Sidney councilors give thumbs down to new economic development plan

A plan to boost Sidney’s economy after the COVID pandemic drew criticism from several councilors, but it will not be reviewed by the advisers who wrote it. Staff also indicated there may not be the resources to review it and wondered if councilors will have a chance to consider it during strategic planning early next year.

To count. Sara Duncan, Steve Duck, Scott Garnett and Terri O’Keeffe voted on the full assembly committee to submit the draft economic development plan to the council’s economic advisory committee, Sidney Business Improvement Area Society and the South Island Prosperity Partnership for comment and rating. Sidney’s previous council had budgeted $60,000 in COVID money for the development of an economic development plan, with Lions Gate Consulting winning the contract to deliver it.

Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith joined Couns. Chad Rintoul and Richard Novek in opposition. While part of the pre-vote discussion was about who should comment on the draft, Novek and others posed questions about the contents of the document. Novek said the document, while heavy on background analysis and data, “seriously” lacked specific steps that could help Sidney. He added that he would have liked to see more of what he called “tactical suggestions” that the council could actually make.

“I am not convinced that this plan in its current form will serve the people of Sidney,” he said, adding that it is premature to submit the draft to anyone for comment.

O’Keeffe said she has a lot of trouble with the plan, despite voting in favor of the referral. “It didn’t live up to my expectations.”

Steve Nicol of Lions Gate Consulting previously said the plan should be of a strategic – not tactical – nature. “One of the reasons is that we don’t have an economic development agency. If we had an economic development office in town, we’d probably have more of that detail.

Duck acknowledged his colleagues’ comments, but lobbied for referral. “This is the only economic development plan we have now and we paid money for it,” he said. “We have to bring it forward.” He added that the purpose of the referral is to take the document to the council’s strategic planning session where the council can then deal with it.

Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Randy Humble confirmed Duck’s previous comments that Lions Gate Consulting has fulfilled its contract while exceeding expectations of future revisions by the consultants or staff.

“They (advisors) are done with this project,” he said. That’s the final draft – after three revisions, I might add. So I think it’s an unrealistic expectation to ask staff tonight what we can do fundamentally to address this further. Honestly, it’s going to be a lot of work. Obviously it’s going to involve human resources… and there’s going to be a cost if we’re looking at a major review. So we should report to the council and the council should give us that direction.

Humble also asked if the economic advisory committee could review and comment on the draft before Dec. 23. EAC… there may be challenges and there may be challenges moving forward with strategic planning on January 11 and having all that information available and ready.

EAC meetings are held on the second Thursday of the month from 10:30 AM to 12:00 PM, with the exception of June, July, and December. According to Sidney’s website, the EAC last met on April 13 and five scheduled meetings have since been cancelled, including the November 10 meeting. According to Sidney’s website, the EAC has 12 members with currently five vacancies. This means that the committee – which currently has no representative from Sidney BIA, but does include a representative from the Peninsula Chamber of Commerce – can meet the quorum if all current members show up.

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