South Dundas mayor looks backward and forward with a fresh perspective

Mayor Steven Byvelds (The Leader/Blancher photo)

SOUTH DUNDAS – Taking a year-end look back at 2018 with South Dundas Mayor Steven Byvelds, provided a little different perspective than usual, since for most of 2018 he was on the outside looking in at the municipality’s political scene.

Returning December 1st to the mayor’s seat that he held from 2010 to 2014, Byvelds told The Leader, that he hadn’t really anticipated returning to the chair.

“My goal wasn’t really to be back at council. Had this group (the sixth council), done a decent job through their four years, I don’t think I would have ran,” said Byvelds. “People were upset. I was upset. I just felt the need to give that alternative.”

Providing that alternative for South Dundas voters got him re-elected in October.

Although he was not part of the last council, he was paying close attention to what was going on at the council table.

Asked what decisions were made over the last year by the previous council that he saw as positive he said, “There were so many poor decisions that it clouded everything else, which meant that the good stuff was forgotten about very quickly.”

He went on to say that obviously not everything they did was bad. “We’ve gotten to where we are, and South Dundas is not in super terrible shape.”

“It’s just that their indecisiveness and being challenged to make the right decision at the right time bogged them down and it dominated the news cycle.”

“They just didn’t do a good job at managing the municipality. But what’s done is done. Let’s learn from the lessons they’ve provided us,” said Byvelds.

He did identify the implementation of the new Community Improvement Plan as a positive step forward that this council can take a grasp of. “The CIP is something that will show benefits down the road. That program will prove its worthiness,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting it up and running and making sure it’s done right.”

Asked what the biggest challenge the municipality will face in the coming year, Byvelds was quick to answer quite simply: “Money.”

For all the important work that needs be done, he said that they will have to carefully analyze and scrutinize and prioritize.

“From my point of view, the people of South Dundas have been a little over-taxed for a number of years. Can I rectify that? I don’t know. But, we need to get a good handle on the finances once the year-end goes through. We’ll see what the reserves are sitting like, and we’ll go from there.”

“All the big issues are going to take some money and planning.”

Getting up to speed on landfill issues, and planning for road infrastructure needs are obvious priorities, but Byvelds knows that most of the directors have projects sitting on their desks that they have been waiting for decisions to move on.

“We’ve gone through the building file, and we’re planning on spending half a million dollars there over the next four years. And that’s just on the capital stuff. The buildings still need to be maintained.”

The roads and landfill files are the other big areas that the new council will be looking at.

Fire is another big-ticket department, but Byvelds believes that department is pretty well off right now.

Although the task ahead is significant Byvelds said: “We just need to come up with a plan. I think it will be a challenge for the first two years, but we’ll get through it.”

“We will prioritize and do what we need to do to get things done.”

Byvelds knows that this council has a different vision and a different focus on how things need to be done.

“And, that’s a good thing,” he says. “The same old, same old is good to a point, but every once in a while we need to revitalize how things get done.”

This council did inherit a number of specific, outstanding issues, and Byvelds discussed working toward resolving those issues.

Regarding Carman House, he said they now have the information, they just need make a decision, which they are planning to do in January.

Forward House has been inspected by council. “So we have an idea what we’re facing,” he said. But there has been no council discussion regarding the building yet.

The Historical Society of South Dundas, to which the Friends of the Forward House group belong, will be coming to council in January, which will probably lead into discussions regarding Forward House. “We’ll see where it goes from there,” he added.

The last council approved three projects in September, and all of those projects have been delayed, mainly due to weather.

“They did get good pricing on those projects,” said Byvelds. The projects include Pigeon Island Road reconstruction, the Ottawa Street sidewalk project and the South Dundas Municipal Centre parking lot expansion.

“Pigeon Island Road will get done,” said Byvelds. He also said that he sees the Ottawa Street sidewalk project as a “worthy project.”

The parking lot expansion project however is one that he thinks council should discuss.

“There have been a lot of discussions generated around that expansion project and whether or not it’s needed,” said Byvelds. “Council will have a discussion to see if we want to continue with it,” he said, adding that part of that discussion will be understanding what the ramifications are if they decide not to go ahead with it.

Other files such as schools, long term care, and the Dutch Meadows subdivision file are also important issues that Byvelds knows the municipality will need to keep up to speed on.

For right now, the workload on council is heavy, but they are all keen to get to work. They will meet four times this month, and next month will have a number of budget meetings.

Although this council has only been working together for a month, Byvelds says it’s going well so far. “We all bring something different to the table, and we are all very respectful of our differences,” said Byvelds. “I don’t see why we can’t move forward in a direction that makes sense to us all.”

From what he sees, everyone is comfortable with their new roles and they are learning quite quickly. He said that staff also seem to be adapting well to working with this new group.

Over the next four years Byvelds wants to see a shift away from, “the same old way of doing things,” for the sake of finding a way to do things better.

“That’s actually a pretty bold statement from a person who is pretty set in his ways like me,” said Byvelds. But, he said, four years sitting on the sidelines have given him a bit of a new and different perspective.

“Now it’s time to pick up where we left off, and do better.”

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