McLennan onside with regional economic development proposal

The Town of McLennan has carried out an about-face in regards to a proposal to establish a Regional Economic Development Committee within the Smoky River region.
Town council met Feb. 10, blowing the dust off what appeared to be a closed book matter last November by agreeing to submit a homegrown economic development plan as part of Town of Falher blueprint.
That plan, along with other proposals from neighbouring municipalities including Girouxville, Donnelly, and the M.D., will go under the regional microscope this week at the regional economic development meeting.
The change of heart by McLennan council comes three months after elected officials went against the regional grain by choosing to temporarily opt out of plans for the formation of a Regional Economic Development Committee.
Town council’s decision at time was fuelled by controversial remarks made by Councillor Dwayne Stout, who openly critiqued the role of the Town of Falher by suggesting that all economic development initiatives would be catered to the needs of the Francophone community.
Coun. Stout softened his stance on the matter in January and was one of the first councillors to make a statement at last week’s meeting.
“I was harshly criticized by some people in this community for bending on this issue last month,” said Councillor Dwayne Stout. “My comments in the Express last November were nothing personal. It was strictly business… the business of this community.”
The McLennan councillor said he supported the concept of split representation on the yet-to-be-formed regional economic development committee before reiterating the need for equality right across the board for participating municipalities.
“It’s important for this municipality and others to be well-informed about where their taxpayer dollars are being spent. I’m not going to hold up this process by voting against this motion, but let’s just say I’m not a happy camper.”
Coun. Lee Hamelin echoed those comments by stating, “We’re attempting to come up with a formula that promotes equality among all municipalities.”
He also noted that the McLennan & District Chamber of Commerce fully endorses the regional economic development concept and would be willing to allocate a portion of its annual business license fee revenues towards the cause as a way of stimulating the regional economy.
Just how much that will be remains up in the air.
McLennan council reviewed Falher’s proposal, which includes a recommendation from Falher council to have all committee representatives appointed from the community at large as opposed to having elected officials.
“We have suggested three representatives from the M.D., two from the towns and one each from villages,” said Falher Town Administrator Gerard Nicolet, who was contacted by the Express following McLennan council’s meeting.
He said the breakdown of funding is based on financial contributions and population totals in each municipality.
McLennan councillors, meanwhile, felt that the appointment structure should include one elected official and one member of the community at large on the committee – a proposal which was critiqued by Coun. Eckhard Christen.
He threw an element of caution to the wind by suggesting that paying an elected official to attend Regional Economic Development Committee meetings may be perceived as unfair by the town’s member at large on the committee.
“Elected officials are compensated financially for attending meetings like this whereas appointed people from the community are not. It’s a major concern, which I feel must be addressed if that’s the direction we choose to take,” said Christen.
That led to a rebuttal from Mayor John Kachuk, who suggested that the town’s appointed representative on the committee receive the same compensation as the elected official.
“We have the option of giving our appointed committee member a similar honorarium if it’s an issue which creates harsh feelings,” Kachuk noted, adding that it was important for town council not to put the cart in front of the horse.
“We don’t know how it’s going to come out in the wash as of yet or what the proposals from neighbouring municipalities are,” he said. “Our budget will dictate what we can or can not do financially,” said Kachuk.
The M.D. of Smoky River 130 has expressed an interest to house the regional economic development office from its administrative building in Falher.
Nicolet says the program is all part of a regional cost-sharing plan which includes a provision to hire a full-time economic development officer.
That plan is said to revolve around a proposed annual operating budget of roughly $100,000 with participating municipalities contributing funding based on 50 per cent assessment and 50 per cent population.
In the Town of McLennan’s case, that figure boils down to a projected annual sum of roughly $11,370.
Nicolet would not confirm those figures. “Due to the sensitive nature of this matter, and the fact it is being discussed internally at the regional level, I can not release that information,” he said, adding that the figures are merely samples.
“We don’t want to reveal any information to the public until a consensus has been reached.

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