Candidates for Amaranth council found themselves facing numerous questions about roads and wind turbine-related issues during an all candidates debate hosted by the Greater Dufferin Area Chamber of Commerce Tuesday evening. More than 100 people turned out for the event, held in the basement of the municipal building.
Eleven of the candidates to appear on the ballot Nov. 13 were present; councillor-hopeful Robert MacLean was unable to attend because of a business commitment.
Residents repeatedly raised concerns about the impact of noise from a transformer station connecting the Melancthon wind turbines to the electricity grid. Several members of the audience accused those currently sitting on council of ignoring their concerns and doing little to improve the situation.
In response, mayoral candidate Don MacIver and deputy mayor candidate Bob Currie – both of whom currently sit on council – insisted they have been working to resolve the matter and said a solution will soon be put in place.
The problem should have been recognized before the station was put in, argued mayoral candidate Rick Dewsbury. Finding a solution after-the-fact should have been simple, he continued – tell the company to fix it and make sure it does.
Just two days earlier, MacIver shared, Canadian Hydro Developers (CHD) met with township representatives and the Ministry of the Environment to discuss residents’ concerns. During that meeting, he said, they agreed to erect a 5.5 metre wall to reduce the noise.
“The noise was not anticipated … and we’re trying to deal with that right now, and we’re doing it in a very systematic way with experts, with noise studies,” MacIver told the audience, adding council was told by the company noise would not be a problem when the approvals were given.
“If that doesn’t work, there will be a roof on it,” Currie said, referring to the planned wall.
Apparently unsatisfied with that answer, audience members continued to ask candidates about what they have done to help bring the situation to a suitable conclusion. Potential newcomers to council used those continued questions to illustrate a perceived “lack of communication” between the township and residents.
“I’m surprised that the people [who live near the transformer station] aren’t kept up to speed as this situation evolves,” said deputy mayor candidate Walter Kolodziechuk. “I think communication between council and the residents is critical – you have to know what’s going on.”
“I do know there needs to be greater communication,” councillor candidate Bill Cowie said in his closing statement. He has lived in Amaranth for more than a year and didn’t know who the councillors were. “Those things need fixing – communication, we’ve heard it 100 times here tonight, I’m sure.”
The condition of gravel roads, municipal facilities and the need for intersection upgrades were also among the topics put to the panel of candidates. Residents raised concerns about a lack of appropriate light and road signs at several specific intersections.
These types of requests are nothing new and council will continue to make strides to bring about the necessary changes, Currie said. Several intersections have seen safety improvements in the past – often in conjunction with other municipalities or the county, he added.
“I was instrumental in getting lights at County Road 11 and 109,” said Currie, the current mayor. “We have lights in consideration now at Grand Valley and 9 Highway.”
“Maybe what we need is a general review of all our intersections,” commented Dewsbury.
It may be time for Amaranth to return to the negotiating table with Orangeville regarding library use, suggested councillor candidate Vi Robson, in response to a question from the floor. A resident asked if candidates would be willing to reopen the issue and expressed displeasure at the current arrangement of Amaranth refunding residents Orangeville’s user fee.
“It’s time to go back to the drawing board to see if we can work out something,” Robson said, adding she agreed with council’s decision not to provide financially to the Orangeville library because the cost was too high. “I used to enjoy using the Orangeville library. But for me to go in and have to pay a membership fee and then have it reimbursed, I just can’t be bothered.”
“I don’t think it’s right for someone living all the way down on the Fifth and the Third Line having to drive all the way out to Grand Valley for access to the library,” said fellow candidate Wesley Lomond. “If there’s anything I can do, I will certainly be involved.”
Candidates were also asked if they would support using Amaranth’s reserve funds to reduce taxes. Generally, candidates agreed that’s not an avenue they should be looking to use more frequently.
“We have to maintain this municipality as any business. You cannot get a zero tax increase. All you have to do is look at the price of fuel and equipment went up and the price of wages go up every year,” said Percy Way, councillor candidate. “If you don’t put three per cent in there somewhere, you’re going to fall behind.”
“We have to look forward to the future. We’ve just done three bridges, there’s a heck of a lot more out there that need some repair,” said councillor candidate Kevin Ewen.
The prospect of using reserves to hold the line on tax increases isn’t an option council has ignored in the past, said Jane Aultman, an incumbent councillor.
“For a number of years, Amaranth’s tax increase was zero, for a number of years it’s been minimal. We have used some of the reserves over the last three years to keep the taxes low,” she said. “We have to put certain amounts of money away every year … to plan for vehicles and building expansions, etc.”
In their closing remarks, Ewen and Aultman asked residents to take a closer look at the issues, to consider their votes carefully and to encourage others to vote as well.
“I think everybody here needs to go back [home], talk to their friends and then call the candidates that are here tonight … and let them know what their issues are and see where they stand,” said Ewen. “Sometimes here, you can’t get everything you want to get.”
“It’s you who chooses who’s going to govern you,” added mayoral candidate Bob Cusiter, who suggested less than one-third of the population votes in Amaranth. “That means the people have given up, and if you give up … you’ve lost.”
There are 12 candidates running in Amaranth – Don MacIver, Rick Dewsbury and Bob Cusiter for mayor; Bob Currie and Walter Kolodziechuk for deputy mayor; and Robert McLean, Jane Aultman, Percy Way, Wesley Lomond, Kevin Ewen, Bill Cowie, and Vi Robson for council.
By Richard Vivian
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