More than 200 people packed into the Lafarge banquet hall at the Strathcona Paper Centre Thursday night to hear Greater Napanee’s candidates for mayor and deputy mayor speak on some of the most pressing issues facing the town.
At an all-candidates’ meeting organized by the Napanee and District Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club of Napanee and the Greater Napanee Ratepayers Association the seven hopefuls — Brian Calver, Gavin Cross, Gerry Haggerty, Marg Isbester, and Sam Salaam for mayor and Carol Harvey and Max Kaiser for deputy mayor — were able to introduce themselves before answering questions posed by moderator Rebecca Wilkinson on the public’s behalf.
The topics covered a wide breadth of subjects including support for a new municipal pool, business attraction, retention and expansion, physician recruitment, affordable housing and homelessness, long-term infrastructure planning, green bins and the urban rural divide. Each candidate was given 90 seconds to address each subject.
Cross started discussion on the creation of a new aquatics facility by stating that he’d support an outdoor pool that is affordable and sustainable.
“A pool is a contentious issue. It seems to be on everybody’s mind. I believe we should realistically judge or future infrastructure on our budgetary limitations. We all dream of having a Lamborghini in our garage, but if the budget is for a Volkswagen, then reality and feeding our families must come first.”
He said he would not be in favour of raising taxes or putting the municipality further in debt.
Haggerty said it was one of the most common questions he’s been asked and he voiced agreement with Cross.
“An outdoor pool is not unquestionable. A $15-million pool? Sorry, we don’t have the money.”
He suggested looking into hydrotherapy spas as a way to bring an aquatic facility to town.
Isbester said she’s heard more support for a pool this election than ever before and some of it has come from unexpected places, including people on fixed incomes who recognize the health benefit it could offer them. While Isbester said she also isn’t in favour of a $15-million facility, she said she’d support studies going forward. To proceed, she indicated she would like to see realistic capital and operating costs discussed.
“Everybody keeps kicking this $15-million pool around. I don’t think we need — as Gavin said — a Lamborghini, but it’s time we have some sort of aquatics and therapeutic pool in this area. We have kicked this around for 20 years.”
Salaam said it comes down to economics for him. When the new council is elected, he said it must look at ways to partner with other public and private entities to provide the service, with the YMCA being one option. He agreed with Isbester the town has to look at not only the upfront cost, but also how a facility would be paid for from month to month.
Calver expressed chagrin about the money going outside of town with young people leaving to learn to swim. He said swimming at Rotary Park as a youth kept him out of trouble and he believes it’s important for youth to have facilities.
“We need to figure out a way to make this pool work, tap our governments and get money out of everywhere we can. We need a pool, there’s no two ways about it. Council and I will work diligently. I promise you it’s not going to take another 20 years.”
Harvey was on a committee that studied the project. She toured the Quinte West YMCA in Trenton. She said the municipality gave land and a building and the private organization outfitted it and continues to run it at no cost to taxpayers.
She said she’d support a similar partnership, but would not support a pool if it meant raising taxes. Harvey also said she’d support bussing local children to a neighbouring community for swimming lessons in the meantime.
Kaiser wasn’t opposed to running a pool at a cost, but questioned the money that would be spent to open it.
“My view of the town is it’s a business for the community, but not a business for profit. I don’t think a pool can run at a zero, but it’s fair for us to carry a slight deficit just as we do with (the Strathcona Paper Centre). Because it’s here other things are in this community. It’s jobs and it’s community. Having said that, we can’t afford a pool, not a $15-million one, not a $10-million one.”
Kaiser said when his family wanted a pool, they had to wait until they could afford. Though he acknowledged partnerships with other municipalities could bring down the cost, he also thought a pool could be built for much less.
All of the candidates appeared to agree more effort is needed in recruiting physicians to the area. They differed on approach.
Calver said the problem appears to lie in the fact the Ministry of Health doesn’t feel Greater Napanee is in need of more doctors. He said he’d ensure everyone who does not have a doctor to disconnect from any doctor of record to show there is a need.
Cross and Isbester disagreed on the path the current council has taken by partnering with Hastings County to recruit.
“That was a plan that was flawed because it was done in a partnership with Hastings County that would see Hastings get 70 per cent of these three doctors. That means out of three, we get 90 per cent of one,” Cross charged, added council needs to think of new ways to attract physicians to Napanee.
Isbester said considering Greater Napanee is not considered underserviced, the deal with Hastings was a “win-win” that allowed the municipality to gain something it may not have received otherwise. She did agree the municipality has to be more proactive and suggested it start looking for new doctors a decade out from when one is slated to retire. She said that transition planning might help new doctors be interested in taking over established practices. She also advocated marketing Napanee’s assets.
“We have a first-rate hospital and a first-rate clinic facility. It should be attractive. We have to keep going at it,” she said.
Harvey said Greater Napanee could consider following Stone Mills Township’s need in purchasing a building or assuming rent to help doctors locate in the community.
Salaam and Kaiser both indicated that council can be advocates for its residents and it can support changes in the health-care system to allow innovations like after-hours non-urgent care clinics or health hubs that will ensure patients are getting access to the right level of care for their needs.
In light of news earlier this year of a trailer park catering to homeless people on Dairy Avenue and a steady waiting list for social housing services in the county, the candidates were asked how to address affordable housing and homelessness.
Isbester said she felt in order to battle the issue of homelessness, the town would have to deal with affordable housing first.
“It’s very hard to get lenders and developers to commit to it, even though there’s funding available,” she said, explaining a development has to remain at 80 per cent of market rent for 20 years, so many limit the units they build.
“It doesn’t take the pressure off,” she said. “We have to find alternative ways to use present inventory — granny suites, additional suites, even Tiny Homes,” she said, adding there must also be supports put in place to assist the homeless.
Calver said he thinks the issue is not just a Napanee one, but a provincial and federal one as well. He advocated for all levels of government to consult with builders to find ways to reduce red tap to build affordable housing.
Cross agreed there may be ways to change bylaws and look at different approaches to meet the need for low-income housing. He also suggested increasing communications through Prince Edward-Lennox and Addington Social Services — the provider of social housing locally — to see if it can help find ways to address homelessness.
Kaiser said homelessness is a symptom of a variety of problems, pointing to gaps in service provided by the provincial and federal governments. He said council has to lead a discussion with those governments about providing those services and about their priorities in general.
“We’re not helping people right at home when we’re helping people on the other side of the world. I don’t understand that,” he said.
On affordable housing, he said encouraging development is important and agreed there has to be a way to access the empty bedrooms already existing in the community.
Harvey said advocating to the province is important. She also said Greater Napanee could repurpose surplus property for the cause.
Salaam said it breaks his heart that Greater Napanee doesn’t have a fix for homelessness. While he said he doesn’t understand homelessness, he would like to “be a helper in any way possible.” At present, that includes cooking often at the Morningstar Mission. He invited others to volunteer and give what they can to help.
Business attraction and retention
Haggerty hopes to capitalize on Hwy 401 to bring business to town, but maybe not in a way anyone has tried before. He used his billboards effectively to sell insurance while working as a State Farm broker and he thinks he could put that strategy to use.
“I would like council to approve an electronic billboard on that 401, stating that we are opening for business,” he said. “With 30,000 cars a day, there’s someone who will say that who is going to get on the phone.”
He said the sign could showcase some of the good things Napanee has to offer, like the hospital or Springside Park, and it could direct calls to a business development person employed by the town.
“There’s all kinds of business. We need to think outside the box,” he said.
Calver, too, said proximity to Hwy 401 is an asset and advocated for the town to “lighten up some of our bylaws, work with builders, and work with developers” to bring in new business. He also said he’d like to see the town consider building a larger event venue so that it could host events like RV or agricultural shows, adding local vendors have to go to larger centres to show their products.
Isbester said council, along with the County’s economic development coalition, has to be extremely aggressive to take advantage to take advantage of its position on the highway, water, and rail lines. She said development fees and taxes are well positioned.
“Ten small businesses that have 25 employees is what we need to be looking at, not large businesses that may fold and move,” she said, citing concerns over trade deals that may impact the municipality.
Kaiser said Greater Napanee and County councillors must continue to advocate for provincial and federal policies that support business retention and growth here.
Salaam indicated the community tends to have youth that go away to college and university and never return. He said the next council should examine what would bring those young people back. He said he’d be in favour of working with businesses that want to come to the community and having a discussion about incentives to attract business.
Cross noted he’d like to see the town continue to work with the Chamber and he hoped that Napanee BIA might look at expanding its own advocacy beyond the downtown core. He also said the municipality can’t overlook the impact of agriculture locally.
He also looked at a negative impact on business being so close to Hwy 401, noting that traffic flow needs to be addressed. He said “bumper-to-bumper traffic of 18-wheelers” whenever there’s a problem on the highway does nothing for businesses.
Green bin recycling
Another question addressed the potential addition of green box recycling service in the municipality.
Kaiser said the town’s landfill facilities in South Fredericksburgh and Roblin would seem like a great place to offer the service, but added their permits under the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks don’t allow materials to leave the sites. Also, once materials are composed, he said they’d likely be considered a controlled substance by the MOECP.
While Kaiser said he thinks there’s a market for green bin recycling, the small size of Greater Napanee means it might need to look into partnering with a city like Kingston or Belleville or with neighbouring Loyalist Township to have volume of users necessary to make a service affordable.
Salaam and Harvey each called the recycling program a “great idea.” While Harvey said she’s not well versed in the technology, she would encourage council studying it further to see if it is feasible, how much it would cost, and whether it can be done. Cross also said he’d like to have more information, but thought a program that could reduce a need for people to buy bag tags was worthwhile.
Calver noted a local company, Manco Recycling, offers the program in other areas and said he’d contact them.
Isbester said council has considered green bin recycling several times in the past, but noted technology has changed in recent years. She said the town has an opportunity to deal with a company that uses green bin materials for energy production. Instead of paying someone to take the materials away, she said the municipality could be making money.
She also said Greater Napanee should be taking a broad look at diversion efforts.
Haggerty said he’s interested in exploring garbage incineration.
Urban and rural differences
A question on provision of services and support for agricultural and economic development in rural areas prompted candidates to reflect on amalgamation and a perceived divide between residents in different areas of town. All of the candidates spoke about the importance of Greater Napanee realizing it is one municipality some 20 years after amalgamation.
Harvey noted the town provides basically the same services to all residents, except for street lights and sidewalks in some urban areas. She said a tax review committee brought recommendations for council to adopt in August 2016.
Kaiser said while he lives 21 km from the last streetlight in the south end of Napanee, he believes every resident has benefitted from growth in urban areas. The arena, he said, is an example. While he acknowledged there is some difference in levels of policing service — though he said community and proactive policing could be more prevalent in all areas — he doesn’t feel there’s a great concern.
“I’m really, actually, quite tired of the discussion around the divide between rural and urban. I think it’s perpetuated by a very small few. I’m happy to live in Greater Napanee. I love Greater Napanee and I think it’s a greater place to live.”
Calver said he believes if a new council is elected, it will be easier to get a fair deal formal involved. He also said, however, that everyone has to realize it is one municipality.
Haggerty said he believes everyone should be treated fairly and it is up to council to discover the fairest deal it can come up with.
Cross said while Greater Napanee is one municipality, he expects there will be different concerns from ward to ward and that’s why the ward system is in place. If he’s mayor, he said he’d welcome councillors bringing their local issues to the table.
“That’s where your voice is. It’s in the ward system.”
Isbester said business could move outside the developed core areas and amenities could follow. She also indicated it’s up to council to be responsive to the needs of all residents, no matter where they happen to live.
“We all live in the areas we have chosen to live in. If we need more services, we as a council have to be ready to provide them.”
Moving to Greater Napanee in 1998, Salaam said he’s never known the municipality to be anything else and said he believes people likely have more in common than not. He said tax policy needs to be balanced and fair, adding communication is important.
Water treatment and long-range planning
The final question of the evening saw candidates address capacity issues at Greater Napanee’s water treatment plant and their impact on growth and development in the town. Several candidates suggested that plant upgrades would require partnership from the provincial and federal levels of government to proceed.
Cross said council also has to review the municipality’s 20-year strategic plan and make provisions for necessary infrastructure.
Kaiser and Isbester both alluded to the municipality looking for funding from upper levels of government, but not being successful because Greater Napanee is not a “have-not” community. They credited staff with using creative strategies to improve capacity incrementally without having to do a complete overhaul of the system. Isbester also said the municipality has done well to build a surplus fund to address future expansion needs.
Harvey said capacity could be found by finding ways to cut back on water consumption and reduce flow from sump pumps into the sewage system.