October 01, 2014

Candidates take positions on business issues

As published in the Erin Advocate

Erin election candidates had their first opportunity to publicly answer voters’ questions as the East Wellington Chamber of Commerce (EWCC) hosted an All Candidates Meeting on business issues.

The September 24 event featured 17 contenders – three running for the Mayor’s job, three for the County seat and 11 for the four Town Council positions. Candidates had just one minute each for opening statements, answers to questions and closing remarks.

Mayoral candidates were allowed to answer every question, while random groups of other candidates were selected to give answers. Only highlights are included in this article.

The first question posed by moderator Dave Doan, EWCC Vice-Chair, pointed out the importance of Main Street businesses and asked if candidates would support efforts to attract tourists, retain existing businesses and attract new ones.

Mayoral candidate Allan Alls said his answer is Yes, but noted that the Town has limited funds to spend outside its core functions.

“Most of the businesses told me, ‘Give us a 10-year plan, and then we can spend the money to look after our own businesses.’ I’m big on improving the downtown, but we have to look after our wastewater management system first.”

Rod Finnie, hoping to return as mayor, said it is important to target advertising at the people who are likely to come here.

“We have to invest in the infrastructure so it looks good, and we have to work together cooperatively to make things happen.”

Mayoral candidate David Lyver said better communication is needed with businesses.

“We have a lot of potential here,” he said, stressing the importance of lobbying for money from the provincial and federal governments to make the community better. “We are 60 km from the 11th most industrialized city in the world, and we seem to have issues. We shouldn’t have these issues.”

Council candidate Jamie Cheyne said that while infrastructure and advertising are important, the Town needs to create a attractive market that is more than just downtown Erin, with a greater choice of special events.

County candidate Pierre Brianceau said the pipeline of support from the county has been “shut down for more than ten years”, but that we should be drawing on Wellington’s economic development initiatives.

“Since the Town is in sort of dire straights, and development charges seem to be quite high, it would possibly be a good idea to have a moratorium on development charges (DCs) until the business community starts to catch up.”

Several candidates favour lower DCs as an incentive to businesses, but Finnie said DCs are reasonable compared to neighbouring towns, and warned that lower fees would mean higher taxes to make up the revenue shortfall. Porterfield said temporary tax relief might be a preferable incentive.

Council candidate Chris Naraysingh said the cost of lower DCs would be offset by improved revenue from business activity. He said the Town should be helping businesses “considerably”, adopting a more open, inviting attitude towards them, and establishing a committee to work with the county and business groups like EWCC and the BIA.

Council candidate John Brennan said he has worked with the BIA, Hills of Headwaters Tourism and the Wellington Economic Development Group where the Town could leverage help for local businesses. He supports the plan to hire an Economic Development Officer, wants to cut red tape and welcome new businesses, and says he can help “shepherd businesses through expansion”.

With limited sewage and river capacity, candidates were asked about adequate allowance for retail and industrial growth.

Finnie said he doesn’t think the idea of providing traditional sewers to 4,500 existing residents and 1,500 new ones can work. He urged the study of alternative methods including sub-surface land disposal, to allow for more effluent while still protecting the river.

Lyver suggested that growth be reallocated to the rural areas in west Erin, putting a sewage treatment plant on the Grand River watershed.

Alls said sewage capacity should be reserved first for all existing residents, and second for residential infill and business. “There’s no reason at all in the areas laid out for future development, that we not use the current half-acre for sewage treatment with septic beds – they work great in our soil.”

Council candidate Josie Wintersinger said she hopes the upcoming Environmental Assessment will provide alternatives that could include use of grey water and solar power, and which would avoid the need to dig up streets for sewers.

Council candidate Craig Porterfield said the Town should prioritize the sewage capacity to the areas that need it the most, and “apply other technologies to other sections of the Town, to reduce the need for capacity, such as separating the effluent from the biosolids and treating them separately.”

Council candidate George Silva promoted the use of alternative “green” wastewater technologies that have been successful in Europe, as a way to reduce the costs and impact of disposal.

Discussing ways to avoid ripping up Main Street, Finnie and Alls raised the possibility of a Small Bore system that would keep septic tanks, but treat the effluent. Finnie also suggested running sewer lines down Daniel Street and behind downtown stores on the opposite side, which would also create a route for a public boardwalk along the river as a tourist attraction.

County candidate Lou Maieron said it would best to phase in sewers, starting with the main streets of the two villages. He also questioned the current proposal to pave Daniel Street if it is to have a main sewer line. “You have to work cooperatively with developers, because they’re going to be looking at funding the plant, because they can’t build any houses unless they have a plant.”

Council candidate Rob Smith agreed that a river boardwalk would be a good idea and said the current use of holding tanks is a problem. He said the only alternatives appear to be the Small Bore, or the sewer pipes behind the buildings.

Council candidate Jeff Duncan said sewage capacity does not need to be reserved for all existing homes, since many have well-functioning septic systems, which would enable more capacity to be allocated to future development. He said 1,500 new residents over the next 25 years is not a sufficient growth rate.

Candidates generally agreed that the Operational Review is necessary, with Maieron reminding people that it was one of his promises in the last election. He got no support for a county review, but will push for one again if elected.

Council candidate Matt Sammut said a Town review should have been done a long time ago. “You don’t do it with a heavy hammer and make your staff feel like their jobs are threatened. We have to create a new vision for this community and the staff has to be part of it,” he said.

On a question about hostility towards business, Alls warned that if the downtown dies, property values will decline, and Silva said a friendly environment has to be established, from council to the front-line staff.

Council candidate Evelyn McLean said the Town is dying without economic development: “People need and deserve a cohesive council who can work together and move ahead on the issues before you, especially economic. Without a respectful council, you’re going to be in the same boat you’ve been in for the last four years.”

County candidate Barb Tocher said municipal governments need to be “enabling” for residents and businesses.

“When you come to council or staff, our job is to find a way to make you want to see happen, happen within the rules. That’s our job,” she said.

Council candidate Shawn Wilson said, “The Town is in what I would call dormancy, it’s not doing well. It’s time to revitalize Erin with a wider tax base in the industrial sector, also in tourism.”