MORRISBURG – Asked what he is most proud of looking back at 2019 municipal proceedings, South Dundas mayor Steven Byvelds was quick to answer.
“I’m most proud of how we have come together as council and staff to look at new ideas for South Dundas,” said Byvelds during the recent year-end interview with The Leader.
Byvelds said that council’s goal is to leave South Dundas better off at the end of each year and at the end of this term of council.
“We want people to see that we’ve accomplished a lot.”
“This year we have really tried to move things forward that were behind,” said Byvelds acknowledging that they have not yet caught up.
“But, when I look back, we can not be accused of doing nothing.”
Catching up is what Byvelds says has been the biggest challenge for council this year.
Asked if a year into this term of council he expected to still be regularly discussing Carman House, the Iroquois rink building and campground building, his answer is quick and straightforward — “No.”
“Those are files that have been challenging. In theory, they could have been done, but they’re not, so we’re working through them. Hopefully, within the early part of 2020 most of them will be dealt with.”
Another big challenge for this council is the landfill issue that has long been bubbling and this year reached the boiling point when the province ordered the early closure of the Williamsburg landfill site.
Council is facing a number of important decisions as they decide on the path forward for the potential expansion of the Matilda waste disposal site, the future of the Williamsburg site and significant changes to waste diversion (recycling). The mayor said that a key move in that department will be hiring someone with waste management experience to provide council with knowledge and expertise in that realm.
“We need someone in that department who has the past experience to give us that guidance,” said Byvelds.
As a main priority goal for the coming year, Mayor Byvelds said that it is definitely setting the path forward for waste management and landfills.
“We have to figure out how we are going to get to where we need to get to,” said Byvelds. “As much as we have a desire to expand the Matilda site, if we do it, we need to make sure it’s done right to make sure the value is there for what we are going to spend.”
“I see big changes in how we manage waste in South Dundas. We have to look at every avenue. Not only how we are going to manage that department from a staff point of view, but also from a residential point of view and a commercial point of view. We need to step up to the plate and figure out how we are going to deal with our garbage as a society.”
Landfill is not the only large project on the horizon, but it is the most pressing.
This year, council has spent a significant amount of time on staffing. Was that expected?
“Yes and no,” said Byvelds. “We all knew there were issues coming in after the election. People had criticisms and we wanted to see if we could right the ship in the right direction — in a direction that would make us work better together.”
“The biggest things we needed to focus on, customer satisfaction and customer service, I can comfortably say right now that we have made significant progress,” said Byvelds.
In the past year, a new chief building official is in place, and there are new strategies in place for planning and municipal drains.
Heading into the new year, council continues to work toward filling senior staff positions in the areas of waste management and recreation and facilities.
“Investing in human resources is what we need to take South Dundas to the next level. We can’t just say that things are good enough. There are opportunities out there and the only way those opportunities will come to us is if we work for them. Sometimes you have to invest some money to recoup the benefits.”
Action plans are in place for other potential large projects which include the Morrisburg street-scape, Ontario Street reconstruction and water tower refurbishments, if and when opportunities to move forward present themselves pending successful funding/tenders.
In terms of new projects for this council, Byvelds sees council’s commitment to economic development and bringing the tourism portfolio back in-house as part of economic development as a good step forward. “That department and those committees have really come up with some good ideas that will move us forward,” said Byvelds. “We are going to be more visible and that will be a good focus for us for the next 2-3 years.”
Overall, looking back at 2019 Byvelds said, “The past year has been more work than I anticipated. I’m not blaming anyone for that. It’s just a result of us being fairly aggressive as a council meaning that we and staff have had to put in a lot of work to try and get things done.”
Byvelds doesn’t think council is yet where they want to be with their progress.
“However, I know that I have a good council to work with and I have a good staff to work with. It’s just a matter of time until we get to where we want to be,” said Byvelds.
As South Dundas mayor, Byvelds, along with deputy mayor Kirsten Gardner serves on Counties council.
Looking at the upper-tier municipality Byvelds says that overall things are going well at that level. “We had a good year with a relatively new council,” he said. Counties council experienced more turn-over of members than ever during the last election.
“With that turn-over there has come some new ideas and new ways of looking at things and that’s always a good thing,” said Byvelds.
“Most residents are fairly happy with the counties services we get,” said Byvelds.
While things are working fairly well, Byvelds says that the turnover has meant that not everyone at the counties council table is focused on the big picture.
“When I go to the counties I look at what’s good for the counties – not just South Dundas,” said Byvelds.
Asked if everyone at the table is doing that, Byvelds said “No. I don’t think everyone has the background or experience to think that way.”
He said that Association of Municipalities of Ontario training which was not offered here after this election would go a long way to helping all members of council.
“I’ve always learned a lot from those sessions and think that would have been a great benefit,” he said.