At the Rotary Club of Picton’s weekly meeting at the Picton Yacht Club, County of Prince Edward mayoral candidates were invited to come speak and answer questions and concerns from the community.
Candidates Steve Ferguson, Diane O’Brien and Kyle Mayne appeared in-person while Terry Shortt participated via Zoom due to contracting COVID.
Each candidate was given a timed period to have opening remarks.
As a lifetime resident of Prince Edward County (PEC) and former business owner, Shortt feels there is several avenues the County of Prince Edward can improve upon when dealing with Short Term Accommodations.
“We need to support the Agricultural community and protect our local businesses,” Shortt said. “We also need to deal with the situation STA’s confronted us with. We have a number of STA’s that are registered, we also have a number of STA’s which are unregistered. These unregistered STA’s are creating an un-level playing field for those operating within the rules and the guidance of municipal bylaws. We need to actively search these out and bring them either into convention or basically tell them they can’t operate. This is one of the more important things I think that we need to deal with in the next term.”
Another problem Shortt pointed out was with doctor recruitment and how rural communities are in fierce competition with one another. Shortt said he has several ideas to combat this issue and bring more family doctors to Prince Edward County.
Shortt’s plan on affordable housing in Prince Edward County involves developing partners at higher levels of government.
“We have a number of industries throughout the municipality having trouble finding employment and it’s because the high cost of fuel has gotten to a point where to drive any distance for employment is unreasonable,” Shortt said. “We need to make accommodations available and affordable housing is another complicated issue and it’s one where we have to partner with the province and the federal government in order to be able to create affordable housing. It’s a very tricky issue when you have to tell a contractor he has to provide a certain amount of homes, which he will not make the same profit on as he will the other homes that are going in the development.”
Current Mayor and resident of South Marysburgh Steve Ferguson is running for re-election because he believes in finishing what he started. Due to a number of regional and global issues, council’s four year agenda was severely curtailed.
“Leading up to the election, many ideas about how to deal with serious issues confronting our community will be proposed,” said Ferguson. “But I would like to explain some of what has been accomplished during my four year term. Flooding in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic that started in 2020 were two unprecedented events. Despite the urgency of those situations and with the help of councillors and municipal staff, we have started and are now in the middle of several initiatives that have taken time to get going. Completing them will require longterm vision and drive and will depend on the strong relationships we’ve developed with our federal and provincial partners, neighbouring municipalities and the private sector. Also under my leadership, we made major changes to our municipal operations, hired new senior staff and realigned their tasks so that we could get things done more efficiently and we opened more lines of communication with the public.”
Ferguson pointed out that over the four year term from 2018-2021, municipal revenue has increased by 18.7 per cent, debt has reduced by 18.1 per cent and the County’s accumulated surplus increased by 10.8 per cent.
“Expenses have increased by a reasonable 10 per cent, primarily due to negotiated employee cost of living increases and as a result of the pandemic,” added Ferguson. “From a personal perspective, my own taxes have increased by $175 over four years or 5.5 per cent, all in all. We are in remarkably good shape given the issues we’ve confronted over these four years.”
Ferguson also touched on affordable housing, roads, infrastructure, the internet, healthcare, water and waste water systems and our young people.
“Our affordable housing corporation is in discussion with developers and not-for-profit organizations to create several hundred affordable housing units,” Ferguson said. “The former Wellington arena property is being redeveloped into affordable housing, ready for occupancy in mid 2024. Concerning roads, infrastructure and the internet, we are doing the best we can with limited financial resources including using techniques to improve major routes and investing in more heavy equipment to improve secondary roads. We’ve taken all the steps necessary to be shovel ready when funding becomes available to rebuild County Road 49 and the construction of a roundabout at Highway 62 and County Road 1 is being actively pursued. We also expect that fiberoptic cable, hundred of kilometres of it, will be installed over the next two years to improve internet connectivity and, of course, water and waste water system improvements are fairly consistent and underway in Wellington. We’ve invested in a dedicated physician recruiter, and we’ve provided financing and other incentives to attract new doctors. The significant support we have provided over the past four years for the rebuilding of our hospital will assist in those recruitment efforts.”
As for the future for the youth and our young people, I’m pleased to have facilitated conversations between Loyalist College and Base31 and Im hopefully that those conversations will lead to post-secondary programs for our youth in the county.”
Raised in The County and having served on Council for 12 years, O’Brien was also a member of The County Foundation in its inception, spent eight years on the Library Board and served several years on local economic and development commissions. She said as mayor, she will continuously look for cost savings at every level. She will promote standing committees for the budget, roads and will include members of the public to maintain a constant and open dialogue with members of council.
“I’m a tax payer just like you and I believe there’s opportunities to grow small local businesses. We must expand our business base,” stated O’Brien. “They are the lifeblood of this county and we need to work with them and help them thrive. We need to recognize value. For every dollar a resident spends. a business generates three dollars and there are opportunities to grow businesses. For instance. we’re now looking at a younger population, we need daycare. We could see how we could help a business create that opportunity.”
O’Brien pointed out housing and the lack of it must be faced head on.
“I think we should look at tiny homes,” O’Brien said. “Lets get the stakeholders together with the developers and tell them what we need, we can do this, we just have to get outside that little safety zone that we seem to want to be in.”
O’Brien also added how we are servicing our debt instead of paying it down.
“As far as the debt goes,” stated O’Brien. “We pay $1.2 million a year to service our debt. Just to service our debt. We’re not paying it down with that $1.2 million, we’re servicing it. Thats a lot of money we could put in housing, we could put elsewhere where its badly needed.”
O’Brien also touched on the lack of skilled trades and water and sewer rates.
“I think we should look at talking to the school boards, elementary and high school level and work with the boards,” O’Brien said. “How can we shine the light on skilled trades we need here. The water and sewer rates are another huge issue. We need to focus on a committee made up of actual water users who have a horse in the race.”
Mayne, who grew up in Prince Edward County, is running in the election because there are things he wants to put back in The County that have been taken away.
“Some things that have been taken away, especially the code of conduct complaint form, it needs to be put back in Shire Hall,” said Mayne. “That is an important part of your representation.”
For Mayne farmers are very important as well as seniors.
“I feel the farmers are being over taxed and pushed out,” Mayne stated, adding he does not want subdivisions.
“Right off the bat, I am not for subdivisions,” said Mayne. “We need to put the green light on for people to want to buy a piece of property, build a house that they can afford, and move on without any hiccups, red tape or delays.”
Mayne said he will somewhat try and lower the inflation price of things, as well as he really is for tiny houses.
“I am really for tiny houses,” Mayne said. “I think we really should do a pilot project to see where it goes, it’s not going to be for everyone, but the people it is for, it could very well be the stepping stone they need to move out and build their own house. That’s a big issue and not an easy one to solve in regards to affordable housing.”
Developing and encouraging light industry in Prince Edward County is a priority for Mayne.
“We need to encourage light industry because that will provide the jobs for the people and many other directions,” said Mayne. “I would love to see some kind of industry in the old Proctor Silex building, there was a foundation built for a solar panel factory many years ago something happened and it didn’t develop. But it would be nice to see something happen there and we attract light industry. I’m not promising anything but I can tell you I will work hard for the people of The County. “
The Candidates were asked a series of questions. The first being what their position is regarding bike lanes on more actively used county routes.
“I think its an important step into something that we need to do as we are fixing or redeveloping our roads as we carry on,” Shortt said. “To simply bring out that equipment to create a bike lane is an extremely expensive operation. But as were repairing roads and improving roads, the addition of a bike lane is very important because we’ve become a cycling destination. We see more and more bicycles on the roads every summer and it’s important to keep them safe. So I agree, as we develop roads we should be adding bicycle lanes.”
“An interesting thing is occurring in PEC,” expressed Ferguson. “And I’m sure you’ve probably noticed it if your out at public events, fair season is just over, but just the number of young people migrating into PEC is very encouraging but the safety of kids on their bikes and younger people moving in are more predisposed to get from point A to point B on a bike so I think adding more bike lanes makes a great deal of sense when we go through road redevelopment projects that connect our community together.”
“I support the bike lanes as well,” O’Brien said. “I think if we looked seriously at it, there is public funding both federal and provincial grants given to municipalities that will encourage and build bike lanes, so to me that speaks to the health of the residents when you get out a bicycle. I actually bought a bicycle to campaign, I do some of my campaign on my bicycle, so I would definitely support that.”
“Bike lanes are very important especially for the safety factor and hopefully we can also encourage the bicyclers to stay within the safety zone for them,” said Mayne. “Sometimes you do have an experience where they take just as much of the road, although they are entitled to it when it is not there, but we have to encourage safety, that’s the real simple answer.”
The next question pertained to why residential water rates are so high and what plans they would offer to lower these rates in the future.
“Residential water rates are not a very tricky system but it’s one based on cost, allowing for reserves and allowing for expansion, and that’s what the water rates are basically set by using that formula,” said Shortt. “Unfortunately, we have very few connected users which tends to put the cost of the water, unfortunately in our case, higher than many municipalities around us and it’s because the cost of infiltration, it’s the cost of the waste water treatment, it’s the fact that we have to have reserves for expansion”
“I would never compromise public safety,” Ferguson stated. “We have a responsibility as a municipality to provide safe drinking water to our residents in the settlement areas, so there’s a cost operating system, however we have also provincial regulations that we must adhere by. In 2018, I put forward the idea of forming a water commission, unfortunately COVID interfered with that plan but it’s something I intend to establish in the early part of 2023 comprised of members of the community who use the system as well as water technology experts and municipal staff. This group would work on the base terms of reference and would advise council on the best way to approach our water system and how to tend to the cost and concerns of the public. I understand the rates are high but I’m a big believer in gathering people around a table and a focussed organization or group to dive in to this makes an awful lot of sense at this point.”
“The water rates are ridiculously high,” said O’Brien. “I would look at a regional water user system with Quinte West and Belleville because they supply water to parts of the county. So I think if we tied in with possibly our neighbours, we could come up with a deal, not in competition but to collaborate and water is something we all need and use. I do believe that if we did collaborate with our surrounding municipalities we could come up with a deal that would be affordable to all.”
“Water is a big issue,” Mayne said. “I would like to know the actual operating cost, share it with the community and have community input to see what we can do with that. As well as the operating cost of the sewer and we know whats going on.”
The next question was about the big concern of prime farm land being used for housing development.
“The County is agriculturally based. I sat for four years as Chair of Planning and at any time that land had A1 agricultural designation it was hands off, the only thing that you could do with that particular piece of property was sell it to another farmer so farming would continue,” Shortt said. “Unfortunately it seems A1 agricultural property is next to a town that’s expanding and it seems to all of a sudden lose the importance of its designation. I would make sure we protect the A1 agricultural property even when were expanding, to ensure we have enough farm land to be able to feed ourselves and to keep our farming community operational and viable.”
“I’m very concerned about preservation of agricultural land,” Ferguson said. “During the past four years we improved the new secondary plan which takes steps to protect our agricultural lands, to minimize the number of severances and to ensure development sticks to, as part of the provincial policy statement, with in our service areas. Where a bunch of this development is occurring is land that’s part of secondary plans, specifically in Picton and in Wellington.”
“Agricultural farm land must be saved, it must be protected,” said O’Brien, “There are various ways to do it, theres a farm land trust which several farmers are involved in at this time, currently that protects the farm land forever, that it will be farm land and will never be used for development. The Vital Signs report states the crop acreage has decreased by 8.23 percent in the last four years and we need to stop that. We need to protect our farm land.”
“Most definitely everybody’s opinion, farm land needs to be protected and the farmers as well,” Mayne stated. “I was speaking to one yesterday and his concern is the fact that he’s being over taxed on some of his farm land that he can’t use- premium taxes on scrub land, this needs to be looked at as well. But most definitely farm land is farm land and needs to stay that way.”
The size of council was also part of the debate at the Rotary meeting.
“The size of council was reduced,” said Shortt. “We’ve already gone through the exercise. Whether the reduction was effective or not, we should go at least one more term of council before deciding to change that.”
“I am fully in favour of moving forward with a full review of municipal operations which has not occurred since we amalgamated in early 2000,” Ferguson said. “Where that leads I don’t know, but time for a fulsome review because we are operating a multimillion dollar business and because were operating a multimillion dollar business, it should be reviewed on a fairly consistent basis to make sure that were addressing the needs of the public and operating efficiently for the future of the municipality well beyond the next four years.”
“As most of you know I sat on Council for 12 years and if there was any issue that divided the council, it was the size of council,” stated O’Brien. “For 12 years council size was debated and debated and actually caused so much division. My personal opinion is we need to go forth with what we have now. If it doesn’t work, we will know down the road and we will look at it again. It’s division, and it’s very divisive. We really have have so many more important issues to deal with.”
“We need to listen to the tax payer and address what they request,” Mayne added.
In reverse order each candidate had a chance to say their closing remarks on why you should vote for them on Oct. 24.
“I encourage you to vote for me on Oct. 24th,” said Mayne. “It’s all about change. If your content and happy with what’s going on, then certainly that’s whats going to happen but if you want change, which I feel we need, I’ll keep it simple, you just need to vote for me.”
“I would like to ask for your support and respectfully ask for your vote,” O’Brien expressed. “I believe over the last couple year and throughout the campaign I have actively sought input from family members and residents. I want to hear their concerns and learn about their aspirations for the county. I heard about soaring taxes, houses, homelessness, land use development, job vacancies that employers struggle to fill and the recruitment of healthcare professionals to name only some of your concerns. I know and I understand the issues and I’m running to be your mayor to serve all residents and tax payers of this great community. I bring to the mayor’s office a proven track record of hard work, transparency, leading with integrity. Together we can, its home lets work together.”
“As you all know, PEC is very large, over 1,000 square kms, four times the size of Belleville,” said Ferguson. “Given the popularity of the county as a seasonal destination, it’s sometimes easy to forget our population has been 25,000 — 26,000 people for the past 25 years. This presents special challenges a relatively small number of us have to tackle. The current tax base with economic and operational challenges of a very large area. This demands focus and ingenuity. The mayor must also have the character to deal with a crisis and not flinch. I faced the challenges of flooding in 2019 and COVID over these last three years. These two events took countless amounts of energy and perseverance but we found ways to get many other things done at the same time. But I also asked our staff to extend the ‘have your say’ from the municipal engagement site. It has been critical especially during COVID so we can hear what is important to one another. Hundreds and hundreds of people that share their opinion on transit, beaches, STA’s, budget, planning, tourism management, water rates, heritage conservation and countless other subjects and we are listening and we will continue to listen. So I want your vote to give me another term because as I said earlier, I want to finish what I started.”
“I bring with me council experience, the leadership experience during my council term, business experience of 33 years of successfully running a company and I’ll bring with me a county perspective being a person who has lived here my entire life,” Shortt expressed. “Having served on many different councils, it has given me a perspective as to why we are where we are now, how we got here, what’s changed in the past and what we can preserve into the future. It’s important the mayor is open to any and all suggestions and comments and I would make that come to fruition by having rotating meetings in each ward so we could get your input in a more casual setting then just a council meeting which is sometimes intimidating. The biggest thing is we need to do is create a balance- a balance between tourism, a balance between development and between our community. The biggest comment that’s been made to me is the community feels a disconnection with council and we need to repair that. So with this in mind, I ask for your vote on Oct. 24th and I look forward to the chance and the challenge of becoming your mayor.”