The people have spoken.
And for the most part, residents in Puslinch will see the return of the current slate of council members.
Puslinch Mayor Dennis Lever will be returning to council after garnering 57 per cent of local votes in Monday night’s municipal election.
In hard numbers, Lever garnered 1,301 votes, while opponent Brad Whitcombe received 980 votes.
The contest was between the current Puslinch mayor and the man he unseated in the 2010 election.
Lever said that while going door to door this campaign he’s had the chance to hear more from local residents.
Along with issues of taxation, Lever said rural garbage pickup remains a concern with local residents.
During the previous campaign he heard a 50-50 split, but today the split now seems closer to 75% of residents favouring rural pickup, he said.
As a member of Wellington County’s solid waste committee he believes it is something that needs to be dealt with in solid waste’s new master plan.
Lever believes there will be significant financial challenges for the township in the coming term.
Part of that, he said, is because of the impact of the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund on municipalities which are financially healthy.
Lever believes in the future less of that money will be directed to Puslinch and instead to municipalities with a more proven need.
“That is one of the reasons why I am putting a lot of effort into raising the aggregate levy.”
He added “We’re going to have to look at more revenues than just the tax base.”
Lever noted Puslinch is continuing its work on master plans for recreation and fire services.
“They will both have to be dealt with in the next year or two,” he said.
He noted one thing he’d hoped to accomplish in the current term of council was a review of the township’s comprehensive zoning bylaw.
“It’s been around a long time and it’s time we addressed this,” said Lever.
Whitcombe said he’d felt really good talking to people during the current campaign.
“To me, I found there is a real longing to getting back to celebrating our community.”
He said he believed people are weary of “scare tactics,” percentages and numbers being thrown about.
“People want to talk about the future of our community. They want to get back to celebrating the unique community that Puslinch is.”
Whitcombe said “in Puslinch almost every amenity was built by the people through fundraising efforts. A lot of folks are now feeling like they are being left out.”
He wants to see the return of the community spirit he feels is slipping away.
“I think it can be done in a responsible way, like we have always done in a responsible way.” He said “everyone needs to pay taxes, but we need to get value for it, I think that is what is missing.”
As to the next term, Whitcombe hopes to see more openness and re-engagement with the community.
“We need to have an honest dialogue with the community and let them know the facts of the matter.”
Whitcombe would like to see more community input into the budget process and talking about long-range plans when the Morriston bypass finally happens and when area aggregate operations end.
“A mayor has to show leadership, but has to remember he is also a servant of the people.
“He or she is there is at the good grace of the community.”
Whitcombe said regardless of the outcome “we are going to have a really strong council because there are some excellent candidates for council members.”
As for councillors, this election essentially means a return of the current slate of office with one exception.
Incumbents Wayne Stokley, Susan Fielding and Ken Roth were returned to office, while former councillor Matthew Bulmer topped the polls as he fills the spot of retiring councillor Jerry Schmidt.
Ken Roth said the campaign was good, though it seemed a bit long this year for some reason.
“It was a good campaign and everyone campaigned hard.”
Roth added, “we had a lot of good candidates and the race was pretty close.”
In the coming term Roth hoped to see council continue the course it is on – with fair tax increases and looking after the infrastructure.
“I look forward to working with everybody.”
In reference to council as being almost the same group as before, Roth commented, “I guess maybe the people were happy with us … I don’t know how you would interpret it.”
He was surprised to hear some of the other results around Wellington County.
“It will be quite interesting … but the voter is never wrong.”
Matthew Bulmer was quite grateful to have the support of the community. He noted much of the day following the election was spent travelling the township to pick up election signs.
He too was proud of the number and quality of candidates this time around.
As to the future, Bulmer would like to see a review of the council code of conduct to see if it could be formatted into something which would be easier to understand.
Susan Fielding was pleased her campaign was able to bring forward issues that were important to the community and the need to get back to community-centred government.
And even though it seems there is little change to the council roster, she felt the election of Bulmer will shift the balance of power at council.
“There will be three independent voices ready to speak up rather than ally themselves with the mayor all the time,” said Fielding.
There are a number of smaller items which Fielding would like to see introduced – such as an ongoing mayor’s report to inform council of what is happening at Wellington County council “which is where the vast majority of tax dollars are spent.”
Other items she’d like to see include a policy to automatically waive fees for all-candidate meetings.
Plus there are the bigger issues which still need to be addressed, such as the Highway 6 bypass, the gravel pit issue and the need for Puslinch to find more lands that can be developed.
In addition, she looks forward to seeing the results of the township recreation and fire master plans.
Wayne Stokley also considered it a good campaign.
This marked his third time out, and again he tried knocking on every door, traversing on foot or by bicycle.
It took him roughly a month and provided him the opportunity for good discussion with residents.
Taxes are still the number one issue for many residents and he said he hopes to continue work to keep any increases to a minimum.
Noting there are people new to the area expecting similar services as their previous municipalities, Stokley asked those same people whether they preferred living in the city or in a rural area.
Stokley is also pleased the new council is comprised of veteran councillors.
He said because of that, there won’t be the same learning curve as the previous election where there were four new members of council.
“It took us about a year to get our act into gear,” he quipped.