[dropcap]A[/dropcap]A “Town Hall” Meeting hosted by the Richmond Village Association Sept. 19th provided a crowd of approximately 100 attendees a voice and an opportunity to assess the two candidates seeking to represent Rideau-Goulbourn on City Council.
Residents have a choice between incumbent Scott Moffatt and his challenger, David Brown. Brown is President of The Richmond Agricultural Society/Fair Board and has experience working as a staff member for Moffatt as well as on Parliament Hill. Both candidates have deep roots in the community.
Other than a brief thank you to the organizers Moffatt stated that he would rather listen and answer questions than speak about himself. Brown took a similar stance after briefly introducing himself but added that one of the reasons he is running is it always feels like you are fighting the City to get more service.
The format of the meeting was that of a question and answer session rather than a debate. The questions asked were revealing as they portrayed a sense of what ward residents are seeking. Several strong themes emerged from the questions posed: residents want visible leadership, innovation and action … in a nutshell, more value from their tax dollars.
The Village Association opened the evening by questioning the candidates on the biggest challenges facing Richmond in the next four to five years and how they should be addressed.
Brown would like to sit down with developers with a view to moving up the schedule for planned improvements to infrastructure rather than waiting until 70% of the homes are built. This is something he stated is unfair to existing residents. Moffatt acknowledged growth as a challenge for existing residents but felt the 70% isn’t necessarily true as there is a review every 5 years. He also stated “you cannot browbeat developers to do stuff they don’t have to do”.
Landfill vs incineration, the possibility of having increased garbage pick-up in the summer, and the elimination of plastics were the subject of several environmental questions looking for leadership, innovation and action.
Moffatt argued for the status quo supporting garbage diversion vs filling up the dump. He would not support more pick-up in the summer arguing it would just cost more. Using plastic bags in the existing green bins will help the “ick” factor and the plastics can be recycled. He cited a 10 year process as being necessary to consider changes to the current approach and that it was unfortunate Plasco was a failure as it was a great deal for the City on paper. He is concerned incineration could result in a near doubling of costs (tipping fees) for garbage disposal.
Brown would support moving to modern incineration solutions that produce energy from waste to offset their cost. He claims there are proven models in place in Canada and Europe that the City can learn from. He feels there is more than likely a private public partnership that could bring such a scheme to fruition. Citing the landfill in this ward as “unsustainable” he stated “I don’t want to wait another 25 years for a solution”. He is also prepared to look at increasing summer garbage collection and wants to better understand how it is residents now pay more than they used to for half the service.
Questions posed about transit, accessibility, road safety, the state of roads as well as long range plans for a ring road were raised. Several residents cited a lack of leadership, innovation and action and stated that Ottawa as the Capital should be taking a leadership position.
On transit, Brown recognized that with only 4 buses at rush hour, having one late is a 25% reduction in service. He will work to ensure improved on-time service and look for ways to increase service. As for roads he stated the CIty itself recognizes 75% of the roads need repair and there is a $70 Million deficit in the budget. The current plan will take 10 years to catch up. Brown proposes using the $56 Million per year received from the federal government from gasoline taxes and directing that towards the deficit. Much of it has been spent on acquiring buses in the past. On the issue of accessibility he is concerned it is not just an issue for the physically impaired but also for seniors. He proposed trying a new type of crosswalk in Richmond that is being piloted elsewhere in the City. On safety, he was critical of Moffatt for only using $35K of $160 K available this year in the ward for traffic calming safety measures, the lowest expenditure of all wards in the City. He will treat traffic calming as a priority. He also agreed that looking into the future at the need for a ring road made sense … perhaps extensions to Earle Armstrong or a public private partnership for a new road.
Moffat contends most delays to the bus service are a result of downtown issues. (This should change with the LRT.) He stated the 283 is the best rural bus service in the City and cautioned that increasing service could result in a huge increase in the tax levy for the service. Moffatt agreed accessibility for the physically impaired is an issue and cited a plan to resurface Huntley with hard shoulders in a couple of years. ParaTranspo is available for trips inside the greenbelt and ROSSS is available and doing a good job for rural to rural destinations. On the roads deficit Moffatt defended the current approach saying the federal gas tax has never been in the roads budget. If you take it away from transit then you have to find money for transit somewhere else. On traffic calming measures Moffatt defended not spending more of the funds available to him saying he didn’t want to simply blow the budget but didn’t offer a solution for calming. He will try to ensure the budget carries over to next term. He did not support looking at a ring road.
There was a question about tax increases and the candidates support for them.
Moffatt stated that he voted for all eight of the last budgets which saw increases from 2 to 2.5%. These increases were far lower than those prior to his taking office
Brown pointed out that $26 million comes to the City through those increases. While he understands that most of that goes to pay for staff salaries and he is not advocating wholesale cuts he feels there is a need to look at where that new money goes. If elected, he looks forward to finding ways to increase funding for infrastructure services within the existing budget.
On representing the ward, ward priorities and communications:
Moffatt stated that there is no rural urban divide when it comes to the City. The job is all about how you work with others on Council. As for priorities he believes in making the communities better through planning for “complete communities” and making sure growth brings things the community wants. He also believes the old plaza needs to be redeveloped. Moffatt admits communications are a challenge despite a strong presence on social media. He has done a series of town halls in the past and sees a need to do more newsletters. Going forward he would “localize” those newsletters to each area in the ward.
Brown sees large shortfalls in basic infrastructure and services as the priority. He wants to look at the annual budget and federal gas tax revenues as a source of revenue to address these problems. A ten year horizon is unacceptable to him and he believes he can make a difference. He commented “the City does not have a revenue problem it has a spending problem”. He believes the four rural councilors need to work very closely together to ensure rural issues are addressed. On communications he pledged to hold annual community meetings in addition to weekly open door drop-in policy meetings. All his written communications will carry his cell number where residents may reach out to him at any time.
Monday, October 22nd is election day. Make sure you get out and vote for the candidate of your choice.