Candidates Questions

1. Why are you running for City Council? What is your agenda for improving our city?

   I grew up in Owen Sound, left for several years and chose to return to the community I love most. I was raised with the belief that I have a duty to give back to the community.    Council has positioned our community for appropriate growth by making the right connections and fostering the right relationships. We're working with local industry, small business and local entrepreneurs to leverage success, secure jobs, re-purpose space and support the new economy. We have poured the foundation. Now we need to build on it.

2. What skills and experience do you offer that will make you a successful, city-builder and consensus builder?

   I am passionate about the potential of our community. I am analytical in my approach to issues and strategic about our direction. As Mayor, I have worked together with council to reach a consensus on many issues. We have improved our communications by presenting reports and committee minutes at Council meetings and made it easier to understand our decisions. I want to lead the next council to complete the good work for our community that we have started.

3. Given that Owen Sound is known for high property taxes, how important is it to hold the line? Can we address social and health issues and other pressing problems despite the fiscal challenges?

   Many people are more concerned about losing services than reducing municipal taxes. People are concerned that their taxes will not cover the costs of infrastructure in the future. At the same time, we need to be competitive with other municipalities in the services we provide combined with comparative tax rates.    Over the past four years, we have added a portion of tax increases directly to capital to manage the infrastructure deficit we were left with, and to build reserves for the future. That needs to continue.    Police and fire services combined account for approximately 46% of our annual operating budget. We have dealt with an OPP costing and we are dealing with fire arbitration issues to try to manage those costs. We completed an extensive service review of the remaining city operations and found efficiencies over $800,000 annually. We were able to pass more moderate tax increases compared to similar communities with the goal to move down relative to others.    Our best strategy is to continue to carefully manage our costs and to grow the tax base to bring relief.

4. Our city's downtown retail district is in protracted decline with over 25% empty storefronts along 2nd Ave. East. How can we revitalize our downtown - what process, what specific options and what sorts of investments?

   Our downtown is the heart of our community. My family had a clothing store for 39 years. My grandfather had a butcher shop before that. I am the third generation with a business downtown. I have watched it ebb and flow as shopping trends change. Downtown must be more than just a place to shop. The Downtown River Precinct Plan is a major policy piece to make our downtown an attractive people place and more welcoming to all.    We have completed a Downtown Revitalization study looking for gaps in products and services. We need to continue to attract unique culture, fine arts, and specialty boutiques and services. The Facade Improvement grant will continue to support businesses improving the streetscape. New housing developments in the core and around the harbour will bring more residents downtown.

5. Owen Sound gives owners of retail/business properties a 30% tax rebate for those portions of buildings that are unoccupied, which has been called an incentive to keep them empty. Will you vote to end this giveaway?

   The vacant land rebate policies are currently being looked at. There are pros and cons to the policy. I will decide in the best interest of our community after reviewing all of the information when available.

6. How do you propose to stimulate the local economy to attract new enterprises in order to generate decent-paying jobs that are urgently needed in Owen Sound?

   We've made investments toward economic growth, and we can't stop now. We've invested in infrastructure in order to have development ready land and have launched an entrepreneurial attraction campaign. Business and large industrial tax rates have been reduced from the highest in the province to be competitive. Our City has some great success stories. Owen Sound is a great place to invest. Together, we all need to share those positive stories. We need to keep the momentum going.

7. Because the Owen Sound waterfront has not been designated a federal 'Area of Concern' it is not eligible for funding to clean up toxic pollution, and prepare disused land for redevelopment. Will you work and vote to get this designation and seek other ways to clean up the vacant land on both sides of the bay?

   The harbour is owned by Transport Canada. I do not support transferring the costs of cleaning up their pollution to the City. If our harbour qualifies, I support Transport Canada applying for the designation.    With regard to the lands around the harbour, the City's Community Improvement Plan offers incentives to private land owners for rehabilitating brownfield lands. We have waived development charges on residential builds as incentives to encourage developers to invest.

8. Owen Sound has eliminated development charges for larger housing and retail projects, money that is collected in other Ontario cities to cover the costs of road, water and sewage infrastructure. Is this a necessary development incentive, or should it be studied with a view to ending such a worthless giveaway?

   Waiving residential development charges has been a very successful incentive. Development charges were waived on residential builds only, and not retail or commercial projects. In 2014 the City had one new house completed. In 2017 ninety-one permits for dwellings were issued. Total construction values increased 220% in 2017. The new tax assessment generated can be used to offset the waived charges, pay for infrastructure renewal, as well as help reduce tax increases.    There is a specific area development charge in place for the Sydenham Heights area to repay the City for the costs of the services installed in Sydenham Heights. Opening up those lands for development are vital to our ability to attract labour, jobs and more assessment.

9. Why are Collingwood, Thornbury and Tobermory active tourist destinations while Owen Sound, relatively speaking, is ignored? Are we adequately promoting our music and cultural events and hiking/snowshoeing/skiing opportunities? How can tourism be more effectively promoted?

   We have some great cultural and recreational attractions and events to be proud of. I do not believe we are ignored given the success of our events. We need to share positive stories about our successes and stop dwelling on our perceived inferiority. We need to continue to leverage the City's tourism budget partnering with private businesses, Grey County and Ontario RTO7 and promote our unique features.

10. Poverty is a stubborn reality for tens of thousands of our neighbours. According to Bruce Grey United Way in 2017, a single parent with two kids needs a full-time wage of $21.01 per hour, but this is a dream for thousands of workers. How do you propose to reduce poverty?

   Poverty is an important provincial issue. It was recognized along with housing and opiate issues by the Ministers of the Government of Ontario at the recent AMO meeting. Of every dollar paid in taxes in Ontario, only nine cents are collected at the municipal level. We do not have the resources to encroach into the Province's area of responsibility. We will strive to administer provincial programs and funding at Grey County to have maximum results.    It is important for us to attract more employment opportunities. If more people have jobs, more disposable income gets spent within the community and more jobs will be created. We are heading in the right direction with new manufacturers, BWXT, Brotech, NEST and the medical marihuana facility, plus the expansion of established employers like Bellwyck Packaging, McLean Engineering and Belfor. We are heading in the right direction with the millennial entrepreneur attraction plan. We are heading in the right direction with the skills training centre planned for the former Sydenham school. We are not done yet.

11. Owen Sound's low-income renters are experiencing close to the lowest apartment vacancy rates in Ontario. What can be done to increase the housing supply, especially for younger and low-income people? (Housing issues, it should be noted, are primarily addressed at the county level, so how can a local councillor have an impact?)

   Housing at affordable prices is an important cornerstone of attracting needed labour to fill newly created jobs. We installing services to open up more development ready lands for various types of housing that will fulfill market demands of empty nesters downsizing from three and four bedroom houses as well as young families.    Provincial and Federal programs will be pursued by the County and by public and private developers to get more affordable housing. The City's Community Improvement Plan offers incentives of interest free loans to developers who are building affordable housing. Our Council adopted a policy that will permanently waive development charges on affordable housing and Habitat for Humanity builds. We will look at all options available during the five-year update of the Official Plan during this council term.

12. Many Ontario municipalities have studied their 'carbon footprint' and created a plan to address climate change at the local level, but Owen Sound has lagged behind. What measures would you propose to reduce CO2 emissions and to adapt to climate change impacts? Would you vote for a study to identify practical options?

   The policy review by the provincial government has created some uncertainty. We do not know what the legislation or our options will be. We need to know what programs and regulations will be implemented by the provincial government.