Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Time to Invest in Ourselves

Change is finally here.

For me, it arrived in the form of a dark red sedan last July. After stopping on Sykes St., a lanky cosmopolitan family of five painfully unfolded themselves and blinked into morning sun. Looking bewildered and lost, they suddenly realized they weren’t in Kansas anymore. They were GTA COVID refugees.

By the end of the summer over 8,200 of them had filed past the Apple, looking for information on Meaford. Across the landscape weekend homes were suddenly occupied on a permanent basis and houses up to the size of small hotels were popping up in the most desirable rural locations. Memorial Park was overrun and heretofore secret stretches of beach were covered with chairs, towels, and children.

For the first time in recent memory, Meaford’s socio-economic composition is shifting. The predominantly middle- and upper-middle class over 50 crowd, paired with a smaller ‘bubble’ of younger working poor, is now complemented by a small but expanding, affluent, professional 30-50 year old cohort. Concurrently – and perhaps not coincidentally – a hotel and several major housing developments are about to turn sod.

This change represents a significant window of opportunity that could easily redefine how Meaford looks, feels, and prospers for years to come. By purchasing and building comparatively expensive homes, these new residents will shift some of the tax burden away from our lower income families and increase municipal revenues, providing much needed capital for re-investment. Additionally, their relative youth, energy, expertise, resources, and enthusiasm can markedly re-invigorate the community through entrepreneurship and volunteerism. They are statistically more likely to open and patronize local boutique retail… if they see potential.

But to entice the discerning well-heeled urbanites to settle and invest themselves here emotionally and financially, we need to inspire them. Spark their imaginations. Give them a reason to fall in love with Meaford. Yes, we have all those outdoor activities and small town charm, but the time has come to do more. Be more.

We need to be just a little less Scroogy. Have a little more vision.

Almost everything that happens in Meaford is on the backs of volunteers and the largesse of our small businesses. The Municipality – under the unrelenting eye of ratepayers – invests little in making Meaford visually exciting. Last year, as Meaford businesses stared down the first wave of the pandemic, just $8,000 could be made available. $8,000, to assist 921 farms, business, and contractors. Plans to beautify Market Square, to decorate the concrete Jersey barriers on Sykes, to purchase ambience lighting… all dashed due to a lack of funding. Public washrooms were locked, stranding visitors three hours from home with no place to ‘Go’. The broken and tired Christmas streetlight decorations could not be replaced.

And in 2021? Groundhog Day. The final budget increase was only enough to partially cover inflationary costs. Real purchase power decreased. In the hopes of generating a few dollars Council has instructed staff to implement paid parking at all the parks across the municipality, a policy tool generally employed to decrease tourist densities at popular destinations. What choice have we left them?

The time has come to start investing in our own future. To exploit opportunity. We spend $15 million municipal tax dollars in a $30 million budget doing only what we absolutely must. With just a little bit extra, targeted, we could do exponentially more and walk away financially further ahead.

When the next red sedan coasts to a stop in Meaford, we want that family to get out and fall in love with the place, and to invest in it, not get back in and drive on.

Submitted by Scott Gooch of the Meaford Chamber of Commerce

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