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2016 operating and capital budgets - attracting investment

Feb. 17, 2016
By Leah Wong

While Durham Region council is considering modest increases to its planning and economic development department, it hopes that increased funding to foreign direct investment will draw more opportunities for economic growth in the region.

At its meeting February 10 the finance and administration committee approved a 0.2 per cent increase to the planning and economic department’s operating budget. The department is requesting am $8.477-million operating budget for 2016.

Committee approved the planning division’s request for a $5.316-million operating budget for 2016. This reflects a $17,000 increase over its 2015 budget, which was primarily attributed to salary and benefit increases.

The division’s priorities are split into three categories—policy formulation and administration, plans approval and review, and planning advisory and information services.

This year policy formulation will focus on resolving the regional official plan amendment for proposed urban expansions in Whitby and Oshawa at the Ontario Municipal Board, advancing the development of the Seaton community and completing the Regional Transportation Master Plan update. Plans approval staff will make recommendations to planning and economic development committee on applications to amend the regional official plan. Planning advisory staff will continue to support regional advisory committees and respond to provincial and federal transportation initiatives.

The economic development and tourism operating budget is consistent with last year, at $3.161-million. While the budget includes increases in professional and consulting services for the 2016-2021 Tourism Strategy and salary increases, these were offset by a decrease in expenses for projects that were completed last year.

The division also asked council to fund the conversion of a position, related to sports tourism, from contract to full-time. Planning and economic development commissioner Alex Georgieff said sports tourism was added to the economic development portfolio two years ago, as a pilot, which has been beneficial in attracting more events to the region. He said sporting events have spin-off economic benefits as competitors and attendees will come and stay, eat and shop locally.

The division’s workplan for 2016 includes developing and implementing a five-year economic development strategy, working to attract new businesses to the region, implementing culinary agri-tourism initiatives and providing support to the new foreign direct investment agency.

Presently known as Newco, the new agency will replace the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance. It is expected to launch in April and will be funded by federal, provincial and GTA municipal governments. The committee approved doubling what the region contributed annually to the GTMA to support Newco.

Previously Durham had contributed $100,000 a year to the GTMA. As part of the commitment to Newco, it was asked to up its annual contribution to around $206,000, which is considered a non-departmental expense. Pickering mayor Dave Ryan noted that Durham Region’s contribution to Newco is less
than what is being contributed by the City of Mississauga.

There have been concerns from regional councillors about the return on investment the region has seen from investments in the GTMA.

“For all of the staff time and the dollars that go in, I think we all hope that we’ll start to get some return on the investment,” said Oshawa councillor Nancy Diamond. “It hasn’t been a positive relationship. It has been one of trust, not one of results. I am concerned about that continuing.”

Georgieff noted that in the last term council approved a foreign direct investment strategy with an aim of better showcasing the region to the world. He said that the region is starting to see the results of this strategy, though it is an evolutionary process.

Ryan added that while the GTMA has provided investment opportunities, municipalities have had to be in a position to take advantage of these opportunities-something at which the region hasn’t been successful to date.

“There have been significant changes and improvements in the way we’re doing business and economic development at the regional level,” said Ryan. “I’m quite confident that going forward this investment will in fact show us a significant return.”

Economic development and tourism director Kathy Weiss noted that the process for attracting foreign direct investment will change with the new organization, so that less pressure is placed on local municipalities.