Today's date: Tuesday May 30, 2017
   
column width padding column width padding
The Wellington Advertiser Masthead Logo

We Cover The County...
39,994 Audited Circulation

WEEKLY POLL   |   Community News   |   EQUINE   |   Schools & Buses

Facebook Slug
WA Canada 150 Banner
column width padding column width padding

Year one: Wellington North mayor reflects on achievements, pitfalls

by Kris Svela

MOUNT FOREST - Behind the scenes, politics has always been an integral part of Ray Tout’s life.

So when he decided to run for mayor of Wellington North last fall, he knew a win would  catapult him into frontline politics at the community level.

Tout said his decision to run was based on concerns about efforts to build on Wellington North’s future moving in the right direction. He had heard complaints from builders about development charges brought in by the council that added some $17,000 to the cost of new homes. He heard concerns about the growing debt load the township had taken on to build multi-million dollar projects such as the new sewage plant and sports complex in Mount Forest - and he believed  spending had to be controlled.

“The development charge was part of the platform, as was leadership, fiscal responsibility and bringing people together,” he said of a platform that would take him into the campaign and land him in the mayor’s chair.

The election results signaled residents of Wellington North wanted change with Tout and three new councillors - Sherry Burke, Andy Lennox and Mark Goetz - joining veteran Dan Yake, who handily won his seat.

In his Birmingham Street home he shares with his wife Donna, away from demands of his political duties, Tout reflected on his first year in office and shared some experiences. He brought in a shift in the way the township is run, but also experienced bumps in the road along the way.

One accomplishment, was reducing development charge to $10,000 per new single family home. Council approved that in June, making it retroactive to the beginning of the year.

At the same time developers were challenged to take advantage of that reduction, which would have run on what the mayor calls a “trial basis” until the end of March next year when it will be re-evaluated. Council had hoped 35 building permits would be taken out during the trial period. As of three months ago, only 13 had been issued.

“Some developers have been very aggressive and some aren’t doing what I felt they should be doing,” the mayor said of the mediocre results from the challenge to date

That, like many things in politics, changed recently, after resident Jens Dam launched an Ontario Municipal Board appeal of the revised development charges bylaw, questioning if council has the authority to make them retroactive. Council learned it did not have that right and it was forced to repeal its bylaw.

The decision means the previous bylaw and $17,000 fee will remain in place until a further study is done and a new bylaw approved. Passage of a new bylaw could come early next year, at which point a $10,000 development charge is expected.

“It is unfortunate the way it’s happened,” Tout said.

He said getting a handle on the township’s finances remains a priority.

Wellington North has seen provincial grants to assist in the operation of the township plummet from a high of $1.6 million to $973,000 this year.  The mayor blames the dramatic decrease in part on a lack of proper information on the township’s assets going to the province to determine the size of grant the township should receive.

He also pointed out late filing of the information meant cheques from the province have been late coming in.

“I was disgruntled that it wasn’t done,” the mayor said of inadequate information reaching to the province. “You can’t point fingers. The fact of the matter is, it wasn’t done. It is done now.”

The mayor said a priority is working with staff and departments to ensure they are working together with new financial procedures taking center stage.

“It’s tough to make changes with staff,” he said. “I need them to implement changes... and that’s not always easy.”

Under the new council, department heads are now required to have their budgets in earlier so they can be considered well in advance. That process gives departments and staff a chance to determine needs that are immediate or that can wait. Tout said the township has to re-establish its reserves to have money on hand if something unforeseen happens, and to keep careful track of spending. He wants departments and council to develop long-term plans for how the township operates.

“You’ve got to plan ahead five, 10, 15 years,” he said.

The plan will eventually reduce the township’s debt, now sitting at around $12 million.

“We paid $1.2 million in interest alone, he said of the impact debt is having. “You can’t keep doing that.”

Tout said a municipality of similar size recently had the province take over its administration when its debt threshold of $18 million was reached. He does not want a similar scenario in Wellington North.

“If the province comes in and runs our municipality then everybody loses,” Tout said.

He wants residents to be aware of the budget process and how money is being spent and he promised a more open process to get that information out.

“Every taxpayer should know where their taxes are going,” the mayor said. “One of the downsides [of being mayor] is getting the taxpayers to fully understand how the municipality is run and the financing of it.”

He cited a project, the reconstruction of Fergus Street from Queen to King, that he would like to see done. Tout said that could have been done if the township wasn’t required to spend about $325,000 to clear contaminated soil at the Cork Street pumping station.

Councillor Lennox, who heads the township’s finance committee, made it clear at a recent council meeting Wellington North has to get a handle on its spending.

Tout said a similar hard line can be expected when contract talks with employees take place next year. “It’s going to be tough and it’s going to be tight. Everybody has to tighten their belts.”

He is equally proud of the accomplishments the township can point to in the past year.

Information at a recent joint meeting of the economic development committees from Wellington North and Minto showed both municipalities weathered the recent recession well, without any major job losses.  The indication is development and jobs will continue to grow.

Tout is also proud of the way the township responded to the plight of some 205 residents of Sandy Lake evacuated from their northern Ontario community due to forest fires.

The community rallied to assist the evacuees, who were housed at the Arthur Community Centre for a week.

“When we were asked to get in on that, we jumped right in,” he said of an event that cost about $460,000 and will be covered by the provincial and federal governments. “It put Wellington North and Arthur in a positive light.”

The event strengthened emergency preparedness plans for the township and Wellington County and has impressed other municipalities for its successful implementation, including community-wide volunteer support.

Observers at regular council meetings have noticed elected officials can, at times, have difficulty making decisions because of a lack of understanding procedures.

That, according to Tout, is something that comes when the majority of council is unfamiliar with how the local political process works.

“On a new council you are consistently second guessing yourself,” he said of council. “To run a municipality I think common sense has to prevail. It’s been a learning curve. You have your flamboyant ones and your quiet ones. It’s like gardening; it’s always growing. Their personal traits are an asset.”

Tout and his wife Donna have made Mount Forest their home. They have a son Trevor  and daughter-in-law Julie, and two grandchildren, Alexa and Landon. 

Tout’s parents Bill and Marion are strong supporters  of his political endeavors, along with his mother-in-law Rose. He believes the community has a lot to offer and with strong fiscal management will continue to grow.

“I like to think the people of Wellington North are proud of what we do and what we have,” he said. “I think we’re guilty about not bragging enough about what we have.”

 

December 30, 2011

 
 

Tell Us What You Think

Login to submit a comment

Comments appearing on this website are the opinion of the comment writer and do not represent the opinion of the Wellington Advertiser. Comments that attack other individuals or are offensive, unsubstantiated or otherwise inappropriate will be removed. You must register or log in in order to post a comment. For more information, read our detailed Comment Policy and Guidelines.

       

ReliableFord

Spacer

Community Guide Spring 2017

Related Stories

  • Big Brothers, Big Sisters sets Bowl for Kids dates
  • Year One: Mayor George Bridges goal is to streamline towns procedures
  • Fire department unveils new education house
  • Year One: Long term look at services one goal of new mayor Bruce Whale
  • Northern Big Brothers Big Sisters gets recognition
  • Local Heart and Stroke fundraisers receive award fundraisers receive award
  • Year one: Dennis Lever sees much to be proud of in Puslinch
  • Year one: Wellington North mayor reflects on achievements, pitfalls
  • Warm Winter Wishes in Mount Forest / Arthur this weekend
  • Puslinch resident wants mayor to be in spotlight at community events
  • Local teacher receives fire safety award
  • Economic growth may require joint effort, two northern municipalities hear
  • OMB dismisses claim by owner of furniture business
  • Results from 4-H test at Mount Forest Fair
  • Wellington Junior Farmers tested knowledge at fall fair
  • Road construction uncovers contaminated soil
  • column width padding column width padding column width padding

    The Wellington Advertiser

    News

    Opinion

    Community

    Deaths

    Digital Publications

    Classifieds


    Twitter Logo

    Free Press News Network Logo