posed the first three questions to the candidates before opening the microphone to questions from the floor. All eight candidates for the six seats on council were present, while only one mayoral candidate was present, incumbent Debra Button.
A past president of the Chamber, Brent Allin, posed the question of what barriers to economic development candidates see in the city, and to incumbent Nancy Styles, the question seemed negative.
"To be honest, I can't think of any barriers to economic development," she said, adding the city is outperforming most communities in the province not to mention those of other provinces.
Incumbent Winston Bailey had a different take, citing a recent doubling by the city of development fees as a major barrier to new development.
"In researching other cities, I found we're so far ahead of them, it's unreal," he said, noting even the city of Prince Albert has less expensive development fees than Weyburn has. He added he did not support the fee increase, which doubled from $40,000 to $80,000 an acre.
"You have to realize we're close to Regina; however, we can't compete with Regina, it's what it is," said Dick Michel, adding that the library conducted a survey of what Weyburn needs, and they came up with answers like a shoe store and another grocery store.
He suggested that as the city's population grows, these sort of retailers will come.
New candidate Mel Van Betuw said the city's land prices could be a barrier to development.
"We have to be competitive with other cities, and we need to be more flexible in the planning that we do. I would like the economic development officer to be more visible, and (she) should be located at City Hall," he said.
Candidate Barry Dickie suggested a barrier to development "is the lack of affordable housing. If we can't get entry-level people to come here because there's no place to live, there won't be growth."
For candidate Connie Nightingale, she said a domino effect takes place starting with being able to get employees here to work.
Candidate Laura Morrissette said Weyburn "is in great shape" economically-speaking, and the city needs to figure out what is needed for new employees to come here to work.
Mayoral candidate Debra Button defended the increase to development fees, pointing out the city will need to spend upwards of $220 million on its infrastructure by the year 2025, and to help pay for some of that the fees had to be increased.
She added that to keep the fees at $40,000 an acre, this downloads a cost to taxpayers for every lot that is developed, a 24-per-cent increase over the taxes currently levied.
Incumbent Rob Stephanson noted that development of lots has reached the point where the city no longer can do it, but contractors are now doing it, and as for the fee increase, he commented, "We can't give it away; somebody has to pay for it."
Resident Carl Von Hagen earned scattered applause when he raised the issue of the arrows and lines on the road, questioning for example why a motorist going straight through at an intersection has to go to the right-hand turning lane to do it.
"I'm going to be honest, we did step 4 before we did step 2 or 3," said Michel, going on to explain, "The lines are there for a reason. As the population grows, it's done for a reason; trust me, it is."
He pointed out that as people have gotten used to the arrows and lanes, the angry calls have dropped off and traffic flows are going better now.
Van Betuw said he fears what problems might arise this winter, but added it's too early to pass judgment on the traffic changes on whether it will work or not.
Dickie said he has a view of Government Road from where he lives, and thinks many motorists are "getting the hang of it", but he is worried about the winter when the roads get icy and it's hard to judge where the turn lanes are.
Nightingale said she looked through the traffic study by Stantec Engineering on which the traffic changes were based and believes the changes are sound, and pointed out when people drive to Regina, she sees the same arrows on Albert Street.
Morrissette said she's read the same traffic study, and feels the public needs more education along with more signage to make the changes work.
Button noted the changes and the study were initiated because of all the complaints about the traffic the city was getting, and they wanted traffic specialists to look into it and figure out the best solution for the city.
She said the study cost the city $45,000, and commented to Von Hagen, "Carl, I'm sure that come the winter, you'll do just fine."
Stephanson agreed with the comments by Nightingale, and pointed out, "When you go into other cities, you don't question the signs. The problem here is this is new and different; it's a part of growing bigger."
Styles defended having the traffic study done, saying if the city doesn't have the expertise, you have to pay to bring in those who do have the expertise.
The changes were made because of the city's growth, she added, and suggested one intersection, at Third Street and Highway 39, needs to be looked at "because it's a little wonky."
Bailey admitted when he first saw the changes he was skeptical that they were going to work, but after getting used to the changes, he's now convinced they will work fine, and it's already been proven that they are working.
The Chamber of Commerce's questions dealt with economic development issues, and the third question asked the candidates what they think will be the most significant change made in Weyburn in four years' time.
Michel said the city is planning and building for the future, but that the city won't be able to do it alone; they will need the support of the provincial and federal governments, in particular to upgrade the city's infrastructure.
Van Betuw said as more rental properties are built, and the vacancy rate reaches two to three per cent, then the levels of rent will stabilize, and suggested the city will hopefully be in a position for a new hospital in four years' time.
Dickie said as the city grows and attracts more residents, then more shopping will follow as well, but noted in the meantime, "businesses struggle with recruiting because there's no housing when they get here."
Nightingale said it will be interesting to see how many people are living here in four years' time, and suggested it will be important to instil community pride in those who come here, "because the work is here."
Morrissette thought the most significant change to come will be in the population increase, and in the subsequent increase in businesses in the city.
"I want to continue to make Weyburn a place where people will want to live," she added.
Button said the city will indeed continue to grow, and feels the most significant change will be in the demographics of the population.
"I believe more and more we'll get younger families; this will impact us and we're going to have to plan for the future," she said.
"I honestly don't see a significant change; yes, we'll be bigger, but I hope we'll be similar to what we have today," said Stephanson. "We have to build facilities and man them, like a new hospital; we need to get medical professionals here now and make sure the services are here."
Styles commented that when we do get growth, it's important that it won't have a huge tax increase on the city as a result; she also said the council needs to be vigilant to lobby for a new hospital for the city.
Bailey said he hopes that in the next four years there will finally be a date for when Weyburn will get their new hospital, noting this is "so essential" to have in place here to handle the "unprecedented growth" of the city.