Business issues, services raised at Weyburn candidates forum

Issues ranging from businesses to municipal services were discussed at the municipal candidates forum hosted by the Weyburn Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday evening in a largely empty Legion Hall.

The forum was in preparation for the municipal election, which is slated to be held on Monday, Nov. 9.

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Fourteen of the 16 candidates were present for the forum, which featured a series of questions posed by the Chamber, along with questions sent in by the public. The forum was broadcast by AccessNow, and was livestreamed online as no public was allowed to be in the hall due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Due to the large number of candidates, each question was answered by three or four of the candidates to enable more questions to be brought up.

The candidates present included Jeff Richards, John Lawrence, Dick Michel, Casey Drullette, Ryan Janke, John Corrigan, Marcel Roy, Nick Coroluick, Laura Morrissette, Trevor Butts, Melanie Sorensen, Debra Button, Mel Van Betuw and Dana Pretzer, with candidates Bruce Croft and Sheila Sutherland not in attendance.

A question was raised about Weyburn’s new hospital, and what the city council could do to enhance this development for the city’s benefit.

Jeff Richards said the city needs to work with economic development and the chamber to coordinate what services and supplies would be needed during construction and then when it’s in operation. He suggested they could also look at having the hospital as a training ground, which would bring students to the community as well.

John Lawrence said it was exciting that this announcement finally came to Weyburn, and it will bring a great opportunity to the city in the form of jobs during construction, and possibly also suppliers and equipment from local businesses.

In addition, he said, “I don’t see anything wrong with coordinating with the Saskatchewan Health Authority to provide a specialty clinic” along with the new hospital.

Dick Michel said he gets questions about this on the campaign trail more than any other issue, particularly about the shortage of doctors. A key to addressing it as a council will be to have a respectful discussion with the SHA and the government in regard to the doctor shortage, as well as getting a maternity ward back into Weyburn’s hospital.

“We can’t have a new hospital where we can’t deliver a baby,” he said, adding this will improve the quality of life for families in Weyburn.

The next question was to ask the candidates for their thoughts on making Weyburn more tax-attractive in bringing in new businesses and to support existing businesses.

Ryan Janke said the city shouldn’t have high mill rates for businesses, but it also shouldn’t be so low that infrastructure suffers. He pointed to the state of Estevan’s roads as an example of what not to do, and said it’s important to focus on supporting local businesses and encouraging new residents to move to Weyburn rather than working and living in a big city.

John Corrigan said it comes down creating an environment in Weyburn that is supportive of businesses.

“It’s not a matter of being the lowest or even mid-range, but focusing on what works best for us, so we have to find a way to attract businesses to Weyburn, and once that occurs, that increases our tax base,” he said.

Marcel Roy pointed out that Weyburn is tax-attractive already as the third-lowest city for business taxes, and it will be important to remain fiscally conservative to enable businesses to expand and grow in the city.

He also felt that offering tax incentives to new businesses is counter-productive.

Nick Coroluick commented that Weyburn already is tax-attractive, compared to a city like Estevan that has high commercial tax rates.

“I think if we continue to work with broadening our tax base, we’ll be able to keep our commercial rates lower,” he said.

Candidates were asked how they would ensure that the processes for business would be streamlined to encourage them to set up new or expanded operations in the city.

Laura Morrissette said she would encourage better communication between businesses and city administration and staff to make sure the processes are open and that information is easily accessible to them. This is also important for administration to have all the information they need before a matter is brought to city council for their vote.

Trevor Butts said the first thing that’s needed is to get rid of any department redundancy, and any way that processes can be streamlined should be looked into to make life easier for businesses to move forward with their plans. This in turn will help encourage businesses to invest in Weyburn, he added.

Melanie Sorensen said that elected officials need to be committed to being open for reviewing processes and listening to ideas, so they can come up with solutions and making improvements at every level at City Hall.

The offsite development levy was raised as an issue for the business community, and candidates were asked for their thoughts about it.

Debra Button said the development levy was a major topic for council, and pointed out that it’s important to have to help pay for new infrastructure as the city grows and expands. She noted that municipalities have a number of tax tools they can use in order to help the city meet their development needs as they come up, and pointed out that a levy like this helps pay for recreation facilities, roads and sewers.

Mel Van Betuw noted that most cities have some way to raise funds to pay for infrastructure needs, and said council spent a lot of time in the past year or two working on setting up the levy. Dana Pretzer said he was sure the current council did not envision a pandemic happening when they instituted the development levy, and suggested it needs to be changed to accommodate current economic conditions.

“We heard the pandemic would be over in two weeks, and it’s been seven months now,” he said. “It’s something that needs to be reviewed.”

In closing, Richards said he made a number of promises when he was first elected, and he feels he has met most or all of them.

“Going forward, there’s much more to do, and as we negotiate this pandemic we’re going to need strong leadership,” he added.

Lawrence said he respects everyone who has put their name forward as a candidate, and noted to the viewers of the broadcast that they are taking part in the democratic process by listening to the forum before going out to vote.

He said his experiences abroad and in business would help him as a city councillor.

Michel noted he has been serving on council for the past 20 years, and he feels he still has the passion and vision to continue as a councillor, noting, “I take this position very seriously.”

Drullette said it’s vital for young people to have a part in the city’s government and to bring new, different ideas to the council table.

Janke said times are changing, and the pandemic will bring an opportunity to Weyburn to attract residents here from big cities as they work from home.

Corrigan noted that Weyburn “is a great city” to live and work in, as he has lived here for most of his life, and he feels its amenities need to be promoted more to attract more people and businesses here.

Roy said there has been some major improvements made in the last four years of his term, and he pledges to continue this work for the city.

Coroluick said there are some differences from his opponent, in that he will try and treat everyone in the same way he wants to be treated, and he will be able to make being the mayor a full-time job for the city.

Morrissette said as a wife and mother and a former councillor, she’s reflected on how she can better represent the city as a member of council.

Butts the forum was good as it raised issues that need to be talked about, noting that “steel sharpens steel”, and he wants to bring a different perspective to the council table.

Sorensen pledged to work with all stakeholders and businesses to work through the issues that come up at the council table, if she’s elected.

Button said she believes in having open lines of communication, and she would bring her knowledge and experience to the table. “I’ve seen the city’s resilience. We need more determination now more than ever.”

Van Betuw said the large number of candidates “is a testament to our city. Weyburn is a great place to do business, as I can attest to over the last 30 years.”

Pretzer noted he began serving Weyburn in 1982 as a police officer, and continued as a school board trustee before deciding to seek support as a member of city council in this election.