MORRISBURG, Ont. – An underlying sense of public frustration percolated through the first South Dundas all-candidates debate here tonight. Roughly 250 people were at the Upper Canada Playhouse to hear those running for council, deputy mayor and mayor.
The nine candidates for council were the first to lay out their platforms and take questions from the audience. Running for three council seats are: Phillip Blancher, Marc St. Pierre, Archie Mellan, Robert Gillard, Jim Graham, Bert Geertsma, Jim Mills, Mahlon Locke and Bill Ewing.
Questions ranged from staffing levels at the municipality and roads to bringing industry to South Dundas and adding more multi-use trails.
“We need better sidewalks in the area and there’s a need for more safe bike lanes,” said incumbent Jim Graham. Political newcomer Marc St. Pierre says the trails enhance the area a great deal but “we need to also enhance the health of the area through doctor recruitment.” Jim Mills suggested the newly-hired recreation director should be having more meetings for community feedback. Phillip Blancher, who coaches youth soccer, says he’s all for bike paths. But longtime politician Robert Gillard didn’t warm to the idea. “We are a municipality of senior citizens.” He said the bike paths are rarely used. “Sometimes I’m the only one using it.”
Asked by an audience member about bringing new industries to South Dundas, Bert Geertsma said the future of Morrisburg looks good for industry but it will be difficult with higher energy prices. Blancher suggested South Dundas was missing the boat on marketing itself to the logistics centers like South Glengarry and Cornwall have done.
One frustrated resident asked how the candidates would control spending after several projects, like the municipal center, went over budget. Incumbents Archie Mellan and Jim Graham were on the defensive. “We try to keep a lid on spending but it happens,” said Mellan. Graham says council does its best. “Has anything come in on budget?,” another citizen quipped. “The Iroquois waste water treatment plan,” Graham answered. Phillip Blancher says some of the municipal financial problems were due to “poor planning.”
The council candidate debate was followed but the candidates for mayor and deputy mayor. Incumbent Mayor Steven Byvelds is running against current councillor Yvonne Delegarde for the top job. Three are running for deputy mayor: Del Jones, Carl McIntryre and incumbent Jim Locke.
In his opening statement, McIntyre said “I want to be on council, I need to be on council,” prompting the first question from the audience about his urge to be deputy mayor. The South Dundas Chamber of Commerce president suggested the chamber had been stonewalled by council on meeting over the municipality’s economic development plan. He believes the plan could move forward is he was on the inside. The accusation drew rebuttal from Byvelds saying the municipality has strict rules and is not allowed to meet privately with the chamber.
When asked about bringing a new arena to Morrisburg, incumbent mayor Byvelds said it should be part of a comprehensive recreation plan and the township will need input from the public. McIntyre suggested some land should be traded off to developers in exchange for building an arena. Deputy mayoral candidate Del Jones says a new arena would be good but “we need to get our house in order” financially while Jim Locke was more forward thinking saying the next council could pick a 50 acre site and “get the land for the complex.”
More questions about municipal debt surfaced for the mayor and deputy mayor candidates. “How far is this township in debt?,” one worried woman asked. Byvelds says the only debt the township is servicing is $4 million over 20 years for the municipal center. “We will have to ratchet up the budget to meet those (debt) goals,” he said. Given South Dundas’ borrowing power and low interest rate (3.45%), Del Jones said he wasn’t overly concerned about the debt. But Jones was troubled with the municipality using the top two floors of the municipal building. He suggested some of the space wasn’t needed and could be rented out for more revenue.
Incumbent mayoral candidate Byvelds also took some heat over the project to rebuild the Lakeshore Drive sewer line. Byvelds admitted there were issues with the project engineer and Cornwall Gravel. “If someone from Cornwall Gravel wants to take me on, go ahead. The road shouldn’t been left the way it was,” he said. If reelected, Byvelds vowed to make construction contracts more strict with end dates and penalties for non-compliance.
The next all-candidates debates in South Dundas will be Oct. 14 at Matilda Hall and Oct. 20 at the Iroquois Civic Center.