Agricultural, and ag-related issues dominated the all candidates evening that took place at Matilda Hall October 14, and it was questions about the proposed grain terminal along Lakeshore Drive that dominated questioning at the Iroquois meeting, October 20.
About 200 people attended each of the meetings, where for the second and third times they were able to pose questions to the nine councillor candidates, three deputy mayor candidates and two mayoral candidates seeking election to South Dundas council.
The three all candidates meetings were organized and hosted by the South Dundas Chamber of Commerce.
The first took place in Morrisburg, where seniors issues and municipal spending dominated discussions.
The nine councillor candidates vying for the three available councillor seats at the South Dundas table were first to face questions from the audience at both meetings. Those candidates include Phillip Blancher, Bill Ewing, Bert Geertsma, Robert Gillard, Jim Graham, Mahlon Locke, Archie Mellan, Jim Mills and Marc St. Pierre.
At Matilda, the bulk of discussion with the councillor candidates concerned wind projects and development issues, while the mayor candidates, Steven Byvelds and Evonne Delegarde, and deputy mayor candidates Del Jones, Jim Locke and Carl McIntyre were more focused on the grain terminal proposal.
In response to the various questions posed by the audience regarding overall agriculture and its inclusion in South Dundas economic development planning, incumbent councillor Archie Mellan stated that the municipality’s most important role for that sector is to ensure that key infrastructure (roads), drainage and fire/emergency services that farmers may need are in place and that enterprises important to the agriculture industry be accommodated. “We need to make sure we support agriculture to the best of our ability,” said Mellan.
“The best thing to do is to stay out of the way and let them run their businesses as they see fit,” said Phillip Blancher. “Keep regulation to a minimum.”
“If agriculture has issues, bring them to council and we will work with you,” said Mahlon Locke.
A few questions were asked regarding wind projects.
“This municipality needs to have a voice, whether it is listened to or not,” said Marc St. Pierre. “We need to have the best interest of our taxpayers in mind, and if they want to fight something, we need to be at the forefront.”
“I agree with Marc,” said Jim Mills. Regarding Green Energy, he added that one municipality can’t fight it on their own, but the municipalities in Ontario need to join together to make changes. “Someone has to start it, let that be South Dundas.”
“We need to listen to the wishes of the residents effected,” added Blancher. “You protest, you argue until you’re blue in the face to fight for what the people want or don’t want.”
“You have to fight the government, even though it’s hard to fight them, when you later have to beg money from them,” said Robert Gillard.
“We need to speak out, if that’s what people want,” said Bill Ewing.
“You have to take a stand and raise a lot of commotion to stop it,” said Bert Geertsma.
Asked directly if elected, if they would support the implementation of a noise bylaw for the noise from the wind turbines, Blancher said yes. He also added that he would support a bylaw for the nuisance of glare coming from solar projects.
“We need bylaws that are more stringent on developers, to ensure that people are protected,” said St. Pierre.
“I have no problem passing a bylaw, but there’s no point, if we can’t enforce it,” said Jim Graham. “If it’s something we can enforce, then by all means.”
“I agree said Bill Ewing. “I would look at it, if it’s feasible.”
Another topic raised with the councillor candidates was the waterfront plan for Morrisburg.
Blancher, who is a member of the Morrisburg Waterfront Committee, explained that the plan was designed such that small projects can be done bit by bit. “If the opportunity for funding comes along, we have to have a plan if we want to get that money.”
“Scrap the waterfront plan,” said Mills. “We have a beautiful waterfront.” Mills added that it just needs to be left alone, then all that has to be done is grass cutting.
Mellan agreed that the $7 million price tag was shocking, but added that it is important to have this plan, so that should funding come, South Dundas has this project shovel ready.
“If we don’t have the money, nothing will happen, but it is important to have a plan,” said Jim Graham, adding that if requests for projects come forward, the plan is used as guidance.
Before the focus of the Matilda meeting shifted to the Lakeshore Drive grain terminal proposal, the issue of fire master planning was brought up for the first time during these debates.
The mayor and deputy mayor candidates were asked how many full time positions are part of this fire master plan.
“That plan has pages of recommendations, and one of those recommendations is permanent staff,” said Evonne Delegarde. “We need to have a meeting to properly review the plan and look at the recommendations to see what’s in our best interest.”
Steven Byvelds explained that the plan does recommend a lot of hiring at the top end. “I’m not sure we can afford to go down that road,” he said, adding that the plan also recommended a new station for Morrisburg. “We can’t afford to go down that road.”
“There’s a rumour circulating about a full time deputy chief. I can’t see a full time deputy chief in this term of council,” said Jim Locke.
“I am concerned about the direction we are going in,” said Del Jones. He explained that during his 2006-2010 term on council, council was close to hiring a part time chief, for a proposed 30 hours per week and a used Impala car to carry out his duties. The plan was for that part time chief to work through the amalgamation of the three fire departments for two years, with the recommendation of a local full time hire as chief after that two years. “Now we have a full time fire chief, with an assistant, and that worries me,” said Jones.
Towards the end of the Matilda meeting the proposed Lakeshore Drive grain terminal issue was raised, and from then and right through the Iroquois meeting, that issue dominated discussions with some of the same people asking questions about the potential project.
“We want business to come to South Dundas,” said Steven Byvelds. “We are in the economic development game.” He explained that South Dundas has to compete with its neighbouring municipalities to attract business. “I want South Dundas to be as open as possible to business.”
If the grain terminal proposal meets all applicable law, and zoning requirements, a building permit will be issued for the project to go ahead. However, though it is not required, council has asked that before a building permit is issued, that building permit application be brought to the council table for a final debate, if and when the time comes. “The new council will have that one final opportunity for debate,” said Byvelds.
In Iroquois, the issue of staffing levels was brought up, as the deputy mayor candidates were asked to discuss staffing levels as compared to other municipalities.
According to Jim Locke, South Dundas’ administrative costs are the same as other SDG municipalities. “We’ve added to planning and enforcement to handle the $90 million worth of permits, and we don’t give the best service,” said Locke. He spoke of the successes of the fire chief and recreation programming director.
“We are spending more than we should,” said Del Jones, who said that the only way that the taxpayers benefit from an expanded tax base, is if the municipality doesn’t spend all that new assessment money.
“I am more concerned about the unproductive employees we have at the senior level,” said Carl McIntyre.
Evonne Delegarde said that with retirements and resignations, positions need to be reviewed.
Steven Byvelds spoke of the increased staffing that has been a result of the municipality taking on water and sewer services in-house, and that has been the main reason people are seeing ‘more white trucks’ on the roads’. He said that if people want more services, it takes more employees to deliver those services. “We are well-staffed at the present time,” he said. “Now we are comfortable.”