Approximately a week ago, the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA), the rural arm of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), held their annual conference in Toronto. ROMA is an important part of AMO, with some of its executive members serving on the AMO Board of Directors. Matters related to policy, research, and advocacy that affect rural communities are brought to the provincial and federal governments by ROMA through AMO.
The three-day conference was filled with important keynote presenters such as the Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, then-Leader of the Ontario PC Party, Patrick Brown, Leader of the Ontario NDP Andrea Horwath, the Minister of Housing and Municipal Affairs, Bill Mauro, and Jeff Leal, the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA). Some of the key topics that were discussed focused around economic development, financial management, and environmental issues. There was also the popular “Ministers’ Forum”, which is an open question and answer period allowing attendees to pose questions directly to the ministers themselves.
One of the major announcements came on the final morning of the conference, with Jeff Leal at the podium. He announced that Ontario is investing up to $26 million in the “Main Street Revitalization Initiative”, which will be administered by AMO and ROMA. This program is part of a $40 million investment over three years in the “Main Street Enhancement Fund”, designed to “help strengthen small businesses in downtown and main street areas and enhance the digital presence and capabilities of small businesses through increased access to digital tools like e-commerce”.
The program also expands on and complements the Downtown Revitalization Program that supports main street revitalization in rural areas. The funding for the program will be portioned off to municipalities based on population, using the data from the recent 2016 Census. The formula used to calculate the amount will include an adjustment for municipalities with less than 25,000 residents. This ensures that small communities receive an appropriate amount of funding, rather than strictly using population data to calculate the amount, which might otherwise limit their funding.
Additionally, the provincial government is hoping to strengthen Ontario small businesses by providing more than $500 million in new initiatives that include lowering the small business tax rate from 4.5% to 3.5%, investing in youth employment, providing other supports for downtown businesses, and reducing red tape.
OMAFRA issued a media release immediately following Minister Leal’s presentation containing the key points and, more importantly, included a chart outlining the dollar amounts allotted to each rural municipality that qualifies for the “Main Street Revitalization Initiative”. North Grenville qualifies for $49,978. In comparison, Prescott will receive $39,620, Merrickville gets $38,641 and the City of Brockville will receive $54,124.
The next question that people might naturally ask is, “what will the Municipality of North Grenville do with the money”? It is a very interesting question. Will they spend it on (or put it in a reserve for) expanding parking for Downtown Kemptville? Will they use it to bring wi-fi to all of Downtown Kemptville? Will they use it to expand the Community Improvement Plan’s budget and include new programs (perhaps incentives for increasing the number and condition of Downtown Kemptville rental housing spaces)? Will they spend it on their ten-year-old $260,000 Destination Signage Plan that they recently dug up? Will they spend it in the hamlets, which have their own “Main Streets”? Will they consult with Downtown Kemptville business owners and the Downtown Kemptville Business Improvement Area (BIA) and get their input on where to best invest the money? So many options, but one thing for sure: Downtown Kemptville business owners will definitely be watching closely where the money goes.