By Mark Squibb
Conception Bay South Mayor Darrin Bent
Looking back on 2023, Conception Bay South Mayor Darrin Bent says there are two things that jump out at him in a big way.
One is a greater sense of community spirt fostered in part by the 50th anniversary celebrations.
“We saw a renewed sense of pride in our community,” said Bent. “It was an opportunity, and really a privilege, as mayor and council, to be here this year and see and feel that renewed pride by our residents… we’ve seen a boost in community pride and that’s incredibly important for any community.”
The other was an increase in business revenue.
“The work we have done to attract commercial development is showing in dollars,” said Bent. “We can measure it, and we know what we are doing is working and that our efforts are reaping benefits.”
Bent said in 2023 council saw about a $150,000 increase in commercial tax revenue, a new record.
Council has budgeted $5,546,305 in commercial revenue for 2024 and Bent said council will continue with efforts to attract more businesses this year.
“We’d like to see the industrial park off Fowlers Road full,” said Bent. “We know there are talks of new businesses and expansions going on up there, which is really good. Of course, that may not happen this year or next, but those things are in the works, and they take time… When we look at our neighbours, and they have industrial parks that bring in millions of dollars, we need that… We have more than twice the number of roads, our roads and not the Province’s roads, to plow and maintain as Mount Pearl. And yet, they have Donovan’s Industrial Park paying for a lot of things that they do.”
This past fall, the Town hired Colliers International as the exclusive real estate broker for the Gateway, a 130-acre development off Legion Road. Bent said he’s excited about the partnership.
“We hope to see some things happen up there in the next year or two,” said the mayor. “But that’s up to the business community. They have their own templates. But to know that we have a key player, who works with these businesses all the time, in our corner, is really fantastic.”
Bent said the challenging economic climate proved to be one the biggest challenges last year, a challenge he expects will carry on through 2024.
“Everything costs more,” said the mayor. “Trying to get work done on vehicles, getting parts, getting salt, all theses things have gone up significantly. I think we’ve seen across the board, generally, a 20 to 30 per cent increase. And one of the great things about the increase in revenue from commercial development is that it offsets some of these burdens from taxpayers.”
Despite the challenges, he said the Town has acted prudently in the face of an unstable economy.
Bent said council is also working on making CBS a more ‘ATV-friendly’ community in 2024.
“We are now working on a pilot project that would allow access to some roads by ATV users to see how that works, much like we’ve seen in other communities around the province,” he said. “We believe that there is not only a ‘want,’ but a ‘need’ to do that.”
He said the town is working on other ATV routes as well.
Another priority, according to the mayor, is affordable housing.
As per Budget 2024, council has eliminated building permit fees for housing projects approved under federal and provincial affordable and rental housing programs, and reduced building permit fees by 50 per cent for other multi-unit developments.
For the fifth consecutive year council will waive fees for permits for sheds, decks, fences and other projects.
Finally, Bent said the allocation of $50,000 for the planning of a regional community centre at Gateway stands as one of council ’s biggest undertakings for 2024.
“We want to be ‘shovel-ready’ when our federal and provincial partners are in place,” said Bent. “That centre will create desperately needed indoor space for recreation groups and community service groups and for residents in general. It’s something that we’ve been sorely lacking for a long time, and something that was exposed in spades during COVID.”
Bent said it’s hard to nail down a construction start date on the new centre, as construction is dependent on the availability of funding from the other levels of government.