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Water, taxes focus of first Guelph-Eramosa all candidates meeting

by Jaime Myslik

MARDEN - Residents in Guelph-Eramosa recently had their first chance to hear from local candidates running for office in this fall’s municipal election.

On Sept. 10 the Guelph Township Horticultural Society hosted the municipality’s first all candidates meeting at the Marden Community Centre.

About 50 residents attended to get to know the 10 candidates running for Guelph-Eramosa council, as well as the acclaimed Upper Grand District School Board trustee and two acclaimed Wellington County councillors.

Mayor

Incumbent Chris White is being challenged by current Ward 1 councillor David Wolk for the top spot on Guelph-Eramosa council.

White said he has lived in Guelph-Eramosa since 1999 and is currently in his third term as mayor of the township. In his opening remarks he said the township has unlimited potential.

“During my time on council I tried to harness that potential and I believe we’ve had a very productive and fiscally responsible four years,” he said, noting the average combined tax increase for the township, county and schools has been 2.27 per cent over four years.

He also said he’s recently had meetings with the new Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and Minister of Municipal Affairs at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference to discuss rural issues including infrastructure funding, natural gas and broadband internet.

“I know we face many challenges and opportunities and if I’m returned as mayor, I plan to continue with a steady-as-you-go governance,” White said.

Wolk said he has lived in Guelph-Eramosa for almost three decades  and has been a councillor for Ward 1 for the last eight years.

“All of you are critically important to municipal government,” Wolk told the audience. “The property taxes and user fees you pay largely determine what the township is able to do.”

He explained that it’s up to the voter to choose their next council.

“I entered this mayor’s race because I felt that the increasingly complex demands on council needed a more unifying leadership, a greater commitment to knowledge-based decision making and a vast improvement in transparency,” he said.

“Our township can, and should, be doing better and my goal is to do just that.”

His focus is on increased economic development.

“Turning that potential into success requires leadership that recognizes smart and responsible growth, coupled with the determination to attract appropriate enterprises,” he said “It also requires council to be much more alert and get input from stakeholders like you.”

Ward 1

In Ward 1 newcomers Bruce Dickieson and Carol Easton are vying for the open councillor position.

Dickieson has lived in Guelph-Eramosa his whole life and runs Mosborough Country Market with his family on the farm. He said he’s looking to provide a proactive approach and listen, empathize and focus on solutions.

“I’ve based my whole life on honesty, integrity and truth and would treat being a councillor in the same way,” he said.

“I’ve always given 100% to any commitments I have made.”

He added he plans to be a strong voice for agricultural, rural and community concerns.

Easton said she was born in northern Ontario and has lived in Guelph-Eramosa for six months.

She was part of the group that sought to prevent Xinyi Glass from coming to the township.

“I was the originator of the motion that resulted in Xinyi’s eventual defeat,” she said.

Easton said she believes the biggest challenge with the township is that Guelph-Eramosa is seen as a place where people remove natural resources, pay the lowest possible amount and use those resources to enrich other communities, with a focus on aggregates and quarries.

Ward 2

In Ward 2 incumbent Corey Woods is being challenged by newcomer Jo-Anne Costello.

Woods said he has lived in Guelph-Eramosa for 23 years and has been on council since 2010. His focus will be on roads and bridges.

He said that this term he’d like to see expanded maintenance gravel for gravel roads and shouldering of paved roads, improved ditching in rural areas, continuing with cutting of dead or hazardous trees, and expanded tree planting along rural roads. He would also like to keep tax increases below 3%.

Costello said she has lived in the township since 1995. Talking to those in her neighbourhood, she said she has learned that people are concerned about effective and respectful communication, tax increases over the last 20 years, opportunities to provide safety in neighbourhoods and environmental awareness.

Ward 3

Incumbent Ward 3 councillor Louise Marshall is being challenged by longtime Rockwood firefighter Steven Liebig.

Marshall said she has lived in Eden Mills for 33 years and has been on council for one term. She said she spent her summers as a kid working on her grandparents dairy farm.

“I do know farming and I do know business,” she said. “I’m not just a one dimensional person.”

She said she appreciates listening to her constituents and plans to continue doing that in the next term of council.

Liebig said he has lived in the township since 1991. He is in his 28th year as a volunteer firefighter with the Rockwood station.

He said the township is a multi-million dollar corporation that has large spending, large expenses and large revenues.

He said he’d like to manage revenues and use that money wisely instead of burdening tax payers further. He also said he’ll listen and act on what constituents want.

Ward 4

Incumbent councillor Mark Bouwmeester is being challenged for the Ward 4 position by Natalie Jaroszewski.

Bouwmeester said he has lived in the township his whole life. He said he’s seeking reelection to set a clear vision for the future.

He’s focusing on maintaining fiscal responsibility, maximizing industrial and commercial opportunities, supporting the agricultural industry and maintaining safe and smart community development. He said a new strategic plan is needed to address ways to generate additional revenue.

Jaroszewski said she has lived in Rockwood for her whole life. She said she was taught by her parents to listen to both sides of a story and make an informed decision. This is what she said she plans to do on council.  

Questions

The first question of the night asked Woods to clarify a statement he made in his opening remarks that the residents of Ward 2 contributed 17% of overall taxes but received 32% of the capital spending.

Woods explained the statistics came from reconstructing the road and a bridge on Jones Baseline as well as on Mill Road.

His statistics also include the reconstruction of Bedford Road in 2019, which will include the extension of a municipal water main all the way out to Highway 6.

Concerned Residents Coalition president Doug Tripp asked the candidates if they would actively oppose the James Dick Construction Limited quarry application outside of Rockwood - and if so, how they would go about doing that.

Costello and Dickieson said they didn’t know enough about the issue yet to make an informed decision one way or another.

Candidates Easton, Woods and Marshall said they were not in favour of actively opposing the quarry. Easton said the hidden quarry is just one quarry and that a better strategy would be to look at a regional quarry plan.

“Given the money that  we have at our disposal as a township, I don’t think that would be money well spent,” Easton said.

Woods said his position from the beginning has been to approve the quarry and he stands behind that opinion.

Marshall said supporting the CRC at the OMB would put taxes too high and she couldn’t support it.

Liebig said he would be in favour of supporting the group in a non-monetary way.

Wolk, White and Bouwmeester said they’re in favour of letting the process play out.

Wolk said the issue has been taken to the Ontario Municipal Board and it should play out there. He didn’t want to “burden” the township by taking a lead at the hearing.

Bouwmeester said he’s prepared to wait for the peer review report to come back, based on the CRC’s last presentation to council, before he makes a final position.

White agreed and said he wants to know more about potential water issues before he makes a decision. He said he’s in favour of waiting for the township’s peer review team to bring back a report to see what the potential threat to the township’s water is.

“I think we have an obligation to make sure that our water is safe,” White said.

Jaroszewski said she opposes the quarry because it’s about 500m away from her mushroom farm. She also sits on the CRC board as treasurer.

She said if water is an issue it’s not just one ward that could be affected - and water needs to be protected.

Resident Susan McSherry, a spokesperson for the citizen group GETConcerned, which opposed the Xinyi Glass plant, asked councillors if they would support a water policy and also what the township can do to get more money from Wellington County.

In regards to getting money from Wellington County, White explained that as the province has downloaded services onto the county, taxes went up to accommodate all those new services.

“It was very difficult for the lower tier municipalities, Guelph-Eramosa, to capture a share of that dollar, because we’re all one tax payer,” he said.

“There’s no way, when the county was punching up the taxes fairly high in the beginning, that the lower tiers could keep up because it would just become unmanageable.”

White said when he was warden he tried to force the county tax increases down so lower tier municipalities could step in and shift it so the township is getting more money out of each tax dollar.

Wolk said that there has been a gradual improvement in how much money the township gets for taxes.

“The reality is everybody cares. If you’re only getting 24 cents back out of every dollar that is paid, and you think you should get 30 cents or 40 cents, please let’s not kid ourselves that we don’t care, of course we care,” Wolk said.

“We are wearing a lot of cost, a lot of responsibility and we now have the audience looking for us to develop a water policy.”

He said the township should develop a water policy but it’s not that simple. It’s not within the township’s jurisdiction to give water. Permits to take water are issued through the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.

Other levels of government must be involved, “Otherwise we, as a township, are left looking like we have the authority to control some of this when it’s not in our hands at all,” said Wolk.

White agreed a water policy would need to involve many agencies.

“The fact of the matter is there’s work on this already being done,” White said. “The City of Guelph is doing a full water study, there’s Tier 3 studies being done and the Source Water Protection, the county has hired a risk manager for water systems, so when you look at Source Water Protection and all the things that involves, that will in time develop into a water policy for the county and region.

“Municipal borders don’t matter when it comes to water.”

Easton said she was surprised there was not a water policy already in place.

“Everything that goes on within the township requires water in various amounts,” she said. “And it is returned to the ground, or not, in various ways.”

Resident Nick Wetzel asked what the township could do to generate revenue, apart from raising taxes.

White said that’s the challenge of the township.

He said because there is very little residential development available in the township, the best way to generate revenue is through commercial/industrial growth in areas like the industrial land by Wellington Roads 124 and 32.

Wolk said there has been an expression of interest on those industrial lands. He also said there is potential for growth in the industrial lands in Rockwood.

Acclaimed Wellington County Ward 7 councillor Don McKay said another idea is to petition the province to once again offer the farm rebate.

Years ago, farmers paid the municipality their full tax bill and the provincial government issued a 75% rebate. However, when the province downloaded the rebate to municipalities, farmers were only required to pay 25% of their taxes to the municipalities.

By uploading the farm rebate back to the province, McKay said the township would receive more taxes, but the farmers would still only pay 25%.

The next all candidates meeting for Guelph-Eramosa Township is scheduled for Sept. 19 at the Rockmosa Community Centre at 7pm.

September 14, 2018

 
 

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