Three candidates vying for the Ward 9 seat on county council stepped up to the plate at the Erin Legion on Oct. 8, all claiming to have experience on their side and the interests of the environment at heart.
Distribution of tax dollars remained a hot topic, along with communication and economic development for council hopefuls Pierre Brianceau, Lou Maieron and Barb Tocher.
Tax dollars and spending
Maieron continued to champion area-rated funding for county services despite the defeat of his recent motion on the subject by county council.
“[Property tax assessment] should be based on services you receive, not the value of your house if and when you sell it. That’s wrong,” he said.
“When your house in Erin is three times the value of a house in Minto and you’re entitled to the same taxes, there’s a problem there.”
Brianceau said the municipality only has so much control over the issue of property assessment and it should have been brought to the table during the recent provincial election.
“We just had a provincial election and we didn’t see anyone here waving banners saying they wanted the formula changed. That’s when it should have been addressed,” he said.
“If we really want to work at something and achieve it we need to lobby the province so they can change the rule.”
Tocher said she would like to focus on the distribution of services between county and municipal governments to find a better balance.
“It’s always amazed me that our township plows go out on a county road but can’t put the plow down because it’s a county road,” she said. “I think we need to have those difficult discussions at county council to see where the dollar needs to be spent and where the best place to spend it is.”
Maieron also said an operational review is needed to rule out service overlap and look for ways to prioritize and cut costs.
“We’re a little fat at the county, we take your money and there’s very little communication about what we do,” he said. “Every business should do an operational review every five years to see how they’re matching their goals, how they’re delivering services and can they do it more efficiently and effectively?”
He also wants to conduct a road rationalization study.
“We have a lot of heavily travelled roads that are Erin roads that should be (uploaded)to the county to save the money on our local taxes,” he said. “It’s not fair and we need to rebalance that because roads are the number one cost.”
Brianceau says the only way to tackle the SSMP issue is by working with the county.
“The county [has] done a lot of work with economic development. They have been asked by counties in the U.S. to come and explain the great things they are doing,” he says. “But [in Erin] we don’t do any of it.”
Tocher says getting the finances in order for large projects such as the library and wastewater plant requires many years of responsible planning ahead of time and she intends to get started now.
“Many of the big projects that you see, not the everyday mundane operational things, are planned years in advance before you see them come to fruition,” she said. “I will work very hard to ensure we’re at the table and bargaining for our fair share.”
Erin needs to change its attitude when it comes to commercial and industrial development, Maieron said when asked what he would do to help attract new businesses to Erin.
“[If] we want growth, we want jobs, we want a livable, workable, walkable community then we’ve got to encourage people to come here,” he said. “We’re in competition with other municipalities in Wellington County and the other regions. We have to put our best foot forward.”
He suggested that be accomplished by setting up a new committee to create an inventory of available land for development and work with local business groups such as the BIA and Get Hillsburgh Growing.
Brianceau says he wants to consider a moratorium on development charges as a way of balancing the ratio between residential and commercial dwellings in Erin.
“The ideal mix is 60/40. Right now in Erin it’s 87 [residential]. Every time a business leaves town the residential share keeps going up.”
Tocher suggested that along with working with the county development committee, a director could be appointed for a period of time to address the needs of Erin specifically.
“I think they would need to work closely together [with the county] to come up with a plan for how to market the Town of Erin.”
She also suggested offering discounted development charges for “green” construction in the township.
“I believe in having green development charges; in other words, anyone who would like to develop here would earn discounts depending on the level of their green development. I think we could be a leader in that and introduce it to the rest of the county.”
When asked about their plans to combat climate change, all three candidates said working with the newly-formed environmental committee at the county is the easiest place to start.
Building structures that are more resilient to intense weather systems and flash flooding is a priority Brianceau plans to champion.
“At the local level we can work with planers to integrate measures to prevent the impact that flash floods could have – one thing I’ve thought about is perhaps having metal framing in houses as mandatory to survive hurricanes and work with our partners at the county and province to enhance emergency measures,” he said.
He added he also wants to find away to replace the lost Ospringe transfer station proposal. “If there’s a will, there’s a way, so we’ll go talk to people who can make it happen.”
Tocher said the new committee will be instrumental in implementing change during the next term.
“I don’t think we can ignore the impacts,” she said. “We need to start looking at how to boost our infrastructure and also what remedial work we need to do on our existing infrastructure so that climate change doesn’t mean we have to call out the emergency plan.”
Maieron said last winter’s ice storm taught officials a lot of lessons and it’s time to start preparing.
“[During the storm] I went to Centre 2000 and they didn’t have a back-up generator. When I went to Hillsburgh they didn’t have any sewage capacity because they’re on holding tanks,” he said. “We have to have a place to send people to.”
County candidates, like mayoral hopefuls, were also asked if they would ban bottled water in the county council chamber and two of the three were in favour.
“We pride ourselves on our water systems,” Tocher said. “Our water is healthy, sustainable and cost efficient. Bottled water is not a necessary use in the council chamber or in county facilities.”
Maieron said he tried to implement a similar rule in the Erin council chamber but was largely ignored. He said bottled water protects expensive equipment at the county from being damaged.
“I tried to do that at the town and every two weeks I still signed a cheque for bottled water,” he said. “And the reason we don’t have them at county council is because people spill glasses of water on their computers … I support the reusable water campaign and the kids, I understand ground water very much but this is a little ridiculous.”
Brianceau says they need to walk the walk instead of saying one thing and doing something else. He also wants to try and rebuild the relationship with Nestle after Erin declined its support for the water-taking contract.
“Hopefully the new council will work with Nestle and see if there’s a way to perhaps create more employment and local processing so at least we get something in the community for them taking water from us.”
Re-building burned bridges was a frequent theme during the meeting, as candidates were asked how they plan to improve communication between Erin and the county.
“The Town of Erin has always been highly regarded at the county and for the last few years we have been considered a joke,” said Tocher.
“Ladies and gentlemen we are not going to get anything done when we’re the laughing stock of the county.
“We need to work very, very hard to build those relationships back up.”
Brianceau said, “Since our representatives on county council don’t get along with other members, we don’t get anything back. I was a trustee with one vote out of 17 on a school board and I brought in $20 million working with a multitude of partners; five ministries at the province and the provincial MPP.”
Maieron said the relationship is not the issue, it is actually a lack of voices representing Erin at the county level.
“We have a good relationship with the county, we’ve got a library, an ambulance and rural collection and we can improve on that,” he said.
“I’m not a politician, I can be, but I choose not to be because they take credit for what other people do. I don’t have a good relationship with some politicians – especially the back door ones.”