Centre Wellington meeting focuses on areas surrounding Fergus

Residents packed the Royal Canadian Legion here on Oct. 1 to get an idea of where candidates stand on local issues.

There was some overlap in candidates present, which is understandable as local, county and school board wards do overlap the Elora, Fergus and rural areas.

The second candidates night sponsored by the Centre Wellington Chamber of Commerce was held on Oct. 1. While the Sept. 25 meeting focussed on issues questions for candidates representing the western portion of the municipality including Elora, the Oct. 1 meeting focused on candidates representing the western wards, including Fergus and Belwood.

Mayoral candidates

Joanne Ross-Zuj

Incumbent Joanne Ross-Zuj spoke about successes over the past four years of council.

“The successes are very visible in the community,” she said. “These include infrastructure projects, building partnerships, the municipal growth plan, trail plan and park plans.”

Ross-Zuj spoke of addressing the needs of people aged eight to 80, from accessible playgrounds to expansion of the Victoria Park Seniors Centre.

“We have to look to the future because there are three priorities that have to rise to the top,” she said.

She noted infrastructure deficiencies must be addressed. “We have 104 bridges, 34 are critical and eight of them are closed.”

Ross-Zuj said the government has also changed the manner in which the township can access funds.

“The good News is that we are in great financial shape in Centre Wellington. But because of that we are not going to be able to access some of the government funding which will be made available,” she said.

Kelly Linton

“Regardless of how you decide to vote, I appreciate that you take this election seriously enough to participate in this event,” said candidate Kelly Linton, a current Centre Wellington councillor.

Linton said he has spent the past 15 years as a government change specialist to help all levels of government become more effective, efficient and customer focused.

“I’m running for mayor of Centre Wellington because my experience over the past four years has convinced me we need a change in leadership to achieve our potential as a community. I am convinced it is time for change.”

His priorities include increased communication and open and honest leadership.

“Your current council often avoids having difficult discussions. We need to embrace democracy,” said Linton. He added, “Eight years under the same regime is long enough. Another four years of the status quo would be unhealthy.”

Township Ward 3

Mary Lloyd

Acclaimed councillor Mary Lloyd noted Centre Wellington only receives 24 cents from every tax dollar.

“That’s all we have to keep things running smoothly here,” she said. “We are and always have been open and transparent to our residents.”

Lloyd pointed to efforts to make the town administrative centre fully accessible, including a larger council space, large screen televisions to be used in conjunction with recording council sessions to expand public openness.

“We’re growing our business and we want to meet their needs and be open and ready for all new opportunities in the future.”

Township Ward 4

Fred Morris

Also acclaimed, Morris was proud to have the opportunity to serve once more.

Reflecting back, Morris said municipal politics is not about personal agendas.

“Local government works when a team of people come together with common ideas,  and sometimes even different ideas, and put them all on the table and then decide on the appropriate course of action.”

Morris said that is what has happened over the past four years. He estimated the recently-created Centre Wellington communications company will  have saved residents $5 million over the next 25 years.

Morris asked residents to think about what each candidate has to say and consider whether that person can successfully be part of a team to continue the path the present council has traversed – “one which leads to prosperity for all of us.”

Township Ward 5

Walt Visser

Visser and his wife came to the area in 1977 “and we decided to be part of the community – at first through volunteering.”

He listed various groups in which he has participated.

“As you’ve heard, we’ve done a lot over the past four years, but there is a lot of things still to finish.”

At one point Centre Wellington had a shortage of health professionals, with 4,000 people waiting for doctors. Following Centre Wellington’s recruitment campaign that number has dropped to less than 100, Visser said.

He noted there were issues of accessibility and the province had mandated all municipal buildings be fully accessible by 2025.

“This year we have a fully-accessible municipal building and three fully-accessible parks,” said Visser.

Steven Kitras

Kitras says his various work and volunteer positions provide a perfect foundation for a position as councillor.

A resident of Centre Wellington for 26 years, Kitras said he has operated a business in the township for the same period of time.

He started his glass art business in small rented quarters and developed it into the largest art glass studio in Canada – and one of the largest in North America. His business now exports products around the world.

This past year, Kitras began growing hops to supply the expanding local micro-brewing industry. Issues important to him are taxation, accountability, transparency and bringing more jobs to Centre Wellington.

He also advocated the creation of more affordable housing and building “socially dynamic” neighbourhoods.

Kitras intends to call on his deep commitment to Centre Wellington and his acquired business skills to bring the same levels of service to the community.

John Ortt

This is not Ortt’s first foray into the political arena.

Ortt has lived in Centre Wellington for the past 42 years where he operates a farm, a pump business and various other ventures.

“I’m not going to make any promises but I know business and my concern is what is happening to the infrastructure – bridges and roads – for the farmers. Without farmers, none of us here eat,” said Ortt.

“When I see farmers having to travel 10 miles to access a property on the other side of a closed bridge I think that is pretty sad.”

Ortt added he has been in business for 66 years “and you pick up a lot of common sense.”

Township Ward 6

Steven Van Leeuwen

Van Leeuwen has been part of Centre Wellington council for the past four years. He spoke about the success of the past four years and what could be achieved in the next four.

As a father, Van Leeuwen believes he has good reason to want this community to succeed.

As a business owner, he’s been able to talk about the issues with a constant flow of people. “It’s important to be accessible to the residents and I enjoy it very much.”

He said with his business background he is able to help in the township’s economic development committee which has been restructured over the past term.

He wants to focus on economic development over the next four years, as, “There’s lots of work left to do.”

Vinnie Green

Green said many people know him through his limo business on Wellington Road 18.

“After the debates in Elora, I felt it was important to change my introduction,” he said.

At that time, the debate was about a regime change at a municipal level.

“Language of that type is not positive in municipal politics.”

Instead, Green says municipal politics “is about serving your community not your self interests.” He commented that many of his suggestions made during his previous run at council were taken to heart by the elected council of the day.

One of those suggestions was to turn the old gas station in downtown Elora into a greenspace.

“Municipal politics is about thinking outside the box, not regime change,” he said.

At the same time, Green felt the last four years have been marked by closed thinking and  despite the accomplishments, “nothing outside the box has really been done.”

He said if elected he would like to bring about positive change.

County Ward 4

Lynda White

For the past 14 years, White has served as a Wellington County ward councillor.

A long-time resident of Arthur, White was born and raised in Fergus “and I attended Centre Wellington District High School probably with a lot of you in this room.”

In 2004 White served as Wellington County’s warden, which she said requires the skills of leadership, dedication, trust and integrity.

She said Wellington County operates on a budget of roughly $184 million and $85 million of that is raised through the tax levy.

White outlined various services provided by the county from roads to policing to social services to waste management.

When asked by residents how to find out more about what the county is doing, she pointed to the county website and the weekly full page ad in the Wellington Advertiser.

Economic development is a priority to White, who added that she is committed to fiscal responsibility.

Stephen O’Neill

O’Neill said he has been an active member of the Arthur Optimist Club for the past 27 years.

“Volunteering is an integral part of my activities and I feel I can work with county employees and other elected officials to make the county a better place.”

As a mortgage agent, O’Neill has seen the impact of high property taxes. “People know they need to pay them, they just don’t know what they are getting for their money.”

He said Wellington County does get about 55 per cent of municipal taxes, “but do we know where they go?”

O’Neill said staff at the county level have ideas and work on various projects.

“Our job is to make certain the priorities at the county are the ones residents want and need. We then have to work to adjust (the county’s) budget and priorities.”

He said people are saying the upper level of government’s downloading is placing a greater burden on county and municipal taxes.

“The county and townships need to work closely together to make this community a vibrant place to live. I want to work for a place we can all be proud to call home,” said O’Neill.

County Ward 5

Jean Innes

Innes spoke of the Wellington Place concept plan and looking to the future, suggested the creation of a county environmental committee rather than random green initiatives.

“Wouldn’t it make sense to put them all together and create strong guidelines for the future? I believe it is time for the county to broaden its leadership role in municipal planning.”

Innes said a lot of what she has championed over the last term is now taking shape and she is eager to continue the momentum.

Allan Hons

As a financial advisor, Hons works with families on budgets and helps them make hard choices.

“I feel the county is drifting away from the concerns and priorities of its own citizens,” he said.

Like others in the community, Hons is concerned about where all the money goes.

“If your local government can’t maintain the basic infrastructure in the community, something is wrong.”

He noted that as a result of provincial downloading, “Highway 6 was delightfully left on the laps of township council.”

However, Hons also said Wellington County has offered no assistance at this point and is in the midst of installing passing lanes on Wellington County Road 7 while the township is struggling to replace the bridge and a kilometre of David Street in Fergus.

“If the county maintains the township struggles are not its concern, I am worried the township will have to increase its taxes exponentially.”

Hons said, “The county can be part of the solution or be part of the problem.”

Rob Black

Black lives in rural Centre Wellington and his roots run deep – back to 1834, when his family arrived from Scotland.

“I’ve made it clear I do not have an axe to grind or an issue which needs to be addressed.”

However, Black said he has the time, skills and a desire to give back to the community.

“I’m interested in the wellbeing, prosperity and vitality of Centre Wellington. I am willing to work hard for this community, for the ward and for Wellington County.”

He said he is hearing great things about the community and the county.

He has also heard of the need to replace bridges, have roads repaired and sidewalks installed along with additional parking spots added in Fergus and Elora.

“But for the most part people are happy and satisfied.”

Black said, “Wellington County will only succeed if local municipalities succeed. Likewise Centre Wellington cannot survive alone.”

He added people are also happy to see a candidate who lives within the ward.

County Ward 6

Shawn Watters

Watters said his journey began as member of Elora Village council.

By taking part in the process, “I really learned how a community was run. I love this place and my family loves this place.”

He said, “When I go to the county I am so proud to represent this place.”

A landscape architect by trade, he has a political science degree.

“I understand the values that make a great community,” said Watters.

“It’s about working together not being adversarial. I realize we have to work as a team.”

Dianne Ballantyne

Ballantyne said Centre Wellington’s voting rate is about 49  per cent, which is much higher than the provincial rate of 35 per cent.

“We are a very engaged community,” she said.

One reason she is running is a desire to give back to the community.

“I wanted to contribute to something better.”

She said Centre Wellington is predicted to double in population in the next 20 years and it is important to make the right decisions at the county because of its impact over a long period of time.

She spoke of her experience working with many cultures and, “I want to ensure we have the healthiest, most prosperous and sustainable community we can have.”

Ballantyne said she believed in smart growth and transparent government.

She says her role was to help, not offer excuses.

“Not everything is possible, but much, much more is with a new perspective,” she said.