MORRISBURG – The final meeting of the Seventh Council of the Municipality of South Dundas wasn’t all business: it ended with thank yous and goodbyes.
Municipal staff presented all members who are exiting their roles with a road sign to commemorate the team’s service to South Dundas.
At the end of what was the 123rd meeting of this council, Mayor Steven Byvelds, who opted to retire, rather than seek re-election, allowed everyone the opportunity to share their final remarks.
Byvelds was later asked by The Leader – why were you compelled to return for this term and why was it important for you to exit this time on your own terms?
“I, along with many others, felt that the Sixth Council floundered under ineffective leadership and the municipality was going backwards,” answered Byvelds. “As much as I needed to be told to ‘smarten up’ by losing an election, I still felt I could do a better job. I think everyone who runs likes to leave on their own terms as it is a much better feeling than losing. I also think politicians need to know when to quit; I am wise enough to know that for me it was now.”
This for Byvelds is a retirement. “For the record, I will not be returning to South Dundas politics. I contributed for 12 years over 16 years of my life which I believe is enough of my lifetime to dedicate to this job. Once you hit a certain point in your life, you will know the right amount of time and I believe I am there.”
At the November 1 meeting, Byvelds had much to say in his final remarks.
“We have been a busy council, inheriting a disaster from the Sixth Council. But, we put our heads down and got to work,” said Byvelds.
Starting in January 2019 with a strategic plan to guide them through their four year term, priorities included asset management planning, economic growth, supporting schools and medical clinics, engaging the community and improving communications and governance and staff relations.
The group went on to complete an asset management plan. “Even if it is severely underfunded, it does give the new council something to work with,” said Byvelds.
The list of accomplishments of this new council included refurbishing South Dundas’ two water towers and securing approval for a minor expansion of the Matilda landfill site. “That expansion will give the new council time to plan for a transfer station and for new ways to deal with waste,” said Byvelds.
Council approved redoing as many roads as possible with funds available including a full reconstruction of Ontario Street, which proved a stark reminder of just how expensive it is to repair village streets.
Although not yet complete they approved and moved forward with the replacement of Taylor Road bridge.
“We did well in economic development with the help of our economic development and tourism advisory committees,” said Byvelds. The industrial park in Morrisburg is sold out.
This council is also responsible for coming up with a fair way to finance the wastewater pumping station in Dutch Meadows which is progressing well.
Having taken office only a year before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the group shifted gears quickly to adapt to the new reality. “We continued to work with our businesses during the Covid lockdown and through the aftermath,” said Byvelds.
He was complimentary about how much the tourism industry has flourished. “Tourism has sparkled and we now have many events happening in South Dundas,” he said, naming Harmony Concerts at the Winery, as the biggest of all, bringing many new people to experience South Dundas.
Also taking place during this term of council is a major expansion of Ross Video in Iroquois which will bring more jobs to the community.
Looking at the other strategic priorities, Byvelds said, “We continued our work on the rural school file through the SDG Counties, and I believe it will continue due to the solid work done.”
“We tried our best with the medical clinic, gaining one doctor. However, we did lose the Iroquois site,” said Byvelds. “It was challenging for our doctor recruitment committee to get anywhere considering the Province was not a willing partner.”
Prior to the pandemic, council was able to hold a new ‘Coffee with Council’ series of meetings that were well-received and appreciated.
“We did our best through COVID and after, and I expect the new council will carry that torch further,” said Byvelds.
In his assessment, Byvelds said that communications was probably this term’s achilles heel, causing the most complaints. “I encouraged staff to work with our new council to see if improvements can be made in this area,” suggested Byvelds.
All-in-all Byvelds believes that the Seventh Council of the Municipality of South Dundas governed South Dundas with class and integrity.
“We were as open as possible. All members of council had a chance to have their say. We worked well with staff, and it helped get things done,” said Byvelds. “We did our best to work together, but still had some good discussions along the way.”
To three-term-councillor Archie Mellan, Byvelds said: “We will forgive you for helping make the mess of 2014-2018. You are passionate when you need to be, but certainly brought humour to the table, which is a good thing. You made us think of the north of South Dundas and made sure the agricultural community was heard. We will miss your SNC reports for sure.”
“Most importantly for everyone at this table, everyone who came before us and everyone who will come after us, I want to thank our husbands/wives/partners/families,” said Mellan. “When you take this job on, it has an effect on your whole family and they came on board with us.”
He congratulated the newly elected council. “I wish them all the best. Hopefully they will continue to grow and build on what we’ve started. We’ve done a lot of stuff over the last four years and I hope they will continue on with that.”
Mellan offered some advice to them: “There’s positives and negatives in this job. I don’t want anybody to get overwhelmed by the negatives. The positives out there are all the people you get to work with. Recognize those positives and don’t get overwhelmed by the negatives. Allow yourself to see the positives.”
To Lewis, Mellan said: “It’s been a pleasure.”
To Wells, Mellan said: “It was a real asset to the municipality to have you here.”
To Gardner Mellan said: “I’ve never met a more passionate individual when it comes to the things you really believe in. You brought us up to another level.”
Mellan recounted getting elected for the first time 12 years ago: “Then Mayor Steven Byvelds told me don’t expect to change things overnight. Well, we didn’t change things overnight, but we damn well changed things and we made an improvement.”
To Byvelds he said: “I’ve always looked up to you. You are the most thorough individual I’ve ever met. In your two terms as mayor and one as councillor you’ve really uplifted the municipality.”
To councillor Donald Lewis Byvelds said: “You have the biggest heart on council. You made sure that we thought of all income classes in South Dundas. Your work during Covid at Valu-mart showed the community how much you care. We relied on your insight from your work experience here in South Dundas to help us through our discussions.”
Lewis said that four years ago when this council was elected he went home and said to his wife: “We a have a great council and we are going to get things done.”
“We grabbed the bull by the horns and we never looked up,” said Lewis. “It’s an honour and a pleasure to sit here with each of you. It’s been a real journey for me.”
Calling councillor Lloyd Wells “the common sense man on council,” Byvelds went on to say: “You always made sure that we thought about the dollars spent and about how to save a few.”
“Your building experience helped council during budget and debates. As much as you did not vote on it, you can be proud of building the Iroquois Campground building, the most expensive building project in our term.”
Wells said: “It’s definitely been a journey which I enjoyed.” He added: “To the new council coming in, I wish you all the best. Everyone’s gotta work together, staff, council and residents. If everyone does that the whole municipality will move forward and that’s what we all want.”
To deputy mayor Kirsten Gardner, Byvelds said: “You were the person I most relied on to bounce ideas off. We worked well as a team as we both used each other to make sure what we thought was a good plan. Your work on the economic development and tourism advisory committees will be a legacy of your term on council. Your work experience along with your HR skills helped this council get through some tricky situations.”
“Your belief in doing the right thing for South Dundas will never be forgotten,” said Byvelds. “I want to thank you personally for all your help.”
“I enjoyed the work that we did the past four years, said Gardner. “When I review the promises that I made four years ago, I pretty much did everything I said I was going to do and I’m proud of that.”
Gardner said: “One thing I’ve recognized is that I’m more the protector than the politician. I believe in next chapters and I’m excited for mine. It will allow me to do things that I wasn’t able to do in this seat. This seat can be great but it can also be limiting. I’m thrilled to return back to my life and to put my family first.”
Byvelds thanked staff for all their hard work and dedication to South Dundas. “It is not easy to work for your local municipality. Without you nothing that council or the residents want would get done.”
To the group who will form the Eighth Council of the Municipality of South Dundas, Byvelds offered his congratulations to Mayor-elect Jason Broad, Deputy Mayor- elect Marc St. Pierre and councillors-elect Cole Veinotte, Tom Smyth and Danielle Ward. He went on to say: “I believe this council has left South Dundas in a good place. But, this does not mean your term will be easy because of inflationary pressures on the upcoming budget, coming to terms with waste management, dealing with crumbling infrastructure and keeping tourism and economic development flourishing.”
He added that dealing with the updated (Municipal Property Assessment Corporation) MPAC assessments will be the biggest challenge of all, and wished them well in their endeavours in the upcoming term.
He thanked the residents of South Dundas for putting their trust in him to serve once again as mayor. “I am proud to have served three terms and especially proud of being mayor for two of those. There was no other way for me to have met so many people in the past 16 years and I am glad that I had the opportunity.”
Byvelds said that his biggest accomplishment of his time on council remains the South Dundas Municipal Centre.
“I am both happy and sad to leave council, but I do know that in life timing is everything. It is the right time for me to move on. I believe that you should leave something in better shape than when you found it, and I believe I have.”
The final comment of the meeting was by Wells who said: “I just want to let Rebecca know that I’m on permanent vacation.”
The 2022 Municipal election is the first in South Dundas history to result in a wholesale change of elected officials.
Asked if the lack of continuity between the Seventh and Eighth council is troubling, Byvelds said: “The lack of continuity is troubling. This is no disrespect to the newly elected council but I had to learn a lot when I started and continued to do so till the end. Yes, some have some idea of what it is all about but experience helps get things done more quickly, especially at SDG.”
“However, this is what the people voting wanted and I wish them all the luck in the world. If they listen to staff and try not to change everything at once [yes, I expect change], they will be fine.”