It was experience versus change in the Pelham mayoral debate last week.
Dave Augustyn cited eight years of improvements overseen by town council. Mark Bay and Zachary Junkin said it was time for change.
More than 200 cheered and applauded the three candidates at Royal Canadian Legion Branch 613 last Wednesday.
For the third election, the Rotary Club of Fonthill hosted the mayoral debate. It followed a Q-and-A format than direct exchanges.
Each candidate received the same three questions in advance from the Rotary Club. That evening spectators submitted questions.
The Rotary asked about maintaining Pelham’s small town feel, a need to replace the arena, and, strategies to attract and retain small businesses.
In his opening remarks, Augustyn listed revitalization of downtown Fonthill and Fenwick, reconstruction of Haist Street, Effingham Street and Highway 20, nine new playgrounds, new Centennial Park playing fields, two new fire halls, 13 kilometres of sidewalks, more walking trails and cycling lanes. He pointed to East Fonthill development, a medical centre and cancer treatment centre for the future.
Bay, in his opening, questioned the mayor’s change of position on the town’s purchase of land at Highway 20 and Rice Road. He said Augustyn in 2006 campaigned to sell the land when he ran, now he supports using it for a community centre.
He said the town has spent $980,000 in interest charges on the land.
Bay was also critical of the town’s delays in Haist Street, Fonthill and Fenwick reconstructions.
Junkin said it was time for a change of leadership. The current administration, he said has stopped treating residents as individuals and started treating them as a tax number.
He offered a leadership that listened and would be open, transparent and responsible.
On the question of retaining small town feel, Bay said “that ship has already sailed” with a town undergoing constant construction and reconstruction.
He said town council has been indecisive. It should “decide what to do and do it.”
Junkin praised the bandshell concerts, supper market, farmers market and festivals as entertaining for the town.
However, he said, they were like bread and circuses that went on while citizens concerns were ignored.
Augustyn said town council was retaining the small town feel through planning and design guidelines. The town uses a problem solving process that involves residents in planning.
The secondary plan for East Fonthill, for example, includes cycling and walking as well as public squares, he said. Commercial development in the new area will not include big box stores or the boutiques reserved for downtown Fonthill.
Augustyn said the passage of the East Fonthill Secondary Plan in January allowed the town owned land to reach its full value for sale.
All three candidates favoured replacing the current arena. Junkin and Bay criticized the current administration for delays.
Junkin said Pelham needs and wants a new arena but will have to be willing to pay higher taxes. Federal and provincial governments are cutting spending rather than giving out money.
Augustyn said the town is working with a resident committee and an architect on a design for a new facility.
You can’t get federal government or provincial support if you don’t have a design in place, he said.
Bay suggested partnering with Welland and Thorold to build a good rink for all three drawing in corporate sponsors. Meanwhile, the old Pelham arena could be used for children and family programs possibly adding a pool. The location is more accessible for families.
“We’ve got lots of lemons, let’s start making juice.”
Questions from the floor included improving co-operation with Niagara Region, public transit, Fenwick Library, sustaining agriculture, preserving heritage, improving services for youth and property taxes.
They were asked what qualifies each to be mayor
Augustyn cited eight years of experience. He can show what he has done rather than just say what he will do.
Bay said he knows how to deal with people and follow through on what he says.
Junkin said the mayor and council have built things up so “you and I can’t aspire to what they do.”
In a town of 17,000 any person with a reasonable intelligence can do the job, he said.
After the debate, Augustyn said he was impressed with the turnout but couldn’t say how the evening went. It was like a job interview.
Bay said he would have preferred a format with more exchanges among the candidates.
Junkin was delighted to see a large enthusiastic crowd; he hoped he came across all right despite a cold.