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ELECTIONS 2010: Ross-Zuj, Foster clash again over borrowing

by Chris Daponte

GUELPH-ERAMOSA - Repeated exchanges between Centre-Wellington mayoral candidates Bob Foster and Joanne Ross-Zuj were the only real heated moments in an otherwise low-key candidates’ meeting here on Sept. 28.

The unique event, held at the Elora Road Christian Fellowship, was hosted by the Ponsonby Ratepayer’s Association and featured certain candidates from Centre Wellington and Guelph-Eramosa townships.

When asked about the biggest issue facing his municipality, Foster said the answer is high taxes, which is the result of the “serious spending problem” that exists on Centre Wellington council.

“Our debt load is about to double,” Foster said, noting the township recently approved $12-million to finance an upgrade to the sewage plant in Elora and a new water tower in Fergus.

Foster said as mayor he would focus on three priorities: controlling operating costs to repay debts and look after infrastructure needs, instituting a hiring freeze and issuing a moratorium on borrowing money “until we get our financial house in order.”

Ross-Zuj countered that the biggest challenge faced by the municipality is in fact addressing growing infrastructure needs with limited funds.

She said there will be no impact on taxes for the sewer system and water tower projects, which she called “necessary expenditures,” noting the ministry has ordered the township to complete the wastewater upgrades.

While she acknowledged the township will be borrowing money for the two projects, she said they will have no effect on the township’s debt load, considering the costs will be recovered through development charges.

In the future, she said, township council and staff will have to work together to decide what services can be cut in order to meet future challenges.

When asked by one of the 40 or so residents in attendance for clarification on the issue, Foster stressed he has no problem with the two projects - he knows they’re necessary.

“I’m opposed to borrowing the money,” he said, noting with loans comes interest, which then has to be recovered through higher sewage bills.

While he offered no funding solution of his own, Foster added the township was turned down three times for grants for the sewage upgrade - he thinks that is because officials decided to go with a “Cadillac solution” costing over $16-million.

“It’s very difficult to find the technology that is needed for sewage treatment plants on sale,” Ross Zuj countered.

She said “a whole panel”  of experts, including officials with the township and environmental and engineering firms, very carefully review  the costs, and the provincial government has also approved the direction the township has picked.

“We have no choice, it has to be done,” she said of the sewage project. “It is cost recoverable; it is not something that we already put onto our debt.” When asked what exactly she meant by “cost recoverable,” Foster interjected and said it means it will be added to water and sewer bills.

“No it is not,” Ross Zuj said sternly. “It is in development charges ... It is completely growth related.”

Foster replied if development charges will be used to pay back the loan, it will compromise all the other things the township has to do.

 

Vol 43 Issue 41

 
 

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