Economic development top concern put to mayoral candidates

Voting takes place Oct. 20

The mayoral portion of Clearwater’s All Candidates Forum had candidates Merlin Blackwell and John Kreke taking questions from the audience on economic development and turning a portion of Dutch Lake into a park.

When asked by an audience member if either candidate would support having a team research what Clearwater needs to boost its economy, both gave a positive response.

“Yes, absolutely; that’s part of social and economic development. Talking about making (Clearwater) a great place to live, and at the same time doing economic development, finding those jobs and finding those businesses that need filling,” said Blackwell.

“There are a lot of businesses in this town that are quietly for sale, we know this, and that’s a good place to start, but we also see gaps everywhere. There are a lot of things we can use, especially as things we can expand, and I think with a little research, a committee like that would do wonders on a couple of fronts.”

Kreke agreed to promoting economic development, also suggesting the Chamber of Commerce may be a good organization to take on the task.

He said it’s an easy issue to present to the chamber and possibly have the group head such a committee.

“Let the district do what they need to do, but quite frankly that falls into economic development, so I think it’s a really easy (question) to say yes to,” Kreke said.

When the topic of Dutch Lake came up, one resident asked if it was possible to form an ad hoc committee that could consist of council members, as well as those from the public, to drum up funds and make the northwest corner of the area into a park in order to keep it from being developed.

Both candidates agreed with each other on this as well, collectively saying it would be difficult for council to take on too much of the project; however, if the public was able to do the lion’s share of the fundraising, than the possibility could be there.

“There are so many pressures on the dollars inside the district,” said Kreke.

“I’d love to see an ad hoc committee go out and find some money, but I’ve spoken to some of those (Dutch Lake advocate) members and they seem like they just want to dump it on council; I think it won’t go very far unless the community really gets behind it and starts to push and say, ‘We really want this.’ If there are big numbers and they really want it, you’ll get support from council.”

Blackwell then echoed his political opponent, saying if a large enough community group was formed and raised the vast majority of funds, council would be more likely to respond positively to the idea.

“It’s a tough one, but the more money the community can bring to the table, the easier it is for council to jump in and make a decision,” he said.

Others in the audience wondered how the new council could cut through the red tape that often hinders new businesses from setting up shop in Clearwater and both candidate responded with their takes on why this happens and how to address it.

“I think everybody would love to cut through the red tape, but if you’re not ready to deal with it it can be very overwhelming,” said Kreke, adding the list of organizations that need to be consulted before land development can take place is also often quite extensive.

“There are a lot of challenges. I think the current council has done pretty well on that, but I’m sure you can sit down at a committee meeting and say, ‘Do we need this? Do we need that?’ I’m sure there are ways to reduce the red tape.”

Blackwell then added there are a lot of prospective developers who visit Clearwater to check the possibility of opening businesses, but just can’t make it work for various reasons.

“Maybe we need to look at a tax break area… I think it’s not a bad idea,” he said.

“(In certain areas) there are issues with development that make it a bit tougher, but once we get a bit of help here and there with some grants and some funding from the provincial government, we can make it a bit more tax friendly for… economic development.”

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