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Sackville Mayor reflects on 2018, looks ahead to new year

The Tribune-Post recently asked Sackville Mayor John Higham to reflect on the highs and lows of 2018 and look ahead to what the town can expect for 2019.
The Tribune-Post recently asked Sackville Mayor John Higham to reflect on the highs and lows of 2018 and look ahead to what the town can expect for 2019. - Katie Tower

Higham says investments in strategic infrastructure projects tops priority list

Q. In your view, what was Sackville’s greatest moment/achievement of 2018?
 
A. I will take the liberty of offering two significant moments.  
First, this has been a tremendous year for development in Sackville. Building permits were very strong throughout 2018, with a construction value of almost $24 million – nearly double the previous year. Several new projects, including the seniors’ building, the Cannabis NB facility, improvements to Windsor Hall, and a number of single-unit dwellings – all helped create this diversified growth. Furthermore, the announcement and implementation of CamTran taking over the former Moloney facility, and Terra Beata’s purchase and investment in the former Burnbrae building were major accomplishments. These enterprises have revitalized the industrial sector, proven Sackville’s ability to compete, and will continue to offer multiple benefits to the community as they both grow.   
And two, the installation of Jean-Paul Boudreau as the 15th president of Mount Allison University. Dr. Boudreau has already illustrated his passion for innovative action on multiple fronts that invites us all to become partners in creating a different future for our community, the region, and beyond. While the roots of innovative development were planted in 2018, the fruits of it can be harvested for years to come if we take advantage of it.    

Q. What do you think were some of the other top highlights of the year in Sackville (and explain why it was important to see these initiatives move ahead)?
 
A. Cooperation, advocacy and communication have begun to yield changes. Cross-border communication with Amherst and Cumberland brought federal-provincial funds for a plan to mitigate the shared threat of salt water floods across the marsh. Ongoing work with provincial and railway officials is bringing changes to their infrastructure and helping address fresh water flood threats to the town. Advocacy at the Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick (UMNB) has revitalized the organization and as Sackville raises municipal issues, they are now being addressed through the strength of all its members. Our collective town voice at Southeast Regional Service Commission (SERSC) is being reflected in its actions, including the creation of a new regional tourism organization with a business-based governance structure that will lead the province in this sector.    
In 2018, we also officially celebrated our George Stanley sculpture, the expansion and improvements to our Skate Board Park, as well honouring many more local veterans and families through the street banners partnership with the legion. It is clear that strong staff work in partnership with community groups, continues to endow us with facilities, art and attractions that is making Sackville a truly different kind of small town.     

Q. What do you consider as Sackville’s worst moment of 2018?

A. The surprising cost of Lorne Street fresh water flooding Phase 2 work, after it emerged from the provincial approval process, was a huge disappointment. However, since then we have created a revised plan that has been approved by both the federal and provincial governments, and are very pleased to have awarded that tender in 2018. We’re looking forward to work commencing on this critically important project in 2019. 
 
Q. Is there anything you would have liked to see achieved in 2018 that didn’t make it to council’s agenda?
 
A. Undoubtedly, it was the fact that we challenged the province’s municipal funding approaches including the equalization formula that does not count Mount Allison students as residents in the town. In the end we received no action by the province. As a result, we’re now pursuing options through the UMNB to see if there are other ways in which we can make up for this loss in revenue not only here, but in other towns as well. 

Q. What is your top priority for the New Year and are there any other items that top town council’s to-do list as we move into 2019?
 
A. I think our No. 1 priority for 2019 is to continue with our investments in strategic infrastructure projects. For example, our work on the Lorne Street Phase 2 project is a significant one designed to mitigate ongoing flooding threats. Also on the radar are connecting the recently donated Daniel Lund Property to the Waterfowl Park, and celebrating both its 30th anniversary and the generosity of the Lund estate.  
Our Strategic Plan will help us stay on course, but certainly other items that that are on our 2019 to-do list include:
– Business strategy: Donald Savoie’s recent book “Looking for Bootstraps” details a century of development failures based on government assistance to enterprises. Recent suggestions are that towns should continue that same approach but at its own costs. Sackville cannot and should not compete with “give-aways” and our recent success has proven other factors are more effective. An appropriate business development, attraction and retention strategy is needed to help our community remain healthy in the years to come.    
– Asset Management System: Local governments own over 60 per cent of infrastructure in this country. However, current financial systems reflect the historic approach of one-time (often cost-shared) investments in a new asset, limited operation and maintenance budgets, and few financial plans for renewal after its useful life ends. Local governments are now being pushed toward full life cycle management and financing. While appropriate, this will require fundamental changes in how Sackville plans, budgets and communicates its financial management of capital assets. The first steps along that path will be taken this coming year.  
– Continued Action on Flood threats: While progress continues, the pace needs to be quickened, and both the short and long-term implications for the town fully explored. This candid discussion may reveal some complex challenges.         
– Development of knowledge & education assets: Sackville shares a larger problem that the labour force is not well matched with the labour qualities that businesses are seeking. Change requires a different approach to education and training – if that approach can also create new ideas on services, products, or markets that can be turned into new business ventures – then the location where these features are in place stand to do very well.      
The recent decision to close Marshview opens a chance for this area to assist education reform and support it in ways that can help produce the desired labour force as well as create the local conditions to commercialize the ideas the process generates. A community known for such education and business features would make Sackville a truly attractive place for multiple entrepreneurs, families, students and ventures.     
– No New Brunswick infrastructure funds: The announcement that cost-shared infrastructure will be very limited in this province for at least the coming year will influence how all of the challenges above are addressed. It does not mean we should stop, but it does make each of them more difficult to address. Cooperation, advocacy, communication and creativity will be more important than ever.

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