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Communication will be key for new mayor and all at Shire Hall

There was no debate at Wednesday’s meeting for mayoral candidates and for the most part, the three vying to lead the horseshoe at Shire Hall were in agreement on the importance of major issues presented before a full house at the Regent Theatre.

The meeting, hosted by the Prince Edward County Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Agriculture featured questions from their memberships, and from the audience.

About 20 topics were touched on over the two-hour session – including affordable housing, short-term accommodation legislation, garbage, water, poverty, doctors, roads, the environment, retention of employees, load restrictions and farm taxes.

The biggest interaction from the audience – laughter and applause – came when Monica Alyea asked if any of them had tried to find information on the County’s website.

“It is the most un-friendly to users site I think I’ve ever gone to,” she stated, to more applause from the audience.

“You nailed it,” said Dianne O’Brien. “That website is terrible. I’m not that computer savvy, but it’s very difficult and I do think we need to address it immediately.”

“I am computer savvy,” said Steve Ferguson. “It’s awful and difficult to navigate. I would also tackle the voice-activated phone system,” he said, and the audience agreed with applause.

In his first time campaigning, Richard Whiten weighed in, noting he too has been trying to get information on the site. “It’s frustrating. You’re better off to go look on a different site.”

Leslie Smail Persaud also questioned improvements to communication through community engagement.

Ferguson suggested ongoing communication on the internet, more frequently, such as the Community Development department has been doing – especially for scheduling and upcoming agenda items.

“I’d also like to see a process put into place where matters of broad public interest can be moved to the location where it is most pertinent… so those who need or want to attend can do that,” he said. “The process of public engagement needs much more work in my view. We are not reaching the numbers of people we should be reaching and have to do a much better job.”

O’Brien agreed communication needs to be improved, and suggested working with schools and on the internet, but also face-to-face.

“As mayor, I would like to go around to each town hall for a couple of hours every week to see if anyone has any questions or concerns.”

Whiten agreed meetings on major issues should be held in areas where people are most affected.

“Other than that, social media works. Most of the councillors are on social media and most are very responsive. The County’s website could be used better, more user-friendly and maybe even having a comment section, rather than having to be at a meeting, where it’s virtually impossible for a lot of working people to make it to the meetings.”

Debra Marshall continued the conversation of communication and engagement calling out tight deadlines to get on the council’s agenda to speak, and noted that often agendas only include a note about a ‘verbal’ report and have no details.

All agreed, improvements are necessary.

The next largest response from the audience came with Fred Lester’s concerns about garbage strewn throughout the County.

“That is a problem and I do get calls regularly,” said O’Brien, suggesting youth involvement gaining community hour credits, could help.

“I share your disappointment and dismay,” said Ferguson. “I’ve participated in Trash Bashes and I can’t believe the amount of junk I was picking up out of the ditches. We also have to instill in our municipal staff who are out on the roads all the time that if they see errant bags, to throw it in the back of the truck and not just drive by,” he stated to applause. “I think that involves building more morale – everybody who lives and works in Prince Edward County should have pride in the way in which the municipality is presented.”

Whiten agreed the garbage can be bad, exacerbated by the tourist season.

“The cost of disposing garbage is really high and many people can’t afford it. I propose some free dump days every year and suggest more public recycling facilities in town and in our public areas…. People can’t afford it, or they don’t feel it’s worth paying that much.”

As far as the major issues – most of which are under way already at Shire Hall – the candidates were in agreement.

Roads remains an ongoing challenge, one more fraught with the tourist season.

“There are 1,100 kms of roads and use of our roads, particularly by the number of tourists, has a profound effect on them,” Ferguson said, suggesting council could look into a gate fee at the Sandbanks, find other sources of funding and further press the provincial government for funding.

The County has a significant financial challenge with roads, O’Brien said. “Now and in the foreseeable future. The province and the feds are talking about investing in infrastructure and it’s up to us to lobby these two levels to get them to invest in rural communities.”

Whiten agreed it was going to be a struggle.

“Many of them are rural routes that are seeing a lot more traffic than they were ever designed to take. Most of them need to be upgraded. Band-aid repairs just aren’t working. But it’s going to take money and it’s going to take a lot of pressure on the provincial and federal governments to tackle that. There is no way our tax base can support it.”

On the issue of load restrictions for farmers, O’Brien and Ferguson said they would support farmers by relaxing half-load restrictions to help them get products to market. Whiten said he wouldn’t support it due to the current poor conditions of roads.

John Thompson was at the microphone asking about the Farm Tax Ratio and whether candidates would support holding it at the 2018 rate.

The three agreed farmers are the backbone of the County. Whiten said he would support the request. O’Brien and Ferguson stated they would first like to see the results of the new and young farmers support program newly under way.

Expected topics of affordable housing, short-term accommodations were also questioned.

The licencing report for short-term accommodations will be coming from municipal staff early in the new year. Ferguson and Whiten want to see action taken before next tourist season. O’Brien declared pecuniary interest due to a family member’s rental.

The three agreed housing is in a crisis state.

O’Brien suggested more involvement with Habitat for Humanity projects.

“We can find reasonable and affordable answers if we get the right people to the table,” she said.

Ferguson said more discussions are necessary with the development community.

“We have formulated a not-for-profit housing corporation that will be a board composed of professionals that will be able to address specific locations, requirements for properties… It’s a very big problem and it’s not lost on anyone that it requires a very concerted effort.”

“We also need industry, and we need jobs, to attract young working families” said Whiten. “It’s going to take a number of people to really sit down and think about it… It’s going to take a combination of several solutions to actually help us.”

Barry Davidson, with the Affordable Housing Network in Wellington, asked if they would be willing to take on the debt necessary to build.

The housing corporation, said Ferguson, will be involved in working with organizations to make funding available to make projects a reality.

O’Brien said she is open to consider all that has evidence that will produce the affordable housing so desperately needed.

The only way it will become a reality, said Whiten, is if the County invests itself. “It will take a lot of time and money for many years to come.”

Meetings coming up before the Oct. 22 election day:

Oct. 4 – Can School Board Trustees Make Real Change? Thursday, October 4, 6:30pm at Carbon Art and Design 281 B Main Street Picton, Ontario (behind the County Canteen) Participants include candidates running in South Prince Edward, Belleville/Thurlow, and Quinte West wards.

Oct. 4 – Builders’ Association mayoral candidates meeting

OCT 11 – The Picton Business Improvement Association will be holding an All Candidates’ Meeting for the Picton Ward Thursday, Oct. 11 from 7pm-9pm at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church located at 31 King Street. The six Picton Ward candidates will have an opportunity to introduce themselves, respond to two prepared questions from the BIA and then answer questions posed by members of the community.

Oct. 11 – The Bloomfield and Hallowell candidates will welcome questions at the Bloomfield United Church. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Meeting starts at 7 p.m. (Use the entrance from the parking lot).

Oct. 11 – Wellington On The Lake residents all candidates meeting (councillors and mayoral) begins at 6:30 p.m.

Oct. 16 – North Marysburgh Recreation Centre hosting meet and greet for the three mayoral and two councillor candidates for the ward.  7 p.m.

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  1. Dennis Fox says:

    Gary – I agree with you. The candidates can’t say much about anything because they either were part of some bad decision making while on council and don’t want to bring attention to that – or they do not possess the knowledge to talk about the challenges. Either way, the voters don’t have much to go on.

    If you read this week’s Gazette, I wrote a letter expressing my concerns about the lack of information in this election. How can voters cast an intelligent ballot?

  2. Gary says:

    Leaving Picton candidates debate and not one has answers to the water crisis. Increase growth, they say. The population is declining and those building are not interested in unsustainable water charges.

  3. Susan says:

    Mr.Whiten has spoken well and becomes a game changer. Probably drawing votes from Ferguson and assuring that Ameliasburg reigns all power under a system without voter equity.

  4. Chuck says:

    The council size issue could be lobbied to the provincial government. They have the power and didn’t hesitate or waiver on Toronto Council size. Perhaps Todd could get something in place for the next municipal election in 4 years. The people here asked for change and were let down again.

  5. Dennis Fox says:

    I agree with the conclusions that Gary Mooney has arrived at re: now is not the right time to challenge the size of council. However, that should in no way be interpreted that we don’t hold those responsible for this last fiasco. Far too many councillors are hoping for the public’s short memories about the way they lied and misled us. Bottom line is that council didn’t even follow their own rules and process in this matter – many incumbents do not deserve to be elected again. We know who they are – so vote for someone else should be the message. Their actions are certainly not a dead issue – they will do it again of given a chance.

  6. Gary Mooney says:

    The size of Council is a dead issue. It has been considered by two Councils, and was reduced slightly. There were two OMB appeals, costing the County hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend. The County won both times.

    There is zero chance that the County will consider this topic again, probably not for a generation. Time to move on to something else.

  7. Ian says:

    We have a declining population, no money to pay for anything. Toronto council is being cut from 47 to 25 councillors. What do the mayoral candidates plan to do about reducing the size of council.If every decision is referred to staff why do we need councillors.

  8. Fred says:

    Not one of the 6 Picton candidates have made the water crisis a key point of their platform or brought forward credible solutions. They all speak of affordable housing, the popular speaking point of the day. Affordable housing is useless if you cannot turn on the tap for a basic need.

  9. Gary says:

    I agree with your thoughts on a Commission. I don’t see the value or how a commission would suddenly be able to find solutions. I find it ironic, with all the talk of affordable housing, that for many, even if housing was near affordable, the unaffordable water rates (that will continue to rise annually) would cripple them.

  10. Dennis Fox says:

    This idea of a “Waterworks Commission” is not a good one in my opinion. All this does is move the problem to another group of people who Council is likely to appoint – either that or it will become another level of quasi politicians that 30% of the public will elect and who will end up being paid for the same job that council does now. This “Commission” is an easy way out for Council who created the problem of high water rates, but it will do nothing other than deflect the issue – leaving ratepayers running between the two. The fact that so many candidates think it is a good idea, should tell us that so very few of them understand the finances of a community of only 24,000 – and shrinking! A community still over-governed now with 14 councillors and now a proposed “Water Commission” on top – man this is strictly the last thing we need – more politicians and bureaucracy!

    Also a “Waterworks Commission” will not change the parameters that a previous Council made so clear to the public at the time of the new water plant – it will be paid for by “ONLY” those who use it. Why do I see smoke forming on the horizon?

  11. Gary Mooney says:

    There is no easy solution, maybe no solution at all, to the very high waterworks rates (water and sewer). However, in my all-candidates survey, two-thirds of the candidates indicated support for creation of a waterworks commission which would include participation by ratepayers and result in increased time and effort being directed at improving operations and costs. You can access the survey at http://www.pec2018acs.wordpress.com or click on the ad below the candidates’ ads on this site.

  12. Fred says:

    The candidates need to stand up and address this. They will be hard pressed at the all candidates meeting forthcoming.

  13. Chuck says:

    Agreed. Councilors need to come out with a reasoned plan other than tacking on 5% every year for what is now a death nail. Urban growth will not cure it. The broader tax base can. No town, no services.

  14. Gary says:

    Biggest issue in Picton is the water rate crisis! Few on the disappointing slate are addressing it with any substance.

  15. Alison Kelly says:

    Sue, Municipal Candidates for Council and Mayor, were not included in the Quinte Labour Council survey. I was told by the organization that there are limited union workers living in PEC affiliated to make the effort impactful. I know many running who would have loved to be part of their survey.

  16. sue says:

    No visitors and n knocks on my door yet; are any candidates canvassing the constituents personally or is that too a thing of the past?

  17. Dennis Fox says:

    I don’t want to minimize the importance of affordable housing – it is important, but it is not the #1, 2 or 3rd top issues in this election. I find all of the incumbent candidates are sending up smoke screens and diverting from the real issues(affordable housing and STA are a safe ones for them) – namely do any of them have any idea as to what a community with a declining population of 24,000 can really, really afford? What plan do they have to raise money to help taxpayers, far too many are already claiming that tax increases above the cost of living is the way to go! Really? All I see after this election is the same old stuff. I don’t see anyone(so far) with the imagination and spirit to be different. Their idea of campaigning is to fill out a survey and mail out their brochure. That’s not going to cut it for me. Even these so called all-candidates debates are controlled to the point where the public can nod off and not miss anything.

    On a personal level, I believe the incumbent candidates misled the community, when 4 years ago they said they supported a much smaller council, and then didn’t follow through with their promise. For me, I am voting for change and for fresh ideas.

  18. Emily says:

    They have no answers. They are scared to death to propose a small tax to the broader tax base for the common good.

  19. Gary says:

    Hearing virtually nothing on the urban water crisis that has ratepayers paying more for a basic like water than their property tax bill. Candidates need to be held to the test on this one.

  20. Gary Mooney says:

    Anne, you wil find that there are fewer and fewer trash cans available outdoors at retail establishments and recreational areas. The reason is that some County residents deposit garbage in them to save three bucks. the

  21. anne king says:

    Ferguson suggests instead of driving by a bag of garbage stop and throw it in the back of your truck and dispose. Three bags are the better part of 10 bucks. That is why they are there in the first place and that is why most would not pick them up and get rid of them..more trash cans placed in areas where this happens the most and better pick up by the County would go a long way to solving this problem.

  22. Dennis Fox says:

    Upon inquiring how tourist dollars can be used, I was informed by our mayor that a change had occurred and that these dollars can be used for infrastructure needs – including road repairs.

    However, at this time, nothing can happen because Shire Hall(according to our mayor) has never had a method nor any plan to collect tourist dollars. It is encouraging to see that the licensing of STA is going to happen and that The Times Survey is asking about a tourist accommodation tax. Something that a year ago, both The Times and the survey writer had deemed to be a business killer. Odd how the need for money can change ideas – better late than never.

  23. Fred says:

    I guess others are not aware either of the regulations on what tourist tax dollars can be used for.

  24. Dennis Fox says:

    I am encouraged to hear that candidate Ferguson now views tourists as a source of income to assist with our infrastructure needs. Less than a year ago, he advised me and others that all me needed to do was to check the budget documents to see how tourist dollars were collected by Shire Hall for this purpose.

    As far as the Chamber of Commerce concern goes about the lack of trained workers – they can’t very well discuss that in public because the bottom line is they don’t support either a $14 or $15 minimum wage for their workers. Until they start supporting their workers with a decent income, workers will be n short supply in PEC.

  25. Dee says:

    Chamber of Commerce addressed the lack of workers experienced by County businesses and the issue of affordable housing for people wanting to work here but not being able to afford it and others asked about job creation. IT was just not covered in this article.

  26. W J says:

    Many “ operational “ questions with typical political responses so as not to upset anyone !
    Didn’t see a lot of energy and exitement about what a Grat place the County is and how do we make it Greater! …. Innovation was only mentioned 3 times
    Best data related question cane from the Wine Growers Association!

  27. Gary Mooney says:

    Word is that the candidates’ meeting at Wellington on the Lake is not open to the public, only to residents of WOTL.

  28. sue says:

    Considering the current employment challenges in the County, why haven’t any of the candidates responded to the Quinte Labour Council’s recent inquiries. Are the constituents to assume that there is no support for labour issues?

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