Life is better in a city, according to Beaumont town council

Beaumont is taking its first steps toward becoming a city.

Town says city status will help attract more business, relieve tax burden on residents

Beaumont town council has voted to begin applying to become a city, but some residents are worried the community will lose its small town feel. (CBC)

Beaumont is officially taking its first steps toward becoming a city. 

Council in the town of almost 20,000 recently voted to apply to Municipal Affairs for city status. Mayor John Stewart says the move will increase economic development and ease the tax burden on residents.

Currently, 95 per cent of the town's tax revenue comes from residents, with the remaining five per cent coming from business.

"In order to be able to get that down, we have to attract business to Beaumont," Stewart said.

"If there's no real detriment, why don't we be a city and be perceived as a new, and bold and innovative place that's growing, and try to attract those businesses that we've been unable to attract to our city before?"

There is no cost for a town to become a city, it just has to have a population of at least 10,000, according to Municipal Affairs.

The provincial government does not provide any special treatment to municipalities based on whether they're a village, hamlet, town or city.

Coun. Kathy Barnhart voted against the motion to begin the process of becoming a city, because more time is needed for resident feedback, she said.

Last year, a survey was sent to Beaumont residents asking their opinion on becoming a city. Only around 250 residents responded, she said, with 59 per cent opting in favour of remaining a town.

Why don't we be a city and be perceived as a new, and bold and innovative place that's growing, and try to attract those businesses that we've been unable to attract to our city before?- John Stewart, Mayor of Beaumont

Barnhart said it could be beneficial for Beaumont if city status attracts more business to town. The town hosts hockey tournaments but has no hotel to house players overnight, she said. Popular restaurants like Chartier attract visitors from out of town, but there's not enough in town to keep visitors there for more than a couple of hours, she added.

"We have a business tax, but we don't have very many businesses to pay it," she said.

"Without bringing in more businesses and more revenue from outside the residential tax base, we're going to have a difficult time surviving as a town. We're looking for anything we can to be able to increase that sustainability.

"The main reason people are saying they don't like it, is they're afraid of losing what we have, which is a great small town. But it isn't small anymore. It's expensive to run the town."

'A big deal for some people'

Fred Davis moved to Beaumont 26 years ago, when there were fewer than 5,000 residents and no traffic lights.

He's not clear on what the benefits would be of becoming a city and isn't convinced it would bring in more business.

"Will it lower taxes? Will it increase policing? Will it provide a larger library or more facilities? I really haven't seen any answers," he said.

"Is it city status that will give us the business, or is it our policies that are preventing major corporations from investing in the town of Beaumont? Right now I tend to believe the latter. If other towns can get these businesses, then why can't we, especially when we're so close to the airport."

Resident Philipp Schroeter said he's also not sure about the benefit of becoming a city, and will be going to the council meeting next Tuesday to ask more questions.

"This is a big deal for some people. You're changing, basically, the feel of a town to trying to be something bigger," he said.

"Beaumont is literally that sleeper town that people move to to get away from the city and to relax and live there. I don't think Beaumont will ever be that big commercial sector that they're wanting to have."

Stewart said the services Beaumont provides are tied to taxes, not town or city status, and taxes won't go up unless council decides to "massively" increase services.

Grants received from the government are all based on population, as is the RCMP service in town, he added.

More engagement sessions will be held with residents about the change to city status, Stewart said. Council is also holding a barbecue this weekend, and residents are welcome to come share their opinions with the mayor and council, he added.

Stewart said despite the changes, Beaumont won't lose its small town feel any time soon.

"I understand that change can be scary and nobody wants to lose that feel," he said.

"But honestly, it's a real conscious decision by the residents of Beaumont to keep that connectedness and keep that feel, whether we're a town or city."