2020 was a difficult year for everyone. There is still considerable uncertainty as to how the pandemic and its repercussions will unfold in 2021, so the Rural Post contacted our four Township Mayors, the Rural Caucus if you will, to bring you up to date on their experiences and expectations for the year to come.
What impressed all of the Mayors the most in 2020 was the resiliency and ingenuity of the people in their Townships.
Wellesley’s Mayor Joe Nowak said “When the pandemic began, our community really rallied. I’m very impressed with how the community groups like the Lions adapted, raising money for the food bank. The Apple Jacks also raised a significant amount of money with a draw. The Apple Butter and Cheese Festival ran a raffle last year and raised as much money for charity as in previous years. It’s individuals and groups, large and small, that are a real testament to the rural way of living.”
Sue Foxton, Mayor of North Dumfries said that “in Ayr, people were encouraged to place teddy bears in their yards and kids walked the neighbourhood counting teddy bears. People painted poppies on their windows for Remembrance Day. People painted stones and spread them around the community to spread a little cheer. What impressed me the most were the many neighbourhood groups that started mini food banks to help those that needed it. It was all confidential. You look after your neighbours,” she said.
For all of our Mayors, last year was the year of Zoom meetings. While virtual meetings save a lot of travel time, many of the advantages of face-to-face meetings were lost. “I’ve been to one, maybe two (physical) meetings since the pandemic hit, and that was at Regional Council in March,” said Woolwich Mayor, Sandy Shantz. “But one positive is that our meetings are now online, so people can watch them.”
Shantz misses the camaraderie of meeting face-to-face. “If you’re only dealing by email, it’s kind of flat,” Shantz said. “I don’t mind the Zoom meetings, but I do miss those moments when you bump into someone and have a conversation. I think we’ve lost some of the cooperative nature of how we’ve been working.”
Asked how the pandemic has affected their Township’s bottom line, each Mayor said that they’re not doing too badly. While there were some home owners who were a little late getting their property taxes paid, most met the filing date.
Revenue is down from recreation facilities, but this has been offset by “savings on staff; the lights aren’t on as much and the heat isn’t turned up as high. That was part of what evened it out,” said Wilmot’s Mayor Les Armstrong. “I’m pretty pleased. Financially, we’re not doing too bad. Of course the monies coming from the upper tiers (Provincial and Federal) have helped a lot. Our debt, which had been around $500,000 or more, is now down to $100 – $150 thousand, so we’re going to be alright.”
These sentiments were also shared by North Dumfries’ Mayor, Sue Foxton, who said “We lost a lot of revenue from rec facilities, but saved in other areas so we should end up with a year-end surplus.”
According to Mayor Shantz, “Subdivisions are expanding with the opening of a new phase in South Parkwood and in Breslau, and migration out of Toronto has been a boon for housing prices, particularly in Breslau.” That’s good news for the Woolwich Township coffers.
So how do our mayors see things shaping up in 2021?
Some of the mayors have finished drafting their budgets for 2021 while others are still in the process, but it’s looking pretty good. Mayor Nowak said Wellesley “just finished (their) budget and expect a 2.2% increase.”
North Dumfries is still working on their budget, but Mayor Foxton says Council has asked for a 1.5% increase and staff says 1.2%.
Increases of these magnitudes seem quite reasonable especially given the disruptions and uncertainties brought on by the pandemic.
From a capital budget perspective, Wilmot’s Mayor Les Armstrong says “there’s a lot more ongoing work on the trails and 2021 should see the resurfacing of Snyder’s Road in front of Castle Kilbride.” This resurfacing has been delayed for the past 4 years as underground services have been reviewed and as it is a regional road, it needs the ok from the Region.
In North Dumfries, Mayor Foxton says that a report came back showing that there is a need for a community, multi ice pad facility. Foxton thinks they’re about 90% of the way to breaking ground on the new facility, while plans are to take the old ACC building and turn it into a sports building.
Mayor Shantz of Woolwich says she’s “trying to keep on top of Covid, so a lot of stuff has been put on hold. Planning is now more on how we will proceed when we get out of Covid.”
In Wellesley, Mayor Nowak says “Once the vaccine is up and running, people will be going out and sports will start again. While we were unsuccessful in our previous application to the Province for money to build a recreation centre, we continue to work on it. We should have a finalized design in place this summer and are currently putting together a plan to short list bids for construction.” As the temporary roof on the old Wellesley ice rink is a bandaid solution at best, and it would cost upwards of $2 million to repair the floor and upgrade the washroom facilities, it would probably be cheaper just to build a new one.
The community spirit that we’ve witnessed during the pandemic has resulted in our townships coming out stronger and more connected. With 2020 behind us, that spirit that carried us through the tough times and will be the catalyst that will help our communities recover rapidly once the pandemic is finally behind us.
Written by Todd Cowan