Wellesley mayoral and Ward 4 candidates met on October 16 to debate their ideas of how to move the township forward, while maintaining its rural roots.
Roughly 120 people filled the St. Clements Community Centre to educate themselves on their voting options. Candidates spoke primarily on issues like taxes and growth.
Current councillors Jim Olender and Paul Hergott and former councillor Joe Nowak are running for mayor, as Ross Kelterborn prepares to retire.
Olender said the past few years he’s been on council doing the tax budget, they’ve tried to stay within the inflation rate.
“I see us going forward doing the same thing,” Olender said. “We have to have tax increases just to maintain what we have. The important thing is to look at our balance sheets and make sure we stay within our means.”
Nowak said he sees the township in a very strong financial position with adequate reserves and an adequate tax stabilization fund. His concern is with Waterloo Region.
“Most of our debt will be paid off by 2018, so there’s really no reason for any significant increases in taxes over the next four years,” Nowak said. “The region has doubled their debt in the last four or five years and I think as your mayor that would be something I’d have to have a very close look at.”
Hergott told the crowd council could carry on with very little in the way of tax increases.
“When we look at our tax bills, the region is really what is putting it up the most,” Hergott said. “The township is running very efficiently and any tax increases will be what you people want for services.”
Ward 4 candidates chimed in with their thoughts. The four men running for the one spot are Carl Smit, Andrew Epp, Brian Cunningham and Gord Doehn.
Smit said he doesn’t see taxes needing to change and if the region wants to start downloading their debt onto the townships, they’ll have to remain vigilant. Epp had similar concerns in relation to the region.
“The tax rate should reflect the level of service,” Epp said. “I think that’s unanimous across the board. We have to be mindful of the other pressures put on Ward 4 and Wellesley from the region. We need to have good strong leadership from the top down.”
Cunningham said Wellesley township residents receive excellent services for their tax dollar. He added some municipalities have tapped into their reserve funds before and that’s a difficult decision at some point if it has to be looked at.
In terms of reserves, Doehn said they’re good to have for a rainy day and unexpected expenses.
“The books are in good shape within the township and it would be prudent to maintain them in that way,” Doehn said. “As far as increases to keep up with inflation and inflationary pressures I think that should be a given that will have to be looked at in a yearly basis.”
Candidates were asked what they see as the largest priority for Ward 4, with answers varying from bringing a grocery store to St. Clements to increasing the amount of recreation land.
Olender’s highest priority is to revitalize the downtown with new businesses.
“I think the only way that can be done is by pulling business together, along with the services groups and along with independent citizens to form an ad-hoc committee to explore our opportunities to actually bring business into the community,” Olender said.
Nowak said in order to grow the community, St. Clements needs more essential services.
“One is a daycare, a grocery store, and a doctor,” Nowak said. “Those are the things that will attract people to your community, especially the young people.”
Hergott noted his concern with the lack of a stoplight in St. Clements.
“My biggest thing is the safety issues at the main intersection in town here,” Hergott said. “We have to find a way to rectify that and we need to find a way to bring another grocery store back in town.”
After speaking with people in Ward 4, Smit said the biggest concern he keeps hearing is for improvements to the fire hall.
“It’s slated for construction in 2015 or 2016,” Smit said. “The township-wide concern is the need for an aerial truck. I know it’s been visited by present council and I’m sure their decisions were made properly but I’d like to revisit this.”
Epp reiterated the need to manage the township’s growth by attracting new businesses while taking care of the existing ones. He also noted recreation for all levels of the community and infrastructure renewal as concerns.
Brian Cunningham expressed concern about how fast the cities are growing, and the potential effects on the townships, who want to retain their small-town charm.
“The large municipalities are running out of land, no doubt about it, and I think we have to be sustainable and pretty hard-line about where we go,” Cunningham said.
Doehn spoke about how recreation lands have been given off in lieu of cash for some of the newer subdivisions that have been put in around Wellesley area, a common topic of concern among Wellesley candidates. He said it’s a direct detriment to the youth who rely on outdoor activities and facilities.
Municipal election day is October 27 across the province.