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Grey Highlands candidates address budget issues

Candidates running for council in Grey Highlands shared their thoughts about budget and financial issues
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CollingwoodToday asked the candidates running for council in Grey Highlands four questions about the issues facing the community.

The following responses were submitted by the candidates. The answers have not been checked for accuracy; they represent the candidates’ platforms and opinions.

Please visit CollingwoodToday’s municipal election web page for more coverage of the local municipal elections.

Responses are presented in alphabetical order beginning with candidates for mayor. All responses submitted by publishing deadline are included. 

Q: Members of council will have the responsibility of setting the annual budget for the municipality and monitoring its progress throughout the year. There is no doubt all municipalities in Ontario face challenges in the coming years. The economy continues to emerge from the pandemic, inflation is increasing the costs of all goods and services and supply chain issues continue to cause problems. What will your fiscal priorities be for Grey Highlands over the next four years?

Candidate for mayor: Don Alp

My priority will be to reduce spending at every opportunity. Keep taxes as low as possible, especially for the middle class. And focus all new expenditures on common-sense solutions for the working-class people of Grey Highlands.

Candidate for mayor: Paul McQueen

My fiscal priorities over the next few years will be to look for good value for dollars spent. Our road system is one of our greatest assets and we need to invest smartly and take a look at how best we move people throughout our municipality in a safe and efficient way. Moving forward with having committees of council for our facilities, we can go back to engaging our community and empowering their input and volunteerism. Fundraising has been happening for many decades, that’s how our community hubs were created in the first place. The municipality needs to be sourcing funding opportunities while working with our community stakeholders.

The 2023 budget will be a challenging one, as we know with inflation high and interest rates on the rise, it is a double whammy. Debenture has been a great tool for investing in infrastructure, but with rising interest rates, the cost of these projects will be more. We may be looking at a proposed double-digit increase, which I know will not be acceptable. I may suggest that we take a full look at where we are spending our taxpayers’ dollars and look at an operational review and value-for-dollar examination. We are hearing rumours that our economy is slowing down, we have to be in tune with our taxpayers and the challenges that they are facing as well. 

Candidate for mayor: Danielle Valiquette

I am going to start off by using this platform to ask every Grey Highlands resident to fill out the survey being conducted on the budget by the municipality found here. Why am I using up my limited, allotted words to tell you about something other than myself? Because the upcoming budget realities mean that I want as much consultation as possible. I have really enjoyed knocking on doors and visiting all over Grey Highlands, and I am hearing fiscal priorities including road safety and traffic calming measures. Additionally, whether we like it or not, people are coming to Grey Highlands; I think investments are needed for things our community has just, frankly, never needed before, for example, electric charging stations, litter pick up, parking attendants at the waterfalls and much more. I think we need to invest to protect these spaces from the damage that can occur thanks to (good things) like tourism.

Candidate for deputy mayor: Dane Nielsen

Over the past four years, I have focused on affordable housing, asset management, and parks and rec. I have looked at the decisions we make with a lens to the future, trying to help Grey Highlands be a place to live, work and play. I will continue to focus on these areas. We also have seen the roads needs study showing how far behind we are with our roads network. We will need to be responsible and focus on our infrastructure.

Candidate for council: Paul Allen

I will continue to do what I have been doing during my two terms on council. I will use my council experience along with lessons learned from operating three successful businesses in Grey Highlands and from being treasurer for four non-profit entities over my three decades of volunteering in our community. Each year at the beginning of budget deliberations I request the amount of our surplus from the prior year. My suggestion over the years has been to use some or all of that surplus to reduce the base budget for the upcoming year. We have some budget items that we have no control over, such as policing and insurance. We do however have control over many items, so it is important to find efficiencies in order to maintain the services that our residents desire and expect to be provided while keeping rate increases as low as possible. My fiscal priorities will be;

1) Find efficiencies in the operation of Grey Highlands so that we can maintain existing services for our residents.

2) Ensure that user-specific costs such as planning application fees are fully covered by the applicant and not subsidized by residents.

3) Give direction to staff in relation to a cap on the budget increase.

4) Analyze the draft budget in detail to find further efficiencies and perhaps items to cut.

5) Make wise decisions on funding options for budget items. (Levy, reserves, debentures when rates are low, grants.)

Candidate for council: Tom Allwood

As a councillor, responsible fiscal and asset management has been my position on approving the operating and capital budgets for Grey Highlands. Next year will be a difficult budget year given the inflationary times we are experiencing. I believe that council and staff will have to look for efficiencies everywhere as the budget is prepared and reviewed. This will be one of the first tasks the new term of council has to consider. Grey Highlands will need a council that has financial experience and experience with public sector accounting principles. The task of reviewing the levels of service provided by the municipality; the costs of providing those services; the use of the levy, reserve funds, grants available, and long-term debt as funding options. It will not be an easy one in 2023 or any of the next four years.

Candidate for council: Reid Dennison

My fiscal priority is to do as much as we can with what we have, using the wealth of citizen expertise to help council set priorities, establishing a proper relationship between staff and council, and placing affordable housing and a greener community at the top. My campaign media outlines three priorities: affordable housing encouragement, implementation of the Climate Task Force recommendations, and improving democratic involvement by the citizens of Grey Highlands. None of these should involve spending large amounts of new money.

My first priority has been to find out the priorities of our citizens. In my campaign travels, I’ve heard people say they want the municipality to: build affordable homes, splash pads, road safety measures, pickleball courts, and play structures, to assume private roads, to continue to service all four ice sheets, and introduce mandatory septic system inspections, Most of these, if addressed by council, would lead to a tax increase. Is there fat in the system? After years of easy growth and low inflation, it’s possible. Can it be easily found and trimmed? Politicians love to promise this, but it will be harder than it sounds. Some people – not me – are strong proponents of zero-based budgeting – annual line-by-line review for every department at budget time. It sounds like a great idea, but it’s a tremendous amount of work – every expense has to be justified every year. Staff time is not cheap, and I’m not convinced it will yield enough in savings to justify the time and expense. What if, instead, we had a community-based review of programs, using a combination of councillors and volunteers, that goes on all year, every year?  Rather than rushing to look at everything all at once, program review would be done continuously and methodically. When you know the priorities of your citizens, you can have confidence as a council that you’re doing the right thing.

Candidate for council: Nadia Dubyk

The annual budget setting process allows the municipality to prioritize projects, programs and service levels. There are pressures from inflation and knock-on effects from the pandemic, and the recent change of our waste management provider is resulting in about a $450K expense increase over last year. I’m committed to a prudent review of our budget while focusing on priorities that I have consistently heard across our municipality when visiting constituents at their doors, meeting them at fairs and other community events:

  • Safe communities – support the creation of a traffic calming plan.
  • Well-being of communities – advocate for community gathering, socializing and play spaces for all.
  • Housing for all – promote affordable and attainable housing options.

In addition, I’ll look for opportunities to work with other municipalities and partners to benefit from resource and cost-savings efforts to stretch our budget dollars. We need everyone’s input to help prioritize how our budget will be spent. All Grey Highlands residents are encouraged to complete the 2023 Grey Highlands Budget Survey found here. I did my survey. Have your voice heard, too.

Candidate for council: Emmett Ferguson

I believe municipalities in Ontario are uniquely positioned to inspire and invest in their local economies. To begin, I would focus on building our revenue by seeking and securing sources other than simple tax levies or user fees. Municipalities directly control less than one in every ten tax dollars in Canada (Rural Ontario Municipalities Association 2015). So my first fiscal priority will be to increase the diversity of revenue and investment sources, whether from other levels of government, the market or otherwise. In so doing I’d hope to reduce pressure on tax levies while sustaining or improving service levels in all areas. To do this, I intend to seek out, support, and build up more Grey Highlands civic and social enterprises, including co-operatives, farmers’ markets, charities and other social purpose initiatives. Municipalities are not exactly businesses, but I think ours can play a good role in building a more resilient, inclusive and sustainable local economy. In sum, my priority will be to adopt a more entrepreneurial mindset as a corporation, and a community, in cooperation and partnership with local people, businesses, and organizations. My fiscal priorities are housing, food, safety, conservation and culture, all of which can be developed better through partnership and cooperation than through municipal structures alone. I take issue with a certain mindset that suggests we must compete with other regions in selling development opportunities at the lowest possible rate to protect private profit margins. Instead, I hope to invest in more diverse services and physical assets that will encourage people and businesses to move here because it is excellent, not just because it is cheaper.

Candidate for council: Gary Franklin

With the consumer price index being at about 8.5 per cent it will be an incredibly difficult year for all municipalities across Canada. The normal inflation has been a constant two per cent give or take for many years. So many things become too expensive or things taxpayers do not consider important at their time. The basics become important. My fiscal priorities would be to keep the tax increase as low as possible while preserving as many services as possible. Not an easy task. 

Candidate for council: Joel Loughead

Agriculture, tourism, and small business are the backbone of Grey Highlands' economy. We need to support and grow these sectors as much as possible. That means letting farmers do their good work with as little bureaucratic obstruction as possible. Promoting our outstanding tourist destinations and improving access to our parks and natural areas. And helping our many small businesses achieve their greatest potential while encouraging new businesses to open in Grey Highlands by cutting red tape and rewriting outdated bylaws that hamper entrepreneurship. As Grey Highlands experiences skyrocketing real estate prices and an influx of new residents from southern Ontario's urban areas, we need to find progressive methods of taxation that ensures that those who have the most means are the ones that pay the most. We can improve public services and balance the budget by finding creative solutions.

Candidate for council: Brian McCulloch

The question says it all, the first budget for a new council will be difficult. Inflation, the cost of goods and services and labour shortages will be on everyone’s mind as we evaluate how to structure the budget and work through the issues. The budget has an income side – how can we diversify and improve the tax base and attract new/support existing businesses to ensure that tourists stop here and “shop local”? Grey Highlands council must increase development charges to a more realistic level so that the residents are not paying higher taxes to support costs that should be carried by a developer. My priorities as a councillor for this and subsequent years are to maintain and, if possible, improve existing services and infrastructure in the most cost-effective way. Partnering with other municipalities and looking for economies of scale will become the norm to ensure that all dollars are allocated with the highest return rate. Senior management must continue their work to apply for grants and cost sharing opportunities. The Recreation Master Plan was received for information by council early in August and it proposes some service delivery changes in the future. If elected, activities and services for seniors and young people will be a priority for me. Finally, to meet the goals of the Asset Management Plan (2020), council will have to prioritize expenses and the use of reserves over the next two or three years.

Candidate for council: Lynn Silverton

Municipal costs have increased every year. Some increases have been caused by the expansion of services and some by inflationary pressures. The 2023 budget will be difficult as we sort through wants and needs. I am a fiscal conservative and promise to support only modest increases. To do this will require a line-by-line budget review as expenses will need to be reduced to make sure our next budget increase is reasonable. Growth needs to pay for enhanced services. We need to monitor these added costs. My first terms on council, we were presented with the monthly financial information and we’re able to keep an eye on the individual costs and incomes. This helped us greatly when it came to budgets, understanding the rising needs and those that could be reduced. I would ask for that to be brought back to inform the new council on a monthly basis.

Candidate for council: Joe Van der Vechte

You are correct that all municipalities will face many challenges when it comes to balancing the budget and being fiscally responsible. My priorities will be to go through the budget line-by-line to truly understand where the money is going. We need to make a list of priorities for the municipality on programs and projects that we need to support. 

In times when costs just keep going up across the board, we need to set priorities. There are a number of priorities like low-income housing, the recreational plan, road safety, and Grey Gables. I am not a fan of raising taxes due to the pressure that puts on lower-income families and their ability to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. Until I have the opportunity to dive into the budget, I truly can’t say for sure. What I can say is this, I will fight to keep the service’s we have and fight to keep taxes low. I will monitor and continue to evaluate spending to ensure we are getting value for money spent. I will lobby the provincial and federal government for funding so our communities can continue to provide for our residents.

Candidate for council: Christine Wagner

I believe a line-by-line budget is the only way to address matters of importance along with matters of last year’s budget that were not addressed such as Grey Gables. I feel strongly about community recreation centres, road maintenance, agriculture development, urban development, improvement on mental health outreach youth centres and hazardous waste development to support our local landfill site.

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About the Author: Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Chris Fell covers The Blue Mountains and Grey Highlands under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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