Familiarized with municipal politics as a member of the Chemtura Public Advisory Committee (CPAC), Sebastian Siebel-Achenbach is seeking a broader role. The Elmira resident is running for council in Ward 1 in hopes of shaking things up.
“I don’t think council is doing its job,” the University of Waterloo history professor said. “Fundamentally, what I have noticed over the years is that council basically doesn’t ask questions; it just sits there. Occasionally Mark (Bauman) or this past session, Bonnie Bryant, would ask questions, but the others wouldn’t and it disturbed me.”
He continued, “Every now and then councillors in the democratic system need to bare their teeth. They have to show their teeth and growl. It keeps everybody honest, and we don’t have that. We haven’t had that in a long time in this community.”
Siebel-Achenbach joins newcomers Scott Hahn, Dan Holt and Patrick Merlihan, along with former councillor Ruby Weber and incumbent Allan Poffenroth in a race for the two seats up for grabs in the October 27 election.
With an extensive background in academia that includes a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Oxford, as well as a master’s degree in business administration from Wilfrid Laurier University, Siebel-Achenbach says he has the skills necessary to be an effective councillor.
“I’m naturally skeptical as a trained historian and as a businessman I look at bottom lines; I look at numbers. Don’t pretend that you’re going to get something past me easily. I’ve got enough business experience to know that I can read a spreadsheet and an income statement. I know what goes in there, and I will ask questions.”
Administrative and staffing costs in particular, should come under the microscope, he said.
“I suspect administrative costs have gone up well beyond the inflation rate. We just have more and more employees, and they are not underpaid. We’ve got to think hard about that. Can we continue with it? My answer to that is no.”
There is a fiscal imbalance, he added, in which taxes have continued to rise while real incomes have stagnated. All the while, the gap between public and private sector compensation levels has rapidly expanded.
“(Public sector employees) are not getting the $40-, $50-, $60,000-a-year incomes that you might get in the private sector. They are getting considerably more. And it’s gold-plated pensions and gold-plated benefits as well, which are not available (for most people). It could breed certain envy, especially when you’re expected to pay five per cent (annual tax) increases for that.”
Siebel-Achenbach pledges to “hold the line” on taxes, and to focus spending on critical infrastructure projects.
“In this township alone, we’ve got something like $60 million of infrastructure deficit. That’s four times the annual budget, plus. We need to address that, (otherwise) we are going to have problems 10 or 15 years down the line because culverts need to be replaced, or bridges are falling apart, and we won’t be able to afford $60 million, or it might be $80 million by then, all at once. Before it gets to that level, we need to have a plan to make sure that we have a set number of projects done on an annual basis. And we need a plan that goes for 10, 15 or 20 years.”
He is also in favour of a truck bypass, eliminating heavy truck traffic on Arthur Street, strict restrictions on residential developments in Elmira, and efforts to ensure water security in the region.