Transition Erin hosted an all candidates meeting here on Oct. 6, with close to half of the questions related to the environment and climate change.
Not surprisingly, all 11 town councillor hopefuls described climate change as an important issue and felt there are steps the town could take to mitigate global warming.
About 200 people attended the meeting at the Erin Legion, during which candidates also seemed in general agreement on a number of other topics.
Those include the importance of completing an operational review and forming an improved committee system, as well as the need to attract “light” industrial businesses and to come up with a fiscally-responsible solution to the town’s wastewater issues.
Consensus aside, there were some questions to which candidates offered fundamentally distinct responses.
Better value for taxes
Candidates had several ideas when asked how the town could get better value for its tax dollars.
Jamie Cheyne said an operational review will provide the best information on how tax dollars are used and where savings could be had. He also advocated eliminating duplication in town operations.
Matt Sammut championed improved recreational facilities and programs for residents, including development of bicycle paths and trails and making better use of the Credit River.
Shawn Wilson bemoaned the town’s number of gravel roads and advocated paving more of them. He also expressed dissatisfaction with the amount of money spent on the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan (SSMP), opining town officials could have done the work themselves.
George Silva questioned why the town has its own planners when it already pays the county for those services. He also noted there are two arena managers, one each in Erin and Hillsburgh, when there should be one manager for both.
Josie Wintersinger said road projects, notably paving, should be a priority and added the town’s recreation department is not run efficiently because it is over staffed.
Rob Smith said the operational review will provide the best idea of where savings could be found. He also added there could be considerable savings found in energy costs.
John Brennan also supported an energy conservation plan and echoed the sentiment that more roads need to be paved.
Christopher Naraysingh said energy conservation initiatives could save a lot of money. He also suggested an operational review could help address town staffing issues.
Evelyn McLean also spoke in favour of an operational review and said town roads are “sadly neglected.” She also said municipal legal fees are increasing and noted council’s code of ethics has cost taxpayers a “small fortune” over the last year.
Jeff Duncan suggested the town should get rid of the code of ethics – or at least change it significantly if council can’t agree to abolish it. He also said the town needs to seek some financial return from any bottled water companies in the municipality.
Craig Porterfield expressed frustration with having town plows running “when there’s no snow on the road,” and he said the town should also rectify inequities in the Centre 2000 shared-use agreement.
Councillor candidates also had a few different answers when quizzed about the one goal they would pursue, if elected, during their first year on council.
Silva said he would like to change the culture on council and address the “toxic environment” that currently exists at the town municipal office.
Wilson had a similar response, vowing to “clean up” the town office and eliminate conflicts of interest at the municipality.
Wintersinger, Smith, McLean and Naraysingh all listed an operational review as one of their top priorities.
Brennan said he would like to form a committee and come up with an economic development plan for the town.
Duncan listed public participation and consultation as one of his priorities, suggesting council meetings could be taken “on the road” once in a while and held in various locations throughout the municipality.
Porterfield said he wants to form a site alteration review committee, while Cheyne favoured the formation of a community liaison committee.
Sammut listed a solution to the town’s SSMP issues as his top priority, noting the municipality has spent $500,000 already with no solutions to show for it.
When asked if they would be in favour of establishing a committee “strictly” to look into renewable energy options and energy conservation, all but one candidate replied with little more than a simple “yes.”
Duncan said he would not favour such a committee – at least not until after an operational review was completed. He also noted that issues of energy conservation and renewal could be incorporated into the town’s exiting environmental committee.
Candidates were also asked whether a centralized sewage system is the best option for the municipality.
Brennan said regardless of the final solution the issue needs to be addressed. He said he likes the idea of a performance-based EA process and stressed the town needs to be working now to obtain funding.
Naraysingh said he does not believe in proceeding with a large-scale sewage system and noted it is essential to receive two-thirds funding for any project from the provincial and federal governments.
McLean said the town needs a “centralized plan” but more investigation is needed on the type of system, which could possibly include “green” technology.
Duncan said the feasibility of a new system depends largely on increasing the amount of future growth in the municipality. He also stressed the need for a funding partnership on the project.
Porterfield said the cost for a centralized system “scares” him and he suggested residents will move from the town “just to avoid paying for this.” He favoured “small-bore” septic systems.
Cheyne also liked the idea of small-bore septic systems in downtowns and said residents shouldn’t get caught up on a suggested price tag of $65 million. “It’s not going to happen if that’s the cost,” he said.
Sammut said the town, which can’t dig up its main streets again, needs to look at alternatives. He added officials need a “good story” to make their case for funding to upper levels of government.
Wilson said he is not in favour of a centralized system, instead favouring small, segregated systems for the town’s industrial base and downtowns. He said the town must look into new technologies.
Silva said a centralized system, with its “astronomical” cost, should be the last option. He said the province needs to provide funding and noted wetlands can play a key role as a natural filter for wastewater.
Wintersinger said people can’t grasp the $65-million figure. She stated the municipality does not need a centralized system, noting there are a lot of other options available.
Smith agreed there is a lot of “great technology” available – and not necessarily for a centralized system. However, industrial areas and the downtowns do need their own systems, he added.