“We won’t change South Dundas overnight, but we do need to grow. How we grow is something that we will all have to work on,” said Steven Byvelds during his first year end review as Mayor of South Dundas, just 12 months ago.
On December 16th, Byvelds had the opportunity to discuss and report on just how much South Dundas has changed in the past year, good or bad, and what council’s plans include for 2012.
Old High School
The refurbishment of the old high school, according to Byvelds, was and continues to be the big news item for this particular South Dundas council. He reported that, for the most part, he is hearing good comments from the public.
Byvelds revealed that council is looking forward to the completion of the project, saying, “it holds great promise and hopefully we don’t hit too many roadblocks.”
He reiterated council’s stance on the reasoning behind the project, saying, “this building (in Williamsburg) was in theory a temporary building.” In any case, he also pointed out that council’s needs have “outgrown” the present building.
In terms of how this move will affect Williamsburg, Byvelds admitted that “from a municipal point of view, it will be good. From a Williamsburg point of view, it’s another thing leaving.”
He suggested that council will “work with them (residents) to see what we can bring here” to Williamsburg.
Byvelds admitted that, most often, South Dundas residents remark on the seeming favoritism toward Morrisburg and Iroquois.
He reminded reporters that “council is always concerned that we have to think of all of South Dundas.” However, “we aren’t really growing as a community. Morrisburg and Iroquois are growing.”
In terms of tightening the belts in 2012, Byvelds said, “it will be a little tighter of a year. Economically when things change in the world, we have to recognize that as a council, and work within those parameters.”
“Going forward, we’re certainly going to have to look at our budget. We don’t have the growth or the high income jobs.”
“I don’t see us overspending, but we have to do what we have to do to not get behind.”
For example, “we want to do something in Industrial Park (in Morrisburg). We think that is a good investment. We need to invest to get that going.”
He finished the discussion on budget concerns, reminding reporters of two things: “we’re in a very healthy fiscal position,” and, “growth has to pay for itself.”
Iroquois Golf Course
“It’s one less thing that we as council have to worry about,” said Byvelds, referring to the Iroquois Golf Course and the lengthy controversy that surrounded it.
“I think we were as open as we could be concerning that.” Referencing public meetings devoted to the issue, he continued, “we gave people an opportunity to voice their concerns.”
“They have a two-year lease there. They have the possibility of looking at development. It’s their business. They’ve paid their bills.”
“From a municipal point of view, we were looking at another 50 grand easy and we weren’t prepared to do that.”
In discussing some of the improvements made during 2011, Byvelds talked about the boil water advisory protocol that was initiated. He referred to the drinking water and wastewater systems being upgraded and he talked of the study being done on the storm drain systems.
“Hopefully it will not only be better for the community, but it will hopefully drive more people into the community.”
Byvelds was asked to comment on how he thought the election of PC Jim McDonell would affect South Dundas considering that the province is run by a Liberal Premier.
Byvelds responded, saying, McDonell “will have his work cut out for him. It was easier for Jim Brownell. 99 per cent of rural MPs are progressive conservative. It will have its challenges. The money is not going to flow as easily. He has a tougher row to hoe.”
Byvelds reminded reporters that he would be attending the Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference in February and, he noted, “the Premier will be there that day.”
Working as Warden
Byvelds assured reporters that he did not let his decisions as Warden for the United Counties interfere with his responsibilities as Mayor for South Dundas and, vice versa.
“When I’m for South Dundas, I’m thinking about what is best for South Dundas,” he said.
Byvelds pointed out that “lots of systems within our society are trust. You’ve got to have some trust in society.”
New Fire Chief
In January 2011, a new fire chief was hired, uniting the three South Dundas fire stations of Morrisburg, Iroquois, and Williamsburg. Byvelds stated: “Fire Chief McDonough has really done a good job. He’s getting our three stations working on the same page. Chris has brought a lot of expertise in fire prevention and how things should be done on scenes.”
“It’s been fully demonstrated that when we have to work with other municipalities that we have one point person. As council, we needed that,” he explained.
In assessing the new South Dundas Fire and Emergency Services, Byvelds said, “I think we’re starting to sinc up. It was an investment we had to do. It was just the right move to do. We did our research.”
He maintained that the decision was based on safety, not politics.
Byvelds pointed out that “after a year, we haven’t heard any significant negatives.”
Byvelds maintained that council’s objectives have been and continue to be “reinvestment, to not raise taxes, and to keep community involved.”
He advised patience, saying, “You can’t expect those 10 issues to be dealt with in one day.” He wasn’t referring to any issues in particular, just the speed at which issues get resolved.
Byvelds believes that “overall, council has worked well together.”
He admitted, “we don’t always agree,” but, he continued, he would be concerned if they did always agree.
Attendance at Meetings
When asked how he felt about the low turnout of residents at the regular council meetings, Byvelds pointed out, “they’re always concerned for the most part, but if they feel things are going well” then they don’t feel the need to show up.
Byvelds told reporters that “the strategic plan will be rolled out in the new year. Council is hoping that the community does get involved.”
He hopes the plan is “steered more by the community rather than by the council.”
“Give us an idea of where you want to go with South Dundas,” he invited.
He pointed out that this plan is meant to cover all of South Dundas, including the smaller rural communities. He also said that council wants to hear from “everybody, not just the special interest groups.”
According to Byvelds, council is interested in learning about the attitudes of South Dundas residents and what it is “they want to grow in South Dundas.”
He would remind everyone: “It’s not council’s plan; it’s your plan.”
There were “a lot of good things” in 2011. As Byvelds pointed out, the Iroquois Golf Course situation was resolved, council successfully completed their first budget, and council reinvested in the community.
Looking ahead to 2012, Byvelds admits that the “budget is going to be a challenge.” He and council want to “reinvest in the community without bankrupting the community.”
He maintains that it is important to “always have a vision.” And, in addition, he wants council to continue being open to new ideas from staff, as well as from the community.