Ward 6 Larry Vellinga

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I see a need to refocus on growing our population and our local economy. No more railroads or trips to China with little to no positive returns. It’s time we focus our attention inwards, supporting our local small businesses to create opportunities.

There is constant traffic up and down the 401 of potential tourists with pockets full of money looking for somewhere to spend it. It’s time we push to become that destination.

As a predominantly rural municipality, we struggle to create meaningful opportunities for our youth. A focus on new technologies and partnering with St. Clair College and the University of Guelph may increase the potential of becoming a future center of excellence with good paying positions.

My education combined with business experience as Facilities Maintenance Manager at Ford Motor Company provide the tools necessary to make meaningful, fiscally responsible decisions for the citizens of Chatham Kent.

  1. Do you support increasing funding for infrastructure given the fact several culverts and bridges – including the Third Street Bridge – have had emergency issues and closures recently?

No. Property owners in Chatham Kent already pay some of the highest property taxes in the province. We need to prioritize all of our infrastructure needs based on conditions, availability of resources, traffic flow impact and usage. Emergencies will happen. That’s why we have reserve funds in place to handle emergency occurrences.

  1. Would you support a tax freeze or rollback if it meant reduced staff and/or services?

No. Municipal staff levels can be reduced through attrition rather than layoffs or job eliminations. We need to have a comprehensive look at what we do today, what we should be doing and what will we need to do in the future. Adjust staffing levels accordingly and if someone is displaced as their job has become redundant, train them to perform a different position that is open or will be open in the near future.

  1. Would you support shifting some services to the private sector if those services could be done more efficiently that way?

No. My experience in the private sector has shown that contracting of services in the long term does not always provide the intended savings. Initially, many contractors hang the carrot of cost reductions and efficiencies only to raise costs significantly after you have eliminated your own expertise and ability to perform the same service. It’s a very slippery slope. Instead I would prefer to see each department tasked to identify efficiencies and reduce budgets accordingly to save taxpayers money. This could be tied to all levels of the municipal organization for compensation. The mindset “If I don’t spend it I’ll get less in next year’s budget” needs to be eliminated at all levels in all municipal departments.

  1. Do you believe we need a municipal ombudsman or ethics commissioner?

No.      I’m not in favour of creating another underutilized position. An alternative would be to form a small committee, on an as needed basis, to review any concerns comprised of administration, council and citizen members. Small in size to ensure an effective decision making process. All members of this committee would be required to sign confidentiality agreements as they may be dealing with personally sensitive documentation.

  1. Do you support investigating a reduction in the number of council members?

Yes. Council should be reduced from the current 17 to 10 Councilors. Each would be responsible for 10% of the population in Chatham as well as 10% of the population in the surrounding area. In this way, it changes the mindset of the Councilors to represent everyone in Chatham Kent. No more rural vs urban or the restricted attitude of taking care of my little fiefdom. Councilors would be elected at large meaning everyone in Chatham Kent would be able to vote for every candidate. Candidates in order to be elected would be forced to campaign throughout Chatham Kent. Successful candidates would be assigned wards of approximately 10K citizens as close to their homes as possible. The money saved by the reduction would be split 50/50 between the taxpayers and the 10 successful Councilors since they would be assuming greater responsibilities.

  1. Should the municipality try to land an Ontario Cannabis Store as soon as possible?

No. The province has already stated they will be selling Cannabis through online purchasing to start. As they expand, retail outlets will be licensed by the province. Whether you agree or disagree, partake or abstain, legalization is coming on October 17th. I do not see a need to rush. Let’s get it right to ensure it progresses in a manner which protects everyone’s rights on both sides of legalization. Like cigarettes and alcohol, we need to ensure we protect the health and wellbeing of our youth.

  1. Should council be more proactive in terms of working with landowners with contaminated wells?

Yes. Clean water is a basic of life. Regardless of how the wells were contaminated, these people need access to clean water. The large cisterns that were provided in their driveways are not the answer. I’ve been informed that a large portion of the infrastructure is already in place along Highway 40 with the exception of a few concessions. We need to finish the job and connect these people to municipal water. The bill should be paid for from provincial coffers as the Green Energy Act did not allow municipalities to deny wind turbine construction.

  1. Some critics say the municipal building department is an impediment to development in C-K. Do you agree?

Yes. A friend recently built a small shed on her property. This was inspected 3 times by the building department. Really, 3 times for a shed. And that was after waiting to have her prints approved. We need to get all departments in the municipality to realize they need to be part of the solution to growth and not a barrier. I truly understand building construction needs to happen in a safe manner and there are codes that must be followed to which most reputable contractors already completely understand. All departments within municipal operations need to understand that they must exhibit the “We are open for business” attitude.

  1. Do you believe Chatham needs a new twin-pad arena?

Yes. It is definitely time to build a new twin pad arena / health complex. Memorial Arena was built in 1949 and has served this area well however it is well overdue for retirement as an arena. Perhaps it could be repurposed as a farmers market or other venue. We need to ensure we have the federal and provincial governments on board to each cover 1/3 of the cost as they have done in most other municipalities. Chatham Kent would be responsible for the remaining 1/3. This would also allow for additional sports tourism opportunities which have a positive impact on the local economy. Positive for our small businesses and positive for job creation.

  1. Should the municipality cut back on its expenditures for overseas economic development efforts?

Yes      This is not something I believe the municipality should be going alone. We have seen very limited results from these overseas endeavours. Now if the federal or provincial governments have solid leads for investment and want the municipality at the table, then by all means we should be in attendance. Our focus should be turned inward to support our small businesses. As I have stated in my platform, there are people driving up and down the 401 with pockets full of money just looking for somewhere to spend it. Let’s give them every opportunity possible to spend it here in Chatham Kent.

  1. Should municipal councilors ever be forced to go the Freedom of Information route when seeking municipal information?

No. Council members are elected by the citizens of Chatham Kent to represent them. They are there to oversee the operation of the municipality and as such should have access to all documentation without having to resort to the FOI route. Administration and municipal staff need to clearly understand that they are employees of the citizens of Chatham Kent and Councilors are their elected representatives.

  1. Should members of the public have more access to municipal information without having to resort to an FOI?

Yes. In most cases, there should be no need to force citizens to follow the FOI route. There are sensitive topics however which must be kept confidential. Examples would be personal employee information which is protected by privacy policies or ongoing litigations, negotiations or tenders which have not yet been awarded. Items such as approved budgets or expenditures should be readily available.

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