BARRHEAD-There is not enough representation from the Barrhead small business community on the town council.
That is one of the reasons why Dave Sawatzky decided to throw his name into the ring for the list of prospective Town of Barrhead councillors on Oct. 18's municipal election.
"Every [municipal election] people have approached me suggesting that I run for council. This year, even more people made the suggestion, so I started to consider it. So after talking it over with my wife and some friends, I decided to take the plunge," he said.
Sawatzky officially submitted his paperwork on Aug. 27.
"Although there are some great people on our council and they do a great job, one thing that is a bit lacking is a business perspective. I believe I can add that voice," he said. "Without having that perspective, council does not have a complete picture or understanding of what business needs to be successful. And obviously, a healthy business community is vital to help attract young families and grow our community."
Sawatzky came to Barrhead 10 years ago from Calgary with his wife Susan after buying Sanderman's Home Hardware. The couple has two adult children who both still reside in the city.
"We owned a wholesale sunglass company and we were looking to buy another business because we wanted to get out of the rat race in Calgary," he said.
Sawatzky added that they were familiar with and liked the Home Hardware company, so when they learned that the Barrhead franchise was available, they jumped at the chance.
"We are so glad we did because Barrhead is an amazing community," he said.
He is also an active participant in several community organizations including the Barrhead and District Chamber of Commerce, serving several years as its president; the Barrhead Main Street Merchants' Association (also serving on its executive) and the Barrhead Business Support Network; and Careers: The Next Generation. He is also a member of the Barrhead Rotary Club and serves on the Calgary Stampede Lottery committee.
Sawatzky said one of the keys to having a healthy community is ongoing economic development, noting many factors need to be considered when talking about the topic.
"When it comes to economic development and attracting businesses and new families, is sure we have top quality recreation opportunities," he said, adding the community already has a strong base of recreation facilities.
However, he said having good, well-maintained recreation facilities is not enough on their own, adding they need to meet residents needs.
"We have the arena, walking track, pool, curling rink and bowling alley, but we need to continue to improve and add to what we have by adding to our walking trails, building a skate park and whatnots so that there is something for everyone, " Sawatzky said. "Once we have solid recreation in place, people will want to move to Barrhead because they will look around and say it is a great place to live and raise children ... as a result business will follow and our community will prosper."
He added the town's efforts in building strong recreation amenities is already paying dividends, saying he has already met people who have or are planning to move to the community from urban areas.
Sawatzky said as technology continues to evolve, people will have more options of where they call home, and lifestyle will be the deciding factor.
"We have a great opportunity to attract those families. When you look at Barrhead, it has a lot of things going for it," he said. "We have a safe community, have a four-season playground in our backyard, and are just an hour from the city. We just need to market ourselves."
Sawatzky commended the current council in marketing the community to business, noting there seems to be heightened interest in businesses potentially moving or starting up in Barrhead.
Having said that, he recognizes the municipality has challenges that are outside of its control, most notably the reduction in provincial funding i.e. reduced Municipal Sustainability Initiative (MSI) grants and the requirement for rural municipalities to pick up more of their policing costs.
"Funding is always a challenge," he said, noting municipalities are anticipating even more provincial downloading of costs in the future.
Unfortunately, Sawatzky said, municipalities have little control over what the province decides to do.
On a side but related note, Sawatzky said he supports council's decision to inform the province that they want the RCMP to remain its police service. The County of Barrhead, as well as multiple rural communities, have also written letters in support of maintaining the RCMP.
The province has floated the idea of replacing the RCMP with its own Alberta police force. In October 2020, the United Conservative (UCP) government commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) at a price tag of about $2 million to look into the operational requirements and costs of creating the force. The report was presented to the government of Alberta on April 30, 2021, and they have yet to make it public.
Sawatzky said he has also heard from several people complaining about how high their property tax bill is.
"That is one of the challenges and realities of living in a smaller community," he said, reiterating one way to lower the ratepayers' burden is by increasing their tax base. "But compared to other municipalities and regions, the services we get are second to none. That is something to be proud of."
In addition to increasing economic development, the other area Sawatzky hopes to investigate is looking at adding to the number of assisted and supportive living seniors' housing units.
"I'm not sure what we can do, but I have a lot of information about it, but what I am hearing on the street is that there is still a need, especially in the higher level of support," he said.