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Roddickton-Bide Arm mayor reflects on the year

Roddickton-Bide Arm Mayor Sheila Fitzgerald reflects on disappointments in 2018, but feels her town’s community spirit remains strong.
Roddickton-Bide Arm Mayor Sheila Fitzgerald reflects on disappointments in 2018, but feels her town’s community spirit remains strong. - Contributed

A disappointing 2018 but community spirit strong, Sheila Fitzgerald says

RODDICKTON-BIDE ARM, N.L.

Last year, in the 2018 New Year’s Edition of The Northern Pen, Roddickton-Bide Arm Mayor Sheila Fitzgerald discussed what she was hoping to accomplish for the community in 2018.

Fitzgerald reflected on those answers and whether the town succeeded in those goals. She also talked about what is on the horizon in 2019:

Q. Last year, you said you were looking forward to working with government, potential investors and interested parties in the pellet plant. Since then, a five-year forestry management agreement was reached with Active Energy and the pellet plant will go in Hawke’s Bay. How do you feel about that a year later? Did you get what you were hoping for?

A. Certainly not. It’s been a tough year. The council has worked very hard to try to achieve the goal to get the pellet plant open in our area, to attract businesses small and large and everything in between.

With developments that happened in late November, we thought good news was on the way.

We worked very hard trying to keep the lines of communication open with government and with potential investors into the pellet plant – and unfortunately that didn’t happen for us.

A year later, it looks like we’re struggling even more so than we were last year at this time. We’ve had the closure of our bank, and we got the Foodland (the building sustained a roof collapse in 2015) that was also hoping there’d be industry attracted to our town and to open. So, the news we received that the pellet plant isn’t going to open in our town has had a detrimental effect for us.

What does the future hold? Not certain. We’re a forestry town, that’s our bread and butter. We hear a lot of people say diversify and don’t put all your eggs in one basket, but for us the forestry was our Golden Goose.

We’re cautiously optimistic about the sawmill and we’d like to think that we will still profit and build our communities based on forestry opportunities.

At the beginning of the year, we were very optimistic, had high hopes that things would pan out for our town – that we would have industry up and running, we’d have a reason for people to come back, for young people to stay.

Now that we’re towards the end of the year, with the recent news we got of the pellet plant not opening (in Roddickton-Bide Arm), we’re certainly in a different place than we were last year at this time.

Q. You also said last year you were hoping to attract more small or big businesses?

A. That is still the goal. We want to attract whatever business we can attract in this town, but we’re talking about attracting businesses when businesses are putting in their notice, letting us know they’re leaving town.

At the end of the day, you need to have a driver and you need to look at what your assets are, and our assets is the forestry industry. Without that main asset and building on that main resource, it means that other businesses in town are greatly affected.

Q. What are some objectives you were able to achieve in 2018 that you were satisfied with or proud of?

A. In terms of recreation, we were able last year to open our arena and open our swimming pool for children.

To have a family friendly community, to maintain our playgrounds, to have our trails available – the fact we’re still able to offer that and maintain the essential services in place despite the challenges of not having a strong economy, we’re still OK. We’re not dismantling in any way, we’re maintaining our own. But we are challenged.

Q. Did you have to raise taxes in your 2019 budget?

A. We raised our mill rate by 0.5. We looked at what money we needed just to maintain the level of service that we got right now. And in order to do that we had to juggle our mill rate a little bit. And we increased the minimums – the minimum property, water, sewer, those minimums by $25. It’s not huge tax increases but it’s just enough to pay the bills.

Q. What are you hoping to accomplish in 2019?

A. I’m hoping we will still benefit from the forestry sector. That people in our community will get work and that people who are away will get the opportunity to come back.

I’m hopeful we will be able to maintain the same level of service as we have now. We have been very creative and driven to make the most of any opportunity – applying through any sector that has any money available.

The thing about it, despite all the challenges this town has faced, our town in the sense of community spirit and connectedness is stronger now than I’ve ever seen it.

For example, we just had a lighted Christmas parade and there were over 30 floats. In the first year I took over as mayor, we only had three floats. People are coming out and taking an interest. People who are there are there because they want to be there.

It’s not just the council fighting for our future, the whole town is. The whole town is together in wanting to see things work.

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