Construction and development firms in Sault Ste. Marie are lauding city council's decision to stay a proposal to introduce development fees on new builds.
Council started the discussion around development fees as far back as 2012, with the commissioning of a study by Toronto firm Watson & Associates Economists Ltd. In late September, council was asked to provide more funding to update the study, but with little support, the ask was quickly defeated.
The decision was welcome news to the Sault Ste. Marie Construction Association, whose members are already feeling the pinch of a downturn in business, said the association's manager, Adam Pinder.
"I think, given everything that's going on, it's a positive that the councillors decided not to continue on the process and to let development go on in Sault Ste. Marie uninhibited from further fees and charges that'll be put on the contractors," he said. "However, I think we all wish we were in an economic climate where development charges made sense for us, but that's just not the reality of the economy in Sault Ste. Marie."
Development fees are additional charges added onto new commercial, industrial and residential builds. Although their use is reserved for a limited number of purposes, they are considered a way for a city to generate revenue for infrastructure such as sewer and water hookup or road-building.
The Sault has never had development fees applied before; of the five major cities in Northern Ontario, only Sudbury and North Bay currently have development fees in place.
Pinder said the Sault would need to see a significant change in demographics to justify introducing development fees. Looking at building permits, construction activity in general is down this year compared to the same time last year, he noted, and his members are noticing the lag.
"I would like to think that our members are continuing to hold their own, but they're certainly not as busy as they'd like to be, and there could definitely be a lot more work for a lot of them," Pinder said.
Equally pleased by the decision is the Sault's Chamber of Commerce, which had lobbied against the implementation of development fees, citing job losses and a severe impact to the economy.
Jason Naccarato, the first vice-president of the chamber's board of directors, said development fees make sense for rapidly growing communities, which have to build new fire halls or roads to keep up with the pace of growth; he cited Milton, Ont.,...