Debates were plenty at well attended AGM
By Stewart Grant
The meeting wasn’t short and it wasn’t always sweet. But when the dust settled, the new St. Marys Business Improvement Area (BIA) board had their budget passed by BIA membership, and the process of getting to the approved budget was constructive to help the BIA move forward.
As stated on the Town of St. Marys’ website, the efforts of the BIA are “dedicated to ensuring a healthy economic environment for our community and making our downtown a better place to shop, dine, live, work, invest, visit and play”. Furthermore, the BIA’s mandate is “to provide effective leadership in order to beautify and promote St. Marys’ downtown as a unique and vibrant entertainment, social, cultural and economically viable business centre.”
New BIA chair Chantal Lynch called the meeting to order at 6:00 p.m. on Monday, April 15th at the Town Council Chambers. She began by thanking the prior BIA board for their hard work over the past number of years, and reiterated the new board’s commitment to the BIA’s existing mandate.
There was a full-scale change of the BIA board this year. The new board members are Chantal Lynch (chair), Landon Hoare (vice chair), Emily Lagace (committee liaison), Mary VanDenBerge (treasurer), and Amie Rankin (secretary). The Town Council representative is Tony Winter.
It is generally quite common for boards to maintain some level of consistency from one term to the next. Having one or two incumbent board members stay on for a subsequent term is particularly helpful in both the transfer of knowledge and the application of consistent procedures from year to year. As the meeting began, Lynch acknowledged that this year’s board are “all still learning and that mistakes will be made along the way”.
Prior to the 2019 budget presentation and discussion, outgoing BIA chair Julie Docker-Johnson was called upon to present the 2018 Year in Review. The prior board consisted of Docker-Johnson, Cathie Szmon, Sue Griffiths, and Cindy Taylor, with Carey Pope as Council Representative.
2018 highlights began with the hiring of Esther De Young in February as the BIA’s new administrative assistant. Next, an Ambassador Appreciation Event was held, in reference to those who would go on to represent the town at eight different events throughout 2018. In May, the Town allocated $20,000 of a grant to the public art project and agreed to work with the BIA, with six locations throughout town determined as potentially feasible areas for the project. In June, Larry O’Hearn of the Beautification Committee filed a written report which included the recommendation of banners in the downtown. In July, the BIA added a sponsored shade tent to be used throughout the day during the Heritage Festival and this was very well received. During 2018, the BIA recognized downtown businesses who had achieved milestone anniversary dates, including Lauren Whitney (5 years), World’s Coolest Music Store (15 years), Hodges Funeral Home (15 years), Nail Effects (20 years), McPhail’s Pet Supply (20 years), Stonetown Travel (30 years), Hubbard Pharmacy (30 years) and St. Marys Insurance (50 years). ‘Giving Tuesday’ plans were launched in October, with participation doubling to 40 from the prior year. Work was also done on the BIA’s constitution during the year. The 2018 Santa Claus Parade policy of “no parking on the street” was refined from the previous year, though some businesses feel that some tinkering is still required so not to have an adverse impact on business the day of the parade. The Downtown Merchants Christmas Open House continued for another year, making it around 25 years for this tradition. This year’s Open House included a partnership with the St. Marys Museum in which storefronts displayed children’s book illustrations and this was a huge hit. Save the Date cards were distributed during the tourist season and this helped bring people back for the Christmas Open House. New Christmas lights were installed on the side streets, purchased with carryover dollars from previous years.
In her closing comments, Docker-Johnson thanked her fellow outgoing board members for the hundreds of volunteer hours that they dedicated to the BIA in enhancing the downtown.
Next on the agenda for the Annual General Meeting was the presentation, discussion and eventual approval of the BIA Budget for 2019.
Consistent with the 2018 year, the budget inflow from the BIA town levy was $45,000, plus an HST rebate estimated at $3,268. The debate and discussion was therefore on the expense side of the ledger. The first adjustment to the proposed budget came from the floor, where it was noted that items approved and allocated for in prior years (but not yet spent) need not be included in the 2019 budget. As a result, the $10,000 allocated for the Public Art project was moved to the general fund for downtown beautification. Other minor adjustments were made to the budget throughout the evening.
The Annual General Meeting was exceptionally well attended, with approximately 40 people filling the Council Chambers. During the course of the budget discussions, several debates took place with a variety of viewpoints shared within the broad categories of expense distribution, handling of reserves, and overall policies and procedures.
Major budget categories were “Improving Public Space & Beautification” (representing approximately 43% of the $48,170 in expenses); “Bringing People Downtown” which includes events, marketing & promotion, and partnerships (24%); “Running the St. Marys BIA” (22%); and “Member Support & Engagement” (11%). The merits of a potential marketing plan for the BIA was also discussed, though this item was deferred and instead placed within the “Proposed Projects” area of the reserves.
Although the conversations were at times uncomfortable, it was encouraging to see everyone’s passion towards the continued improvement of the downtown. With regards to the new board, they appeared very open to suggestions and exhibited a willingness to compromise on issues.
Ultimately, the 2019 budget was approved by BIA membership and sent to Town Council for their approval. The meeting was adjourned at approximately 9 p.m.