Fort Erie golf club hosts annual event
BY SARAH FERGUSON
Niagara Independent News Association
South Niagara’s mayors talked about important issues facing their communities over lunch last week.
In a question-and-answer-style session, Fort Erie Mayor Wayne Redekop, Thorold Mayor Terry Ugulini, Wainfleet Mayor Kevin Gibson, Pelham Mayor Marvin Junkin, and Port Colborne Mayor Bill Steele discussed several topics, including the possibility of amalgamation of regional services, and goals for the future, at the annual Southern Tier Mayor’s Luncheon, hosted at Bridgewater Golf and Country Club last Thursday.
The event is held each year and is organized by various chambers of commerce in south Niagara.
Absent from this year’s meeting was Welland Mayor Frank Campion and Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati.
First up, the mayors were asked what they hoped to accomplish over the course of the next four years.
Redekop said affordable housing is of great importance in Fort Erie, which is why the previous term of council, under his leadership, established an Affordable Housing Committee to address affordable housing issues and initiatives.
His vision, Redekop said, is to strive to make Fort Erie a community where people want to live and visit, and businesses want to locate here.
Ugulini said, “What’s good for the City [of Thorold] is good for the Region,” and that’s economic development.
“We can talk about affordable housing all we want but what we need is to provide jobs. That’s key,” he said, and added that Thorold currently has about six subdivisions under development.
Junkin said Pelham has put measures in place to curb the further expansion of cannabis facilities in the community by creating stricter bylaws. The goal, he stated, is to ensure these facilities “become good neighbours” before more can move in.
“We love the jobs that come with it,” he said about a local cannabis company in Pelham, CannTrust, that provides some 260 jobs.
“But we have to try to tame these cowboys. We can’t have our long-time residents forced to be housebound just because these guys are moving in and stinking up the neighbourhood.”
Gibson joked that Wainfleet staff were, “working very hard on incentives to get grow-ops to move to Pelham.”
He said all of Junkin’s points were well taken and that many cannabis companies haven’t been, “good neighbours.”
He said the town has a “heavy to-do list,” which includes building a new fire hall with an ambulance bay, with space for police services.
Gibson said something he would like to accomplish over his term is to establish a senior citizen’s advisory committee to address transportation and other services seniors lack in the community he represents.
Steele said Port Colborne needs to focus on improving its infrastructure and developing a stormwater plan, which is up for consideration in the budget.
He also said Port Colborne is a marine city, with viable land in the municipality to grow the surrounding marine business industry. The mayors were also asked about the possibility of the amalgamation of services in the Niagara Region and the Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives’ review of the province’s regional governments.
Speaking about the provincial government’s review of how regional governments operate, Redekop said the review is potentially looking at reducing the number of politicians, but it wouldn’t solve any of the Region’s problems.
He argued Niagara’s elected officials earn a small salary, and in some cases, it’s as low as $8,000 per councillor in some municipalities. In Fort Erie, each councillor receives about $13,000 a year, so he said it doesn’t make sense to cut politicians. When all of Fort Erie’s six council members’ salaries are combined, it makes up 0.4 per cent of the Town’s budget, he told the audience.
“You’re not saving a lot of money,” he said, and added, “We’re not unmindful of opportunities for cost efficiencies and we will be looking at sharing costs [for other services].”
Ugulini said it’s important for Niagara’s municipalities, including Thorold, to participate in the governance review, rather than have the decision forced on the region.
“We’re not going to be hiding our heads in the sand on this,” he said, and added that he felt Niagara should keep a two-tier governance model, but the review of the governing body is important to “focus on delivering cost savings.”
In Pelham, Junkin said the amalgamation of some services would be better for all of Niagara. Among those services, Junkin said Niagara should have one local transit operator.
“We need to get people to where the jobs are within the region, and the only way to do that is with an effective, integrated transit system.”
Gibson said it was important for Wainfleet to keep the municipality intact.
“There’s a sense of pride there, and the thought of losing Wainfleet as a town is huge to us.”
He also said he would like to see the regional government model modified so lower-tier municipalities keep more of the tax revenue they collect.
“We need to streamline the Region so we’re sending less of our tax dollars to the Region,” he said. “Our township should have a little more control over ourselves and where we spend our money.”
Steele said amalgamation might be “a dirty word” for some people but it isn’t a bad idea.
“We can’t continue to be afraid to talk about amalgamation,” he said, and added that might mean reducing the number of politicians in Niagara or amalgamating some services such as Niagara’s fire departments.
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