By Eric Bourque
The Town of Yarmouth faces some serious issues – declining population, changing demographics, lack of economic growth, stagnant assessment levels among others – and the town must act if it is to reverse the negative trends, town council was told during its committee-of-the-whole meeting of Feb. 27.
Jeff Gushue, the town’s chief administrative officer, provided council with an overview of where the town stands with regard to population, assessment and other matters. He cited the title of the recently released report of the commission on the Nova Scotia economy – Now or Never – to illustrate the importance of taking action.
At the same time, given that the town knows what it faces, there is room for optimism, council was told.
While the numbers and trends may not be encouraging, he said, “Because we have our eyes wide open … the future can be better.”
Mayor Pam Mood – who says she feels the town will do what it has to – notes that what is happening here is not unique to Yarmouth.
“People are moving and we understand that,” she said. “The hope is that they’ll come back sooner than later, but don’t forget, it’s not just us … It’s not just us with empty storefronts and the downward population. My parents had six children. Now people maybe have two, so there are so many factors to take into consideration.”
Councillor Phil Mooney said the town has to be prepared to try new things or do things differently if it is to turn itself around.
“Just because something was good six years ago doesn’t mean it’s good now,” he said.
He called Gushue’s presentation an “eye opener” and said the town has to make sure it’s spending its money wisely.
Acknowledging the seriousness of the situation, the mayor says she maintains a positive outlook.
“I’m always optimistic,” she said. “We’re just going to do everything in our power to draw people to the area. One of our priorities was to make us more open and welcoming, those types of things.”
That was the theme among several of the day’s presentations, as representatives of different departments and organizations appeared before council to talk about their priorities for the coming year.
Town planner Arthur MacDonald, for example, said one of his department’s goals as it reviews the town’s municipal planning strategy is to increase the town’s tax base.
Gil Dares, general manager of the Mariners Centre and another of the day’s presenters, said the tough winter has added to the facility’s costs – snow removal can be costly there, he said – but he said the Mariners Centre is on the same page as the town with regard to doing what it can to try to attract more people to the area.
Yarmouth Recreation director Frank Grant, another of the presenters, said his department has plenty on the go or planned, noting that it’s been two decades since the merger of the town and municipality’s recreation departments, evidence of how the local municipal units can work together.
Referring to what the town might be able to do to initiate some positive movement on things like population and economic growth, she said, “I believe we’ll come together and do that.”