It’s been a year since our new council was sworn in — how are its members doing?

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Main photo by Kelly Holinshead, The Shutterbug Gallery. Back row from left: Councillors Det Schumacher,  Dan Armour, Jonathan Wiebe, Brian Thompson, Jason FitzGerald and Bob Stone. Front row from left: Councillor Nancy Alcock, Mayor Scott Aitchison, Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano.

It’s been a year since Huntsville’s new council was sworn in. We asked our municipal representatives three questions to get a sense of how things are going from their perspective: what they thought was their biggest accomplishment; their biggest frustration and their biggest surprise. Here are their answers.

Mayor Scott Aitchison

Mayor Scott Aitchison. Photo by Kelly Holinshead, The Shutterbug Gallery

Mayor Scott Aitchison. Photo by Kelly Holinshead, The Shutterbug Gallery

Biggest accomplishment

I don’t know if I can say there’s one biggest one. I probably have to give you a couple. Renegotiating the lease with the University of Waterloo. We’re actually getting money from them now as opposed to $2 a year – that’s huge.

I think it’s still a work in progress but the whole Roads Needs Study and a proper analysis of what we need to do first going forward and depoliticizing the roads budget. In years past what would actually happen is the biggest squawkers would get the attention. I still get, probably 10 to 1, complaints about roads more than anything else and I’ve told people that I’ve campaigned on this and I’m committed to doing it, spending more money on roads, but to do it in a proper systematic way, where our professionals tell us where to make those investments.

It looks like we’re going to actually get capital spending up to about $2 million this year, which is a huge accomplishment. So I guess in general I’d say the accomplishment there is to change the focus of our council from all the things that are really nice to do to the things we really need to get done and focusing on our basic service. We’ve built theatres and parks and rinks and university buildings and they’re all fantastic but to the neglect of our roads, our transportation infrastructure.

I’m also really proud of the tone around the building and around the table. I don’t intend to disparage any previous administrations but I would say that our staff is feeling confident and motivated and inspired to do great work again and the council is a very respectful, cooperative, congenial group that works well together and we have great discussion and debate and no one is enemies on that council. I take a certain amount of pride in that because I think that in part comes from my office and my style. So I am very proud of that as well.

Biggest frustration

Probably my biggest frustration is not having the resources we need to take care of what we need to take care of. I would say that’s the biggest frustration at the same time I feel good about the possibility of the province actually giving all municipalities more tools and more autonomy to do the job we need to do and so if that’s things like permitting municipalities to have a Municipal Land Transfer Tax, that’s the kind of tool that I would try to encourage council to employ, but to do it in such a way to not double the Provincial Land Transfer Tax. I would suggest that we would apply a Land Transfer Tax to the value maybe above $750,000, for example, or $500,000, so you would pay maybe a one per cent Municipal Land Transfer Tax on properties over a certain number. I don’t want to hurt the real estate market and I don’t want to hurt people’s ability to buy their first home, for example. So, I see that as a plausible tool for us to use to make the investments we need to make in our transportation infrastructure without hurting the average individual struggling to pay their bills.

Even conservatively our Roads Needs Study has told us we need to spend about $77 million on our roads. Our staff has told us it’s probably actually closer to $45 million, but that’s $4.5 million (per year) over the next 10 years to try to get caught up. We’d have to raise taxes like 20 per cent to try to generate that kind of money and that’s not doable. I think the property tax base is maxed out and so we need other tools to get there.

The other piece of all this is I’m proud of the very thorough analysis that’s being done right now on all of the (municipal) operations to make sure that we can make them operate as efficiently as possible so that we can save resources on all the other areas where we’re spending money so that we can take that money and spend it on roads. It’s uncomfortable sometimes, talking about things like how can we operate Muskoka Heritage Place at less of a loss but we need to have that discussion. Culture is important, our heritage is important, but we cannot continue to support these things at the expense of our basic responsibilities. I’m not suggesting that we simply close these things or just not do them; we have to find better ways to do them.

Biggest surprise

Probably my biggest surprise personally is the profound difference in being a councillor to being the mayor. It boggles my mind. I mean I’ve been doing this now for 20 years and now that I’m the mayor, everybody knows my name, like everybody knows who the mayor is. They don’t necessarily know who all the councillors are but everybody knows who the mayor is. Even little kids, I’m always amazed when little kids, and again this is partly who I am too right, like I’m a fairly down-to-earth guy, I like to think. I like kids and I’m trying to engage young people in our Town Hall, but I’m always amazed when little kids, when they see me on the street, with their parents, and they’re like ‘hello Mr. Mayor,’ and they know who I am. I’m always surprised by that. There seems to be this sort of way that people treat the Office of Mayor, or the individual who is the mayor, it’s like there’s this assumed level of respect required no matter what, whether you hate the individual or not, and I don’t entirely understand that but it is interesting.

Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano

Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano. Photo by Heather Douglas, Heather Douglas Photography.

Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano. Photo by Heather Douglas, Heather Douglas Photography.

Biggest accomplishment

I think the way council has come together with five new members. A new mayor who has led, but has also let council sort through the issues and come to decisions. This has made for a very engaged and respectful council. Looking forward to year two.

Biggest surprise and frustration

Probably the biggest surprise is finding out we had an additional $3 million in unfinanced debt, which could also be listed as part of our biggest frustration. Financing that debt through reserves has put additional challenges on reserve levels. Combined with the provincially mandated Capital Asset Plans the budget for 2016 becomes more challenging.

Councillor Nancy Alcock

Councillor Nancy Alcock. Photo by Heather Douglas, Heather Douglas Photography.

Councillor Nancy Alcock. Photo by Heather Douglas, Heather Douglas Photography.

Biggest accomplishment

To be part of the approvals process for two significant development projects in our community. Both of the projects had a lot of public input and significant consultation including a walking tour by all members of the planning committee on one of the sites.  I believe we have raised the bar on the standards we expect from our development community in all future projects going forward.

Biggest frustration

This was very difficult to answer.  I suppose the biggest frustration for me was and continues to be learning how to communicate effectively during council and committee deliberations.There is a knack to conveying your thoughts in a careful and considered manner and choosing your words wisely when speaking in a public forum. I clearly still have much learning to do in this regard.

Biggest surprise

There were at least two events that are on my list of the ‘biggest surprise’ – the first one being the unexpected $3 million hit to the budget.  Having said that I think council and staff dealt with this item quickly and in an extremely measured fashion.

Probably a bigger surprise for me was receiving the Road Needs Study that suggests we need to be investing approximately $77 million over the next 10 years on our roads and bridges. I expected the price tag would be high but this seemed to be off the charts. Even more stunning is the fact that the Road Needs Study suggests that 37 per cent of our road network is at the point of requiring major rehabilitation and that roughly $29 million is required right now. While I knew the cost would be high this is still quite a shock and one that we as a council will have to come to grips with immediately.

Councillor Dan Armour

Councillor Dan Armour. Photo by Heather Douglas, Heather Douglas Photography.

Councillor Dan Armour. Photo by Heather Douglas, Heather Douglas Photography.

Biggest accomplishment

I feel my biggest accomplishment is yet to come. I am working with a great team, the mayor and fellow councillors we work very well together. I don’t believe anyone has their own agenda but instead we all work collaboratively in making the town of Huntsville a place people want to visit and live.

Biggest frustration

The financial situation the Town is in. We are broke and to add to it we have a $3 million legacy from the G8 that was never dealt with. We are now in a position of raising taxes and possibly the largest tax increase in Huntsville’s history.

Biggest surprise

How bad our roads really are, to the tune of $76 million. As you know a lot of us ran our campaign on improving the infrastructure. But on the upside we are developing a plan to address the issues. I know we will see an improvement in the next three years and we will have a concrete plan for the next 10 years.

Councillor Jason FitzGerald

Councillor Jason FitzGerald. Photo by Kelly Holinshead, The Shutterbug Gallery.

Councillor Jason FitzGerald. Photo by Kelly Holinshead, The Shutterbug Gallery.

Biggest accomplishment

Although technically it is not my one year anniversary, I feel my biggest accomplishment on council has been the continued support of the municipal halls. Aspdin is slated for accessibility renovations.The structure of the hall boards are being reviewed with involvement from all interested parties.The “Making Spirits Bright” tree lighting event in Port Sydney this year was attended by more than 100 people performing crafts, singing carols and sharing some holiday cheer. I believe the halls are essential in developing more sense of community and respect for all those within it. My fellow ward councillor Det Schumacher and I will continue our efforts in this respect.

Biggest frustration

My biggest frustration would have to be the senseless vandalism that occurs in our municipality. Examples of this would be the break-in at the cemetery, Muskoka Heritage Place, and McCulley-Robertson. Efforts to support our youth in our municipality, through programming, funding for youth groups and community involvement, hopefully will have some impact on this behaviour in the future, which contributes to my continued support of the community halls. Executive staff have been directed to consider alarm monitoring at all facilities, cameras have been installed at Muskoka Heritage Place.

Biggest surprise

My biggest surprise, other than my appointment on council, would have to be how many dedicated, enthusiastic people we have in our municipality. From Town employees, volunteers, churches, service groups and clubs. It has been an eye opener how many more people than I anticipated, have passion, dedication and the desire for our community to thrive.

Councillor Det Schumacher

Councillor Det Schumacher. Photo by Heather Douglas, Heather Douglas Photography.

Councillor Det Schumacher. Photo by Heather Douglas, Heather Douglas Photography.

Biggest accomplishment

Getting the Roads Needs Study compiled and presented. Now, moving forward with a comprehensive priority plan.

Biggest frustration

Working towards accessibility compliance for community halls.

Biggest surprise

Being informed of a $3 million shortfall in the reserve fund.

 

Councillor Bob Stone

Councillor Bob Stone. Photo by Heather Douglas, Heather Douglas Photography.

Councillor Bob Stone. Photo by Heather Douglas, Heather Douglas Photography.

Biggest accomplishment

To be honest my biggest accomplishment in my first year as a councillor is “getting my feet under me.” It has been a huge learning curve to understand policies and procedures, to understand the budget and the complex workings of the Town and to gain the confidence to speak up. From this point forward I feel that I can be much more effective.

Biggest frustration

As an entrepreneur in the private sector when you recognize a problem you simply go and fix it. Not so at Town Hall. It is wholly frustrating when a problem is recognized and I get a hundred reasons why we can’t fix it and the final answer is “well, let’s just keep it the way it is now and we’ll write another report or we’ll apply for a grant and get back to you.”

Biggest surprise

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but I didn’t actually realize how much time is needed to do this job fully.

Councillor Brian Thompson

Councillor Brian Thompson. Photo by Heather Douglas, Heather Douglas Photography.

Councillor Brian Thompson. Photo by Heather Douglas, Heather Douglas Photography.

Biggest accomplishment

I think there are a couple of accomplishments. As a council, I feel a real sense of cohesiveness where all members are working together with each other and staff again, and for me personally my work with the Library Board and seeing some of the Board’s initiatives coming together, such as the purchase of the Mac’s building, which fits into future expansion plans.

Biggest frustration

No real frustrations after the first year of this council, but ask me again at this time next year.

Biggest surprise

Not so much surprised, but frankly, I’m very excited with the job our mayor and council are doing. Mayor Aitchison works with staff and council very effectively and after a year believe Huntsville made the right choice in electing him mayor.

Councillor Jonathan Wiebe

Councillor Jonathan Wiebe. Photo by Heather Douglas, Heather Douglas Photography.

Councillor Jonathan Wiebe. Photo by Heather Douglas, Heather Douglas Photography.

Biggest accomplishment

As a council, we have played a small but important role in creating a more positive and productive work environment at Town Hall as well as within the various departments.

Biggest frustration

Not being able to enact a quick and easy solution to a seemingly ‎simple problem. There are obvious reasons why we have protocol and bylaws, etc. but it can still be a bit frustrating.

Biggest surprise

I’m often very surprised, even though I shouldn’t be, by the level of engagement and participation by the community, whether it’s volunteerism, special meeting attendance or feedback for things like surveys, I’m so proud of the level of support.


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1 Comment

  1. The comment most often mentioned that Council works together and is inclusive , something that was never heard on the 2 previous Council terms. In addition Councillor Weibe’s comment on the much improved workplace environment.Unfortunately many dedicated hardworking individuals had to lose their jobs prior to this new reality .Great work people !

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