With several businesses having left Morinville this summer and the town’s assessment tilted heavily towards residential taxes, both mayoral candidates agree the town has an economic development problem.
Mayor Lloyd Bertschi and challenger Coun. Joseph Trapani both see a need to attract new businesses, but have different ideas on how to accomplish that.
Bertschi said Morinville faces the challenge of trying to attract businesses while being so close to St. Albert. “It is one of the hazards of living eight minutes down the road from a city of 60,000 people,” he said. “People get used to driving into the city for work and it is nothing on a Saturday to get up and drive in as well.”
Trapani said while St. Albert does draw away businesses, he added the town could be doing more to attract them.
“It is not hard to attract commercial businesses, it is that St. Albert is doing a better job than we are.”
Bertschi would like to focus on smaller niche retail business that can’t be duplicated in St. Albert, but also work with the chamber of commerce to broaden the community’s appeal.
Trapani said he would like to work on making 100 Avenue more attractive. “It is up to the community and the town to get the beautification of the town going and to bring more businesses in.”
He also wants to form an economic and tourism committee. He said that committee could answer questions about what sorts of businesses would work well in town and then go out and encourage them to locate there.
“We have excellent businessmen and women and have great community leaders and we could put them all in a room.”
Trapani also suggests the town could partner with Sturgeon County to bring more big box retail developments to Highway 2, between the town and Highway 37.
“I am positive that by working with the county we can get the land and we can both profit from the businesses coming here.”
Bertschi said he believes the town needs to look seriously at creating its own industrial park. With little to no serviced industrial land, Bertschi said while he usually resists government getting into the development business, he doesn’t see any other choice.
“I have been patiently hoping and waiting for nine years that some of our proximity, some of our land prices would make this attractive for a private firm to come in and do this on their own.”
Bertschi said the town could purchase the land and then work with a private developer on servicing and marketing.
He said with the possibility of upgrader construction getting under way in Sturgeon County there is going to be a demand for light industrial parks and Morinville could fill that void.
Both candidates would like to see the town consider a tax incentive approach for new businesses.
Bertschi said the approach could give businesses a reduction in their taxes over the first three years of operation, gradually reducing the discount each year.
The net effect would be that over the three years the business would pay two years worth of taxes.
Bertschi said it just makes sense to do this rather than have land sit vacant.
“We are forgiving a percentage of a revenue that we don’t have now,” he said. “Better than have some taxes over the short term than all of nothing.”
Trapani suggests he would simply give new businesses a complete first year tax break, arguing it’s better for the town in the long run.
“If you leave it empty, you get no taxes or very little taxes. If you give them one free year to build and get no taxes, but then on year two, three, five or 20 you get taxes.”