January 18, 2012

Mayor urges more community involvement

As published in The Erin Advocate

The mayor says Erin could have a better sense of community, and be more successful in achieving its political goals, if more residents got involved in public affairs.

"You elected me to represent you, but that does not absolve you of the right to participate in a democracy," said Lou Maieron, in a speech last Thursday to the Rotary Club of Erin.

"Because a lot of people don't participate, you get the government you get. And I'll tell you, it is the government you deserve. So get involved – it's your town. If you want to change it, to make it better, you have a mechanism to do so."

There is a dynamic split, he said, between the communities in south Wellington (Erin and Rockwood) and those in the central and northern areas of the county. It is not only that southern residents pay a much higher share of county taxes, since their real estate values are higher.

"In Erin particularly, we have the highest migratory commuting rate, 60 to 75 per cent of people come in and out of this town, they don't work in this town, they don't shop in this town as much as they should.

"We also have, and don't take this the wrong way, not as much of a sense of community. In the north, you have a 5 to 10 per cent commuting rate, and the sense of community is much stronger.

"I would say that that's why the north is much more successful at county politics, in achieving more, because they are more unified. Everyone's in the canoe, paddling in the same direction more or less. They avoid the icebergs or the waterfalls, more so than sometimes we do, because we are disconnected, the pillars are not talking to each other.

"I would like to try to strengthen the town by having groups work together for common good and a common purpose."

He said if people feel certain expenditures are not a good use of taxpayer dollars, they should contact their elected councillors. But he pointed out that for a project like the $100,000 improvement to the library at Centre 2000, if the money is not spent in Erin, it will be spent somewhere else in the county.

In the next three years, he hopes to "move the ball forward" on economic development. Erin does have an Economic Development Committee, but its budget and scope are limited, and there are no staff specifically allocated to that area.

Instead of it being a citizen-based advisory group, Maieron hopes to create a council committee, with the clout and budget to undertake more aggressive marketing of the Town. A staff review of all aspects of economic development is being done.

"In the north, where they have a greater sense of community, they invest heavily in economic development. It is usually a committee of council and residents, chaired by the mayor, with a directive to encourage business and welcome business to the town...we don't have the best reputation for that – I hear about it quite regularly.

"We need jobs. It balances out the commuting population. We have a town that was built on bringing in people with some affluence that built what I call mini-mansions, starter castles starting at $800,000. We brought in a lot of that, which is good because they are people with money that want to do business.

"We didn't build a lot in between, because we didn't have servicing, and then we have the older part of town. So we have the rich, a little middle class and the poor – the poorer.

"It is reflected in opening a Tim Hortons and 450 people applying for part-time work. We need to create more opportunities. From a tax base perspective, having most of your taxes coming from the residential core is not sustainable, because your commercial-industrial properties create a higher tax ratio, and they also create jobs.

"We can be a place where our growth is sort of frozen outside of what we have in the urban boundary. That could attract a lot of people to come into Erin, spend the day, spend the weekend. Spend your money and go home. So we can become a net cash cow. We have a wonderful Main Street, the envy of most of the municipalities in the county, but we can build on that."