• John Jantak

Ste. Anne’s merchants’ association complains about municipal budget cuts


JOHN JANTAK

Ste. Anne de Bellevue Merchants’ Association (SDC) spokesperson Jean-Claude Provost complained about cuts made by the municipality to the organization’s annual operating budget and for city council’s rejection of a proposed Christmas Village at the site of Farmer’s Market.

The Ste. Anne de Bellevue Merchants’ Association (SDC) is decrying recent cuts made by the city to its upcoming 2015 operating budget and for rejecting a proposal that would have seen a Christmas Village set up at the site of the Farmer’s Market.

SDC spokesperson Jean-Claude Provost said the cuts will hamper the organization’s efforts to stage annual events such as the car show and make it difficult to propose new events to lure visitors to the downtown village, particularly in the off -peak tourist season.

Provost said the village merchants do well during the summer months, drawing as many as 300,000 visitors between May until Labour Day annually, but have difficulty sustaining their businesses in the off -season which is why the SDC proposed a Christmas Village this year to try to stimulate activity in the city’s downtown core.

“The intention was to have some nice little cabins built and install them on the site of the Farmer’s Market,” said Provost. “Our volunteers worked hard to get merchants to participate in the project and to attract entrepreneurs who sell items that can’t be found in area stores such as skis.” Mayor Paola Hawa said the city can no longer directly channel money to the SDC, which will amount to $16,000 in 2015, matching dollar-for-dollar the amount that was collected by the organization from area merchants.

“These are taxpayer dollars that we hand over to the SDC,” said Hawa. “The SDC like any organization in Ste. Anne’s has to slowly wean itself off taxpayer money. Last year, with all the investments we made and the money that we gave directly, the total was in the $100,000 range.” In a new era of austerity, Hawa said it’s necessary for organizations such as the SDC that have relied on financial contributions from the city to become financially self-sustaining.

Rather than make an across-the-board cut, the city decided to give the SDC time to adjust to their new reality by incrementally cutting their budget over the next three years “We said to them, get ready,” said Hawa.

“You have to stand up by yourself just like everybody else. We did the same thing with the Farmer’s Market five years ago, cut their budget incrementally over three years and now they’re self-sufficient and prospering. We warned the SDC we would cut their budget over the following three years until they were on their own.”

Hawa added that while the Christmas Village proposal has merit, it was only submitted near the end of October which didn’t give the city enough time to study the project to determine its viability. District 2 Councillor Ryan Young agreed that a Christmas Village could be a great addition to the city’s repertoire of annual events, but more time was needed to determine the exact scope of the project and how it would impact the community.

“It’s an interesting project that definitely could see the light of day in the future,” said Young. “In general, the majority of council thought it was too fast,” Young added. “It’s too big of a project to launch in a short period of time. There were too many questions that weren’t easily answered. Basically, I felt like many people on council that we were under the gun to make a decision about it. It would be unwise to rush into something as ambitious as this project.”

Farmers’ Market Coordinator Patti Murphy also said the Christmas Village was an excellent proposal but was disappointed that the SDC didn’t inform the organization about the project. “I think the Christmas Village has great potential,” said Murphy.

“The funny thing is that it would be held on the same piece of land the city allows us to use in the summer. “We actually weren’t involved in the conversation so it was kind of surprising to have heard about it after the fact,” Murphy added. “It’s a very interesting project for us as we do special events in addition to our weekly Farmers’ Market.”

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