By Sabrina Kraft
The Weyburn Chamber of Commerce held their annual general meeting and President's Dinner on Wednesday night at the Weyburn Legion. One of the biggest decisions that the Chamber made last year was to invest more into their members.
"There will be big issues to deal with this year, and we will," said Jeff Richards, manager of the Weyburn Chamber. "There are fun opportunities to capture, and we'll do that for you too."
Richards talked about the successes and the decisions of the Chamber in his message to the members. "The Chamber worked hard on a number of key issues this year, including the property tax file."
"We hosted reps from SAMA, as well as our two municipalities to help us understand why we were seeing such dramatic shifts in assessment," said Richards. "We will continue to lobby for changes recommended in the Sask Tax Plan, including a two-year assessment cycle and a 1.4 differential cap."
"We have also worked on the cross-border shopping concerns," said Richards. "Clearly the federal government is at a point where they are investigating into the real causes of price discrepancies and we are pleased to see that there are no longer 'single point' examples being made. This is a long-term project that will require more attention."
The Chamber changed their executive during the President's Dinner, introducing a new executive committee and directors for the next two years.
Rodney Gill, from the Royal Bank of Canada, is the new Chamber president. Vice presidents are Larry Heggs, from Barber Motors, and Jim Fahlman, from SaskTel. Past president is Jeff Chessall, from New Age Electronics.
Directors are Twila Walkeden, Cenovus Energy; Brent Allin, Access Communications; Jeff Walkeden, Farm Credit Canada; Chris Minard, Minard's Leisure World; Jerry Ponto, Prairie Sky Co-op; Marliss Gilchrist, Weyburn Credit Union, Scott Paxman, Site Energy Services and Kurtis Bourassa, E. Bourassa and Sons.
"The opportunity to serve the business community as president is something that meant a lot to me. Although my time as president is done, I still intend to be a part of the organization and ensure that the needs of the business community are represented at all levels of government," said Jeff Chessall, outgoing president.
"We will welcome some new faces to the Chamber board who will be bringing new perspectives and the future looks very bright," said Chessall. "I have served for over four years on the board with incoming president Rodney Gill and rest assured he will be a diligent president."
"Over the years Rod has been a very open and reasonable leader around the table and he is someone who will make certain that the Chamber is doing what needs to be done," said Chessall. "The Chamber has a procedure for tackling its issues and making changes that are very good."
"Looking at the Chamber's list of past presidents, and standing up here as the new president of this outstanding organization is such a great feeling," said incoming president, Rodney Gill.
He said that the Chamber will work for continued excellence in the community. Gill said he is eager to work on projects that Chamber members had asked for. These include hosting an event on the development levy, advocating for property tax reform and finding resources for members who are struggling to find employees.
"Building our community is paramount to the Chamber, and we will continue to provide opportunities for our members and bring first-class events to our community," said Gill.
The keynote speaker during the President's Dinner was Ken Krawetz, deputy premier and Finance minister for Saskatchewan, who talked about the recently released provincial budget. This year's budget was balanced with a surplus of $71 million. It had no tax increases, controlled spending, and contained investments in infrastructure and people.
Krawetz also talked about how it was a summary budget this year that was focused on being balanced, compared to last year when the focus was on the GRF. "It was a different budget because it introduced everything, it was a $14 billion budget, not a $11.5 billion budget."
"It was our goal to have a balanced budget and we were able to do that this year," said Krawetz. He noted that the province is facing a challenge of meeting the costs of moving the province forward. One of the strengths for the province are the new population numbers, which were released on budget day. Saskatchewan has passed the 1.1 million population mark for the first time in its history.
The government carefully considered the option of raising taxes before decided not to introduce any increases. Instead of introducing tax increases, the budget had controlled spending in every ministry.
It is expected that Saskatchewan will continue to grow, and to protect a healthy economy the government did invest into several infrastructure projects. "We are still spending in some very significant areas, one of which is around Crowns," said Krawetz. There was unprecedented capital spending in the commercial Crown sector.
In addition, there was other infrastructure spending for municipal governments; the highways program (among that pre-construction on twinning Highway 6 and 39); and health and education capital funds.
Diane Horner did question the finance minister about funding for a new hospital to replace the Weyburn General Hospital, since no funds were announced during the provincial budget.
"All projects work through a process, and there is no question that the regional health authority is committed to the project for Weyburn," said Krawetz. He added that the Ministry of Health would have to do an assessment, before a new infrastructure project is introduced to the rotation.
To help invest in Saskatchewan people, the government added funding to increase post-secondary training and apprenticeships seats, increased support to help students afford their education, introduced a new Seniors' Care Urgent Issues Action Fund, and added more daycare spaces.
Krawetz said that Saskatchewan is seeing the influence of a new west partnership, especially since the province is working collectively with Alberta and British Columbia with new initiatives and economic growth.
He said that a lot of the credit for a new economic growth, and new population numbers, goes to the residents of Saskatchewan themselves. "There are things that government can do, but when you look at the overall in the province - the attitude has changed and we are proud to be Saskatchewanians."
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