Two people from Guelph-Eramosa are in the running for the 2011 Wellington County warden’s job.
Mayor Chris White and county councillor Gord Tosh put their names in for the warden’s chair during the Nov. 25 session of Wellington County council.
The Wellington County Ward 8 representative put his name forward first during announcements at the final county council meeting of the term. Tosh thanked council for the teamwork and friendship over the past four years.
“I appreciate it when we work together on committees. We each have a role to play, to get things done,” he said. He also thanked those who worked with him on the social services committee.
“There’s been a lot of challenges, and so many provincial changes.”
Tosh said there were also some exciting projects, such as the Dominion Building restoration/renovation, which was “a great project and a great place for our staff to work.”
He also mentioned the Fergusson Place affordable housing project in the north end of Fergus.
“It was a great thing and we made a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “They now have a place they can call home.”
Since restructuring, Tosh said the county has assumed a lot of new services – some through amalgamations, and some as a result of provincial decisions.
“A lot of that is under control now,” he explained, adding the relationship with the OPP is working well, and new police stations have been built or are being built.
Tosh also noted, “We’re well on the way to solving a lot of the problems we inherited as we took over the landfill sites and their environmental issues.”
He added the library system is almost finished being brought up to date.
Tosh then pointed to the new child care and learning centre in Mount Forest, and noted the roads system is being updated.
“As I look back at what’s been going on, we’ve been really very busy. When we actively took on all these new responsibilities, we put a lot of things into place,” he said.
Now is a time when a lot of the new services taken on are maturing, he said. “We’ve had an opportunity not to just react to those issues, but a chance to get ahead of them.”
He referred to the Green Legacy Program, the Active Transportation Plan and studies on poverty and the homeless.
“I believe we are poised at this time, and I’d like to lead us as we move ahead at this time to create an environment our children will inherit.”
He advocated continuation of the county’s green program – whether it involves decisions to use less water or insulate more buildings – “to be a leader in our community.”
He said recent surveys also show that the economy remains on everyone’s minds.
“We need to ensure that Wellington is a place where people want to work and want to make a home for their business.”
He said it does not matter whether it is tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, or the service sector, “We need to identify the barriers in our community that are preventing our economy from growing – and tear them down.”
He said that will require working with business organizations.
“Another key thing in the next four years is to approach the City of Guelph, and to seek a return to a good working relationship.”
He said if it means attending its meetings, or meeting with its councillors, “I want to be there. It’s just too expensive to continue in the litigious manner that we have been.”
He said Wellington needs to work with Guelph to protect its most vulnerable citizens.
“They are the ones who are at risk if we fail to work together on social services or ambulance issues.”
Tosh said he has 20 years of municipal experience with the township of old Eramosa and the County of Wellington.”
He commented on the closure of W.C. Woods, where he was a supervisor, and said he has not taken a full-time position since then in order to allow him to make the warden’s position “a full-time commitment.
“As warden, I will not have to divide my time with an employer, business, or township council.”
Tosh said he would consider it an honour to lead Wellington County during this exciting time.
Guelph-Eramosa Mayor White is also seeking the warden’s job.
“It’s an honour to be here, I’m going to run for warden, and I think it is a privilege where we have an opportunity to follow these democratic pursuits.”
He said it was wonderful working with the folks around the council chamber and am looking forward to working with the new folks.
“First of all, I am a fairly busy guy, but I absolutely have time for this job. It will be a 100% commitment. I’ve set myself up for that.”
White added he has the “experience, the passion, and the energy. I think this is a job that is not an entitlement, it has to be earned.”
He said he has spent time trying to “reach beyond the walls of this chamber.”
Those include being a member of Wellington County Farm Safety, teaching safety to children across the county;, Community Futures, helping to create jobs within the county;, helping to set up the Rural Ontario Institute now in Wellington, which will look after rural issues.
“And with the warden’s help, I initiated the economic development committee, which I think will fill a big gap in the county. We need to know where we are to know economically where we are going.”
White said, “There are several issues facing us. The City of Guelph is obviously a huge one. I have a unique relationship with Guelph, being a member of a border municipality.”
While he has met with city council and knows its members, White said “We need to be firm and fair in that relationship as we figure out where we are going – keeping the interests of Wellington County in mind.”
White said there are many other issues facing the county.
He commented on the GTA west corridor. “They want to run a 400 series highway through the county. There are rural transportation issues across the county – from accessibility to active transportation. This is a major problem for all rural municipalities.”
White said seniors and demographics is another challenge being faced.
He stressed this is not just a social services issue, but will affect a number of services in the county.
White also commented on the provincial funding, which was supposed to balance out the added services being imposed on the county.
“That is under threat, and we need to make sure that money still exists, or it will have a huge effect on property taxes.”
White said more work is needed to chase the provincial gas tax for rural areas.
He said the federal gas tax for municipalities expires in 2014 and the county needs to pursue that, too, to ensure that continues.
Another area includes the farm tax rebate and more work is needed to ensure more funds come back from the province, rather than having local property taxes cover everything.
“The property tax is an incredibly regressive system, monitored by MPAC which is a relatively dysfunctional system.”
He said, “We need to work on those systems and we need to get them changed. We need to talk to the province to do that.”
He said the Green Energy Act has many positive and negative aspects.
“It’s caused a lot of difficulty in this county.”
He also contended the potential doubling of hydro rates “will put this province out of business.”
That is something that affects Wellington directly, and White said a plan needs to be in place.
He said changes to the Local Health Integration Networks and the potential impact to hospitals will affect all residents.
“There’s a lot of stuff to deal with – and Guelph is an absolute priority. But we are not defined by our relationship with Guelph.”
He contended that another big issue will be the 2011 provincial election.
With White’s positions on AMO and ROMA, he said he sits at the same table and speaks directly with the ministers.
“I can provide a voice for Wellington County. We need to get stuff onto their election platforms that we believe are of value to the county. Now is the time to strike, when the iron is hot. It matters a lot.”
White said the financial long term viability of small municipalities is not good.
He stated the situation of Guelph-Eramosa is not so bad because of its proximity to the GTA.
However he said other areas and communities in the north, the fiscal capacities are very limited. “We need to bring them to the table and we need to make it a major election issue. That said, we need to keep the county taxes at inflation. We need to maintain fiscal capacity, and not get behind.”
He said there were good building programs in past years, “and I think we’ve caught up on a lot of the capital programs. But we need to continue work on our basic infrastructure.”
“The warden needs to be a leader, not a manager. We need of vision of what we want the county to look like in five, ten, fifteen, and twenty years.”
He said part of that comes out of economic development, which affects everything else.
While White sees a lot of challenges, and he sees a lot of opportunities in Wellington.
“What you don’t want to do is miss those opportunities.”
The election of the warden is set for Dec. 10 at 11am.
Following the election, a reception will be held across the road at the River Run Centre in Guelph.