SUBMITTED BY SCOTT GAULD.
I have been following closely all of the events of council since your new terms began, and I am getting very concerned. What I am seeing is a council with short term problems (2019 budget shortfalls), presenting rash and unsustainable solutions.
My first question is:
If the previous council got carried away with unsustainable staff wage increases, leading to a budget shortfall, why are we looking to the our tourists to pay for it?
This is not sustainable. The solution is simple. The taxpayers of NOTL elected the council, therefore they should bear the cost. Passing this cost on to the visitors who keep our town viable, prosperous and beautiful, is only shooting us in the foot in the long run.
Tourism is the not the reason our town is facing a shortfall — the prior council and staff are. Making rash, panicked decisions like a 180 per cent increase in bus parking, hotel taxes and food concessions in Simcoe Park will only lead to a long slow destructive path for your golden goose.
I wish life was as simple as add $1 to each bus passenger, but it is not. Unfortunately, as beautiful as NOTL is, it is not a primary stop for most of these tour operators. NOTL is a side trip from Niagara Falls, or en route to Toronto. I spent a decade in the industry and I can assure you this is the case for the majority (not all) of these operators. As most business owners know, you cannot pass every single dollar of cost increases along to the consumer, you will eventually price yourself out of business.
Many of these tour operators will just begin to bypass the Old Town if it becomes to costly and inconvenient, or just head to wineries on the outskirts. Rate increases like this can often result in a decline in buses/visitors. Did we perform any real analysis to find out?
A hotel accommodation tax is not the answer either. Again, this is looking to your golden goose to solve our internal problems. This is nothing but a new revenue stream, at the cost of your business community and our guests. If the local hotels thought a five per cent increase on a room was feasible or responsible, they would have raised their prices accordingly.
Finally we have the idea of concessions and food trucks in Simcoe Park. The appeal of NOTL arguably centers around Queen Street and its merchants. Almost all visitors to NOTL, walk this picturesque strip. These merchants sell food, clothing, arts, crafts and souvenirs, among other things. They are the lifeblood of this beautiful street.
Adding concessions/pop-ups/vendors or food trucks is a horrible idea. It would destroy what our guest have travelled to see and experience, by distracting from the character of the town.
It is this basic; for every dollar that would be spent in Simcoe Park, one dollar less will be spent on Queen Street.
The result is a loss to the year round merchants that support our town. These merchants contribute an enormous amount of combined taxes in the town, and get very little support form the Town itself.
This is where our golden goose starts to suffer. As private business owners, we run efficient, fiscally responsible entities. If business is lost due to poor or unfair decision making at the municipal level, we will need to begin cost-cutting to protect our businesses to ensure they remain sustainable.
When local business need to cut costs, perhaps they will decide not to maintain buildings to the exacting standards we are used to, perhaps we hold off on painting for a couple of years.
Perhaps put off a renovation, perhaps hire a few less people, perhaps less Christmas décor and flower planters out front. When things like this begin to happen, the goose starts to suffer. Granted, things will not go downhill overnight, but you should be able to see why this is a slippery slope.
It should be the responsibility of the Town to support local businesses, as they are drivers of all towns, and all economies.
With that being said, I ask that as these issues come to votes, to think beyond this year, and think about what are the best long-term, sustainable solutions for our community.
If we fail to do this, 20 years from now, what will set us apart from others on the river, like Fort Erie?