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Councillor’s open house addresses Wellington-centric issues

Wellington councillor Mike Harper speaks with residents attending his open house meeting.

Story and photo by Sharon Harrison
Wellington councillor Mike Harper asked residents to ‘tell us what’s on your mind’, and they took him up on his offer.

The Wellington Town Hall, itself a major topic of discussion, was packed with local residents, many of whom were standing, numbering around 100.

While the Town Hall meeting was designed to provide an update on councillor Harper’s clear garbage bag pilot project, he covered several topics – including Wellington beach, traffic calming measures, the convenience store, residential development, and parking.

“There’s been lots going on in Wellington over the past 12 months, and lots of you have been asking what’s going on with this and that, and there’s been some confusion and rumours,” said Harper, inviting good, constructive discussion.

“Call it like you see it and don’t hold back, but please be brief because we have a lot to get through.”

Councillors Ernie Margetson, Phil Prinzen and Phil St-Jean were also in attendance.

Harper began the meeting by providing an update on his recent clear garbage bag pilot project, an experiment he ran in conjunction with Quinte Waste Solutions.

“There wasn’t great co-operation in it,” said Harper, “But there was a very good participation rate in Wellington on the Lake at about 50 per cent, with the rest of the community at about 25 per cent.”

Harper said the reason he initiated the project was because he was asked to do it, noting he is on the Quinte Waste Solutions board as a councillor representing the County, with nine other municipalities in the region.

“A few of those municipalities have actually made it a bylaw,” he said.

Audience comments were both for and against the project, with one woman saying she had mixed feelings. One gentleman said he didn’t understand the purpose of the project. “It wasn‘t made clear to me what was going to be achieved,” he said.

One woman questioned shaming people into recycling more. When Harper asked those people who thought the idea was to shame people, many hands went up.

“That’s terrible, that wasn’t the idea!,” said Harper.

Some people noted they liked the idea of forcing people to have more awareness of what they are putting in their garbage, and having a clear bag will do that. One said it made her more aware of the recycling and she started using the green bin.

Another felt it was done to help raise awareness of the climate emergency. Other comments included the clear garbage bags were too large, and too expensive. Someone also raised the issue of tourists being unaware of how our recycling program works.

“We have a problem,” said Harper, “We spend a lot of money on waste management, and that money is going up, so could we do something different?”

About three quarters of the room, by a hand count, said they have and use a green bin.

Harper concluded by saying he wasn’t feeling a lot of love for the clear garbage bag program.

He moved on to the Wellington Recreation Committee and specifically the Wellington Town Hall, made up of the executive of Corey Engelsdorfer (Chair), Sharon Harrison, Nick Van Cott and himself.

“Last year, we persuaded the County to try to let us manage the town hall,” explained Harper. “It became apparent to the Rec. Committee how a lot of people were frustrated they were unable to book the town hall, or things weren’t working right, and we thought maybe we can do a better job.”

Harper said the municipality encouraged the Wellington Recreation Committee and would like to see other wards do the same thing.

“We took it over last year and what that means is shifting from a County-run to a community-run town hall and that’s a big change, and it could be a good thing if we can get it right,” Harper said.

He said the small core team was struggling with finding the time to manage the town hall, and asked for the community’s support to make it a success.

“Basically the municipality wanted us to take over the hall because they were spending $25,000 a year on custodial costs,” said Corey Engelsdorfer, Chair of the Wellington Recreation Committee. “We thought we could take that money off their books, and run it a little better.”

Engelsdorfer said it hasn’t been successful for various reasons.

“Of the 52 weekends in the year, there are about 45 that are available because it is not booked,” he said. “During the week, it is booked for about 11 hours, and a lot of those bookings are yearly rentals, so if you break down the rental rate, you are making about a $1.50 an hour on those.”

He said there was a big opportunity to have it booked.

“We are also trying to look at a way to make it fair for everyone booking it. If someone was to book it today and it wasn’t a yearly rental, they are paying $20 an hour, whereas the yearly rates are $1.50 an hour.”

He also noted that since people were getting a cheap rate, renters need to clean-up after themselves and maybe dispose of their own garbage. “When we only charge $1.50 an hour, we can’t really afford to get rid of garbage, and we are looking at some co-operation on that aspect.”

Harper reiterated the need for volunteers is critical. He also stressed ideas are needed, and need to be promoted, whether it’s a kids’ movie night, dances, a social event on a Saturday night, and so on. As an example, he noted that one of the executive has organized a free magic show for community children on Jan. 25.

“And we’d love to find somebody to help us market it better than we have been able to do.”

“We need to stir up some interest. We either use it or we lose it,” said Harper, who said the municipality has a lot of assets that are very expensive to maintain.

Councillor Harper asked how the town hall could remain a community asset. Hiller councillor Ernie Margetson asked if there was some way of leveraging the upstairs space.

A number of people noted the interior needed updating, cleaning-up and re-painting to look more modern. “It needs some love,” said one woman, “It needs some freshening up, better curtains at the windows and better lighting.”

“It’s in need of renovation,” said one gentleman, “There’s more space that can be used upstairs.”

“It’s so dated, it’s not funny,” said another, “no wonder you can’t attract anybody, and you won’t get anybody for weddings if it looks like this.”

The hall’s kitchen was discussed, with several people noting it was a prep kitchen, but was not a commercial kitchen and wasn’t conducive to preparing large meals. Others noted it didn’t have a dishwasher, appliances were poor, and there was not enough counter space, the size of the kitchen was too small, and there were issues with cleanliness.

“I think we have to start talking about divesting,” said Rick Conroy. “We have 88 buildings in the municipality; we literally have no reserves to fix any of these buildings.”

When Harper asked how many in the room agreed with Conroy’s argument, more than one-third put their hands up.

“There is an abundance of space here in Wellington,” said one man, citing the legion, the arena, Wellington on the Lake, and the community centre. “And they are all better than this space.”

Harper moved onto the Wellington Recreation Committee and volunteerism.

“One of the problems the Rec. Committee executive has is it gets a little bit of help from time-to-time, but it’s not all that dependable.”

“We are considering starting to break events down into elements, so Canada Day is about a parade, fireworks and a street dance, and maybe we’ll need to get people to step-up and take charge of their own little volunteer team.”

One audience member said one of the problems faced now compared to 12 years ago is there aren’t as many residents here now. Another suggested high school students do their volunteer hours at local events.

“Canada Day is an enormous amount of work,” said Harper. “We spent $14,000 on Canada Day and we only get $11,000 in total from the municipality in grants, that means $4,000 is needed in donations – and that’s just one event.”

Harper suggested that if there are not enough people signing up, maybe the event doesn’t go forward. “That is a reality we are going to have to face.”

He asked the room to pick one favourite event from Canada Day. The parade saw about one third of the room raise their hands, the fireworks about the same, and the street dance saw only a few hands.

“Maybe we need to ask people for money, if people don’t have time to volunteer their time,” suggested a resident.

Another said that as a volunteer, it is “the criticism received that really wears you down.” Another suggested they are many residents who would want to volunteer but don’t know where or how to do so. Another echoed that and suggested a list be put out of what was needed.

The interactive and lively forum engaged community members in what was a light-hearted, but facilitated discussion.

Harper also gave an overview on further issues.

He said there will be a vehicle speed reduction between Consecon and Beach streets, to 40 km/hour.

“We will also have a community safety zone within that, and also further within that we will define the school area,” Harper said.

“For those who live on West Street, Narrow Street and Water Street, we will be making West Street (on the south side of Main Street) one-way heading toward the water. Rather than people trying to get onto Main Street and further compounding the congestion and safety, because we all know that is a tough intersection.”

Harper said they would like to make the north side of West Street one-way, going north.

“Basically, no cars enter on Main Street from West Street is the idea, which will free up the congestion, especially in the tourist season.”

He also confirmed there has been no decision yet on the crosswalk, although an engineering study has been completed.

He also touched on parking and looking at ways of having people not bring their cars to downtown.

Harper noted some big problems with the beach, as well as the two boat launches, and the marina, and how Beach Street has to be closed every weekend afternoon in the summer because of volume.

“There is a lot of tension around boats, parking; we are not collecting any fees so that’s an issue.”

He noted the municipality has confirmed there is a line item in the budget specifically for Wellington beach.

“We have asked them to consider a harbour master,” he said.

Harper confirmed they are looking at channel dredging, beach cleaning and raking, a plan to close Beach Street to vehicular traffic when it gets too busy, overnight parking and camping enforcement.

Hillier councillor Ernie Margetson, spoke about the former Wellington Convenience Store and said there was nothing definitive found, and the now infamous Lane Creek really isn’t an issue.

“Our ultimate goal is to divest the municipality of the real estate on the corner of Wharf and Main,” said Margetson. “We want it to go back to into private hands, as it was before.”

He said next steps would be to put out an expression of interest or a request for proposals from any proponent that might be interested in purchasing the property from the municipality.

“We have invested over $800,000 in this project to date,” said Margetson. “Going forward, we are hoping to regain some of the investment we put into it.”

“I think we went down a road we shouldn’t have gone down,” he said, “but I’m hopeful we will have a good outcome.”

“We are proposing that the creek stays going under the building, like it has for the last 120 years,” he said. “We are optimistic this will be a good outcome for Wellington and the municipality as a whole.”

Margetson confirmed the building would not be moved.

He also addressed the former arena on Niles Street (the former Duke Dome) and said he was proposing the piece of land be transferred to the Affordable Housing Corporation.

Margeston said he has looked at the re-use of the building. It costs the municipality $10,000 a year, and has cost $70,000 so far he said.

“It’s not the most easy building to re-purpose for housing, just from the way it is built. And it will cost a lot to demolish it.”

Margetson confirmed they are looking at re-using the site for affordable housing. “It’s a good piece of real estate,” he added.

Next, Harper talked about residential development in the village and why it is needed.

“We do need more population and we need to do that for the health of the economy,” he said.

Addressing concerns on the number of new units to be added, Harper said while that figure is unknown, he said of those developers who plan to build in Wellington, the figure is about 1,000 units over a 15-year period. “We are not going to see a rapid escalation of growth in Wellington.”

The topic of the water tower was raised.

“We need a water tower for the existing community,” said Margetson. “We need more water pressure for fire flows, not so much for domestic flows, but it would help with that as well.”

“I would say that is a high priority for the village of Wellington to alleviate the issues we have with pressure,” he said, but added it was at least two years away.

By a show of hands, about half the room indicated they had a water pressure issue.

“We did a full two hours, it was fast and it was very worthwhile,” said Harper of his first open house, something he expects to continue on a quarterly basis.

“It’s always nice to see people in person and let them speak directly, so I felt like I got a better feeling on how they see certain issues,” he said. “Overall, it was pretty good engagement, a lot of people spoke which was nice, and I appreciated having councillor Margetson here to help me on some technical issues and some things he’s working on.”

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  1. Charlotte Nott says:

    We, Wellington residents and Wellington government need to plan and implement climate control actions.

    We must begin today, not tomorrow. All the discussed issues will not matter if we don’t act Now on climate crisis!

    Mike Harper start now.

    Charlotte Nott.

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