By Greg Murphy
BELLEVILLE – Bill Saunders, CEO of the Belleville Chamber of Commerce, says most of the problems that affect private business in Belleville are provincial issues, though the city could be “more open” with the business community.
The Belleville Chamber of Commerce is membership organization that represents the needs of Belleville’s business community to all three levels of government. We interviewed Saunders as part of our ongoing summer Municipal Election Project, where we are asking the people of Belleville what issues matter the most to them in the coming municipal election in October.
The first issue that we spoke of was the state of the city’s infrastructure, which Saunders agreed is in a state that needs fixing. But he said simply putting the dollars down to fix infrastructure is not an easy task for council.
“We can pave all the streets in gold and it’ll look absolutely fabulous and it’ll be the prettiest town in the world, but we can’t afford that. We can do nothing and everything will fall apart and it’ll be really cheap to live here, but nobody would want to live here and business would not want to come here. So the task for our elected officials is to find that balance, and that’s not an easy task,” he said.
After discussing infrastructure problems briefly, Saunders switched gears to talk about provincial issues affecting local business.
“Many of the issues we deal with that affect our members are actually outside of the municipal realm. Electrical costs, that’s essentially a provincial issue. There are concerns expressed about regulation in Ontario. Everything from building code, to safety, to workers compensation, to pension plans, to all kinds of stuff…most of those aren’t dealt with at the municipal level,” said Saunders.
The rising costs of running public services in Ontario – also a provincial issue – is also affecting private business, he said.
“Everybody recognizes public service as being necessary. So, hospitals, school. emergency services like police, fire, health services; we recognize those as essential services, but the cost of delivering them is getting restrictive, or prohibitive for businesses to grow in Ontario,” Saunders said.
When we asked Saunders about whether or not taxes are too high for private business, he said that municipal taxes are a small piece of the tax rate pie. Again, he said most of the taxes that businesses have to pay go to the province.
“The dilemma is I want all these services, but I don’t want to have to pay too much in taxes…you think about your federal income tax, your provincial income tax, your HST, and all these other things, municipal taxes, especially the part that the city can control, are actually a very small part but it’s the piece of the puzzle that everybody can relate to and would want to talk about. So are the taxes too high? I really can’t say,” said Saunders. “If you want to talk about my taxes being too high, but look at some of the other things like the electrical cost. Compare your electrical cost to your taxes, especially if you’re a big manufacturer. Electrical cost is the biggest impact.”
Saunders said Ontario economy is still in a period of slow growth. That includes Belleville. He said the city could be doing a little more to help its business community by boosting tourism.
“There’s some feeling that we are not leveraging tourism as much as we should – tourism is an economic driver. There’s business and there’s economic benefit from having a strong tourism base. So I think it’s an area we could be leveraging more,” he said.
Coming out of the interview, Saunders said he thinks the city could be a little “more open” with the business community.
“Whether they are informing them of stuff or engaging them more or finding different ways to help find more solutions and alternatives to the problems that matter to the business community. City Hall just being a little more open to the business community I think would be helpful.”