Council hopefuls tackle vagrancy, economic development, taxes in public forum

Council hopefuls tackle vagrancy, economic development, taxes in public forum

Polite forum puts city candidates’ passions on display

Residents of the City of Wetaskiwin were able to gain a better knowledge of their election candidates’ thoughts, ideas and understanding of council at the candidates’ forum, held Oct. 5.

Through the forum’s model, questions were submitted and read aloud to the candidates, and while not every candidate was given the opportunity to answer every question, each candidate was given multiple opportunities to address the public.

Questions ranged from taxes to economic development, the airport to vagrancy.

In answering how the money saved by the current council — which decided to pull from the Joint Economic Development Initiative (JEDI) — will be put to better economic development use for the city, each councillor who addressed the question felt leaving JEDI was the right move.

“The decision by council to get out of the Joint Economic Development Initiative was not an easy one,” said incumbent candidate Wayne Neilson.

However, he added by doing so money saved can be put to other uses in the city.

Neilson also says having the city stay a part of JEDI is not the best way for Wetaskiwin to pursue economic development. “I think it’s time we market ourselves and not leave it to a third party.”

Candidate Blain Fuller also supported council’s decision to walk away from the initiative. “Honestly it makes perfect sense.”

“Who best know Wetaskiwin? People from Wetaskiwin,” he added.

JEDI is a joint economic development agreement between the Town of Millet, the County of Wetaskiwin, and, until Dec. 31, 2017, the City of Wetaskiwin.

Fuller believes with three different municipalities represented within the agreement it lacked the single, pinpointed focus Wetaskiwin needs.

The city’s mayoral candidates were questioned on how the Wetaskiwin Regional Chamber of Commerce can work with economic development within the city to attract and retain businesses, as well as address businesses biggest hurdles.

Mayoral candidate Tyler Gandam says since the amalgamation of the Wetaskiwin chamber with the Leduc Regional Chamber of Commerce the city is seeing better communication for the business community, as well as economic growth.

He added with even more effort those lines of communication will further open and benefit the City of Wetaskiwin. “The chamber can absolutely play a role in that.”

Mayoral candidate Glenn Ruecker answered, if the Wetaskiwin Regional Chamber of Commerce and economic development do not work together the City of Wetaskiwin will not move forward with growth in the future.

“It’s an absolute must,” said Ruecker.

As a matter that has been discussed in the past, candidates were asked what plan they had to deal with the matter of vagrancy in the city, including facilities and resources.

Candidate Alan Hilgartner says this topic extends beyond being the sole responsibility of council and believes the community as whole need to be involved.

“I think we already tried to set up a food and soup kitchen,” said Hilgartner.

“There’s got to be great thought in how we approach this. Just like with anything else, the more you give the more they will come,” he added.

Candidate Tony Goode says a police commission should be set up within the City of Wetaskiwin to address the issue.

Goode also serves as a member of the Community Solutions Committee, which is in the early stages of developing a friendship centre for the city. The friendship centre would serve as a hub to provide a variety of social and other services to the community.

“Council does not have the time to deal with those kinds of things,” said Goode, referring to the vagrancy matter brought up in the question.

Candidate Amanda Rule told the audience she struggled with the concept of dealing with the vagrancy issue, in it being put in those terms — lacking the element of humanity.

Rule believes the matter should be looked as people needing the help and support of the community and not an issue to simply be dealt with.

“I’ve lived here my whole life. I’ve seen it growing up,” said Rule.

With resources like outreach centres, justice cafe’s and friendship centres available or in the works Rule says it is not a lack of facilities posing a challenge, but instead a lack of manpower; volunteers are the ones often needed to keep the doors of such facilities open to the public.

“We have all these things here. I just believe they’re under utilized,” said Rule.

Candidate John Goofers says it is not up to city council to directly deal with the issue, but rather it is council’s responsibility to support and fund the agencies within the community whose goal it is to address vagrancy.

“I’m not really sure how city council can deal with the problem,” said Goofers.

The matter of taxes was brought up multiple times throughout the course of the forum, and candidates were questioned on if they felt the city ought to explore the idea of a public transit system, which would be funded with taxpayer dollars.

Multiple members of the candidates panel agree with what seems to be popular public opinion that with city’s taxes are too high in relation to comparable communities — including candidates Kevin Lonsdale and Dean Billingsley, who both answered yes when asked if they felt the city’s residential taxes were to high compared with other communities.

Candidate George Ollenberger says while a public transit system may be a ‘want’ for the city it would take even more tax dollars to create and maintain.

“I don’t think it’s feasible,” said Ollenberger.

Candidate Mervin Leibel says the matter would have to extend beyond the seven voices of council and include public consultation, as they benefits the system could offer would come at a price

“We would have to look into what those benefits are,” said Leibel.

Candidate Pamela Ganske says she would not be able to provide an answer to the question without first hearing the opinions for the residents of Wetaskiwin on the matter.

“I’m a firm believer in representing your voice,” said Ganske.

When it comes to economic development in the City of Wetaskiwin, candidates were asked what role they felt the Wetaskiwin Regional Airport plays.

Candidate Phil Houle-Gregg says he has not had much experience with the airport, but added with the scrap of the city’s involvement in JEDI an economic developer could be hired for the city to look into the matter.

“Clearly it’s a tool we can use,” said Houle-Gregg.

Candidate Mark McFaul says the community of Wetaskiwin has something unique to offer in with the registered, functioning Wetaskiwin Regional Airport, and it can be expanded upon to create further economic development for the city. “I believe the airport does play an important role in our community.”

When asked about how the City of Wetaskiwin can move forward and meet the rising challenge of the landfill reaching capacity, incumbent Patricia McQuarrie says action needs to be put into place to extend the lifespan of the current landfill.

Extending the lifespan of the landfill will give the city time to acquire funds for a new landfill down the road. She says this can be done through recycling programs and a take it or leave program at the landfill.

“You know what you can do, you throw out less,” said MacQuarrie.

Editors note: This story includes only a selection of the questions asked during the candidates’ forum and not every question could be included due to space availability.

The City of Wetaskiwin’s voting station will be set up at the Drill Hall from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.