Nine candidates running in the October 22 municipal election for Mayor, Town and District Council, and Brunel Ward fielded questions on everything from affordable housing and healthcare to water quality and waterfront development at an All-Candidates Forum on September 20 hosted by the Huntsville Lake of Bays Chamber of Commerce.
(Note: Town and District Council candidate Lillian Fraser was absent. The candidates in Chaffey Ward, Jonathan Wiebe, and Huntsville Ward, Karin Terziano, are acclaimed. Candidates in Stisted, Stephenson, Port Sydney Ward will participate in a forum on September 27.)
At the Huntsville All-Candidates Forum, through the moderator, (edited for clarity, on September 23, 2018) Doppler posed two questions to the candidates: “What would you do with the $3.9 million proceeds from the sale of the Waterloo building?” and “Besides the hospital, what is the single most important issue impacting the municipality?” These were their responses.
What would you do with the $3.9M proceeds from the sale of the Waterloo building?
Scott Aitchison: “Right now, we have put it in the bank, because we need to build up our reserves. What I’d like to do with it ultimately is use it as part of our reserves so that we can borrow from that reserve, effectively instead of going to the bank to do projects like our streetscape or work we are going to have to do on the Town Hall because it’s getting tired, we can borrow the money from ourselves and pay it back. So I’d like to keep it in reserves, use it for municipal services that are important and not have to go and borrow money externally to do it.”
Peggy Peterson: “I am concerned about the debt of the Town of Huntsville. I am concerned about the debt we incurred as taxpayers from the G8 and the building of that building which was almost a $10 million dollar building. So it cost us half a million dollars to maintain it for the last eight years, so we’ve essentially sold this building for less than $4 million so we really have given these people a deal I have to say and it didn’t go to real estate and I have an issue with that. What I am concerned about is that first of all we find out if there’s any debt left over from the G8 and the money needs to go to pay off the debt and I would like to know where are our reserves? Are they healthy or do they need this influx of cash and is that why we sold it and why didn’t we give a bit more thought into who was going to own that building. We could have sold it to a college or university, so we have a rehab centre going in there and that’s interesting.”
Town and District Council candidates
Helena Renwick: “Because of my involvement with the downtown, I would be very excited or happy to hear that some of that money would go towards the construction or design of the downtown and especially the streetscape. There is a lot of infrastructure that needs to be done and I think as a town we want our downtown to be vibrant and we want it to be beautiful and it would be an investment that would last another 70 years because the infrastructure does need to be upgraded. So whether or not we pay down debt, that’s an option, but I think if we have this money in reserve now, my vote at this point would be for using it for downtown.”
Brian Thompson: “At present, what the Town of Huntsville is doing with that $3.9 million, and this will be in effect until the end of this particular term, that money is being invested and the long-term strategy as proposed by our Manager of Finance is that the investment money be allowed to accrue and long-term be used toward capital asset management. For those that know capital asset management, it just means in essence that the province has determined that we have to have money in reserves long term to replace all of the buildings that we have in the town. At some point, if we don’t have the money in reserves, if we don’t have the money in the bank to do that, it means we will be debenturing for a new arena, a new swimming pool, or whatever. I think this would be a great use for this money, keep it there at least until maybe a more appropriate use for it could be found.”
Bob Stone: “$3.9 million, that’s a big bag of money for sure. I agree with Helena that if we can take the money from this great asset that we had and create a magnificent downtown that’s going to generate more activity for the whole downtown and the town itself, I think it would be a good spend to spend $2.2 million of that money to do the streetscape plan and the rest of it needs to go in our tragically underfunded reserves. And it’s really underfunded.”
Tim Withey: “I think the responsible answer is it all goes to reserves. I think we can all talk about wish lists and streetscapes and things like that but this isn’t the place or time to do that because there’s a lot of other things that are on this list of wants and needs. There is long-term debt in this town that’s debentured responsibly, has been to create this theatre, I believe it’s about to run out?” he asked to which Mayor Aitchison nodded. “So these things are scheduled to pay down over time. But for the time being that money should be in our reserves, as the mayor said we can draw on it like a line of credit to ourselves for things to do and work on what the priorities are. Maybe it’s more investment as we talked about in attainable housing projects and things like that depending on what the next council prioritizes.”
Nancy Alcock: “(The question) is a bit premature only in the sense that it’s a lot of money and I think it’s sitting in the right spot at the moment. I do agree with a number of comments that have been made. I think the idea of keeping it in reserves and being able to draw on it as we as a council, the next council decides are really critical. I agree I really like the Main Street project but I know that we’ve talked about a couple of other things as well. Personally I do like the idea of it sitting in reserves and having the ability to draw on that once the council has established what the priority is.”
Brunel Ward candidates
Ken Inglis: “I agree. I’d like to sit on the money. It’s like winning the lottery or something, all the sudden you want to get out and spend but I think maybe in the reserves as was mentioned and to carefully take our time and think this out with the new council and with input from the public. The best place right now would be in reserves.”
Dan Armour: “I’d like to see it be invested and use the funds that we’re raising from it to invest back into our capital plans and into our infrastructure. I think those are the most important things right now to fund and go ahead with and as time goes on if it’s needed for the debt etc. like that we can add it over there and then borrow from there. But right now I think it should be invested and the money should be used for paying down our debt and investing in capital plans.”
Besides the hospital, what do you think is the single most important issue impacting the municipality?
Scott Aitchison: “Housing.”
Peggy Peterson: “I think it’s really important that we start to think in terms of our community and how we have to become more inclusive and we have to become more caring of everybody. We are all part of this. Certainly healthcare is a critical issue, our hospital is a critical issue. Health hubs that aren’t funded by municipalities are also critical issues, I just think that we have to start to work with other municipalities in a more open conversation. I also think we have to make sure that everybody feels that when they go to Town Hall they are going to be welcomed and they are going to be listened to because everybody here has a voice in the future and how we move ahead and I think it’s pretty important that we feel confident enough to know that you can speak up and I think that’s something we’d like to see more of in the Town of Huntsville.”
Town and District Council candidates
Brian Thompson: “Infrastructure would be probably my main concern going forward. Infrastructure embodies a lot of different areas of our municipality, of course, but housing would be part of that and affordable housing and so on and so forth. We’ve taken great strides these last four years in improving the roads because I think when we all ran for council four years ago the number one priority we heard from everyone at the time to us as candidates then was the road situation. I think we are making great strides in that area, that’s all part of infrastructure. And I’d like to see us continue in that way as well. The housing issue, that is definitely part of infrastructure so I would include that as well.”
Bob Stone: “So housing supply, which is in crisis situation and is going to get worse, absolutely is top of the list. I would put a close second to changing the duplication and waste of manpower with District by bringing back all of the roads under the municipality. Instead of having us do our roads, they do their roads, it’s ridiculous. And also bring planning authority also under just for Huntsville.”
Tim Withey: “There’s a number of things that jump into second place after the hospital for me. I am committed to seeing Fairvern redeveloped as well as an expansion of Hospice, and I guess obviously housing is there but fighting this concept of One Muskoka, I am not for that at all.”
Nancy Alcock: “I agree about housing but I think it’s kind of related to the way we deal with growth and development in our community and considering that we have two new Official Plans that really emphasize harmonizing and balancing the growth in both our urban area and our rural area and waterfront. We’re really trying to move the yard stick for renaturalization and trying to do it in a balanced way, we have a directive to have 60 per cent of our growth directed to our urban centre which raises questions around compatibility so we have a lot of work to do on defining what’s compatible and how to make all of this work. I know that that’s a big concern for a lot of people.”
Helena Renwick: “I would have to say our environment would be one of the second most important thing and it ties into development. In the last while I’ve noticed and incredible amount of development that’s happening around our lakes and the methods in which these developments are happening. Our environment is so connected to our tourism and if we don’t take care of our environment and the stewardship of our lands and our lakes we’re not going to have the tourism that we’ve been accustomed to here. We need affordable housing, we need housing, but how we develop this area is extremely important and how we take care of our environment is I think utmost in my mind and I will definitely strive to keep that topic going.”
Brunel Ward candidates
Dan Armour: “It’s difficult to sit here and weigh everything differently when you feel everything is equal and just as important as the other. As chair of public works, I have to say I would like to see our infrastructure, roads, bridges, culverts, even tonight in conversations downstairs I had a few people come to me about the condition of the roads. I believe our infrastructure is very important and the structure of the whole thing is what holds the building up.”
Ken Inglis: I also believe roads and infrastructure are the second most important. I believe that the roads could be done in a better fashion. Rather than going back and repairing several times, I would like to see repairs done one time. For instance pot holes. There are techniques to do a nice square cut and put a patch in there and pack it and you don’t come back and rinse and repeat, it should last. So the roads are a big big problem for a lot of people, and wrecking their cars. And the other thing of course is the stuff that’s put on the roads, the prewet and the salt. It’s doing tremendous damage so it goes together with the roads and the environment and I’m very particular about our water.”
Watch for more coverage from the Huntsville All-Candidates Forum on Doppler.
Watch the full debate here.
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