New Belleville Mayor Taso Christopher talked about the City’s community and economic development plans for the next four-year term of council in his chat with BOQ Living. – Photo courtesy City of Belleville
By Jim Barber
BOQ Living: I know it’s still early days, but has the full gravity and reality of your election victory hit you yet?
TC: Well it is certainly an exciting time for me personally, for the City and for the region. The election process was a busy time and I look forward to being even busier as this new Council takes office and gets moving on a number of important projects that are going to move our City forward.
BOQ Living: What do you think it was about your message and policy platform that resonated with voters in your municipalities enough for them to cast their ballots for you?
TC: I think the voters could see that the City was on a great path forward and they wanted to continue with the carefully developed infrastructure plan. We have put ourselves on a path that will see many improvements in the City that will allow us to accommodate good growth and development. Our campaign focused on jobs, investment and growth and I think our residents and businesses agree that should always be our priority.
BOQ Living: Heading into this next term of council, how would you characterize the state of the economy in your municipality right now? What are its strengths, which sectors are performing well for you?
TC: The local economy, which functions on a regional basis, is strong and growing. We have been able to weather recent recessions with limited impact and we continue to see new growth and investment. Whether it is new business in our downtown or expansions in our industrial park, the local economy is strong. We are fortunate that our economy is diversified with pillars such as construction, service, manufacturing, retail, and commercial sectors are performing above expectations.
BOQ Living: What are areas or sectors of the economy that you would like to see addressed by council and staff over this next four-year term?
TC: Certainly downtown redevelopment and vital infrastructure renewal will be a strong focus to ensure that growth and new development can happen in all areas of our City. Filling the expanded north-east industrial park and ensuring the long term expansion capability of this area will be key to ensuring the long term stability of our local economy. The City needs to ensure that residential growth can happen in a manner that both meets the needs of our residents but that also happens as efficiently and effectively as possible.
BOQ Living: What specifically are you going to do, or try to do, to attract new residents to your community, spurring the growth of your residential sector?
TC: For us, it is all about jobs. We know many of our employers struggle to find the skills they need and our goal will be to bring in new residents that can meet the growing labour needs of our businesses. We also want to ensure we are educating our existing workers to fill the needs of our businesses – our work with the local school boards, Loyalist College and others will continue to ensure we can meet the ever-present skills gap that is being predicted.
Belleville has an excellent opportunity to attract residents of all ages by advertising our affordability and incredibly quality of life. We are a safe community that is expertly located between Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. With a location on Highway 401 and the VIA rail corridor, we are an excellent location for anyone, including retirees, those who work from home, those who want to find a challenging career and those that want a safe, affordable, yet interesting place to raise their family.
BOQ Living: What specifically are you going to do, or hope to do, to attract new business, help grow and retain existing businesses of all types?
TC: We are going to continue our focus on business retention and attraction. We need to ensure the City can continue to appropriately service all manner of business by providing the labour that is so desperately valued by business today. By building a better community and a better labour force, we will ensure our businesses and future businesses have every resource to become successful and prosperous in our community.
BOQ Living: How important is it to your municipality to have high-quality amenities such as recreational, medical, educational, and cultural facilities in order to assure the continued health and prosperity of the community as a whole?
TC: It is extremely important. Belleville has made significant investments in all of these areas and will continue to ensure we are the place that is envied by other communities and the community our residents are proud to call home. We want our residents to be proud that they have invested in projects and programs that will enhance everyone’s quality of life, while maintaining its affordability and accessibility.
BOQ Living: How important is the tourism sector to your community and what ways are you promoting the community?
TC: The City of Belleville continues to be an active partner with the Bay of Quinte Tourist Council and we work with our local Chamber of Commerce to provide visitor services. The City also plans to undertake a tourism and special events review to ensure we are using our resources to the ultimate capacity. Tourism is a pillar of the local economy that can be enhanced and adding additional tourism product to the region would be a strong priority for the whole region.
BOQ Living: Do you think more co-operation needs to happen between the various Bay of Quinte Region municipalities through bodies like BOQ tourism, BOQ Living and BOQ Economic Development, as a way of pooling resources, talents and creativity to develop a cohesive message about the region to potential visitors, residents and investors?
TC: I think it is very important to work closely and share resources with our neighbours where it makes sense to do so. We must always ensure we cooperate where reasonable but also to ensure our individual communities maintain their unique and endearing identities which will help attract and grow investment.
BOQ Living: Why do you think your municipality and the Bay of Quinte region in general is a great place to live work and play?
TC: Because we are a beautiful community with lots to do, many unique and well maintained natural resources, strong investment opportunities and people who make sure the community is efficient, affordable, fun and safe.
For more information about the City of Belleville, visit www.belleville.ca
– Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Greater Napanee. Contact him at [email protected]