Mayor Wade Mills: Following in his father’s footsteps

·10 min read

While one could say Shelburne Mayor Wade Mills was following in his father’s foot-steps, the truth is that it was Wade who first got the political bug and perhaps gave it to his Dad. Wade’s first interests in politics came when he was in grade 6, when Jean Chrétien was on the political rise. Before life in Shelburne however, Wade started life, literally in the Old Royal Victo-ria Hospital in Barrie Ontario. At that time, Wade’s parents lived in Alliston, with he and his older brother Dean. When Wade turned ten years old, his par-ents bought a farm in Mulmur and he became a local to Shelburne. That was 1993. Wade’s father had always sold cattle over-seas and so the farm was a natural progres-sion in his professional career, which allevi-ated the need for him to use various other locations to house the cattle and prepare them for overseas delivery.Wade went to public school at Centennial Hylands and Centre Dufferin schools, before graduating from high school at Centre Duf-ferin District High School in 2001. He later went to Brock University, where his first day of class was on Sept. 11, 2001, when America’s twin towers were struck by a terrorist attack.He did three years at Brock before going to Dalhousie University in Halifax for his Law degree in 2004.Wade then articled in St Cath-erine’s and was called to the bar in January 2009. In 2010, he moved back to Shelburne and bought John Timmermans half of the law practice, which he still holds today.Wade was always active in the community, coaching minor ball hockey and being on both the fair board and the economic devel-opment committee prior to running for coun-cil in 2014. Meanwhile, Wade’s Dad had run for Shel-burne Council in 2003 and was elected to serve till 2006, at which time the Province changed the terms to four years from three. He ran again in 2006, but this time as mayor and won by a single vote. However, after the recount, he lost by a single vote. Nevertheless he ran again in 2010 and beat his opponent by some 60 per cent. He served, until 2018, and was Warden of the County in his last year, 2018. Meanwhile, son Wade campaigned for a seat on Shelburne Council in 2014 and was elected. Wade continued with his community involvement, being on numerous committees and boards, including the Economic Devel-opment Committee, the Centre Dufferin Rec-reation Complex, the Business Improvement Association, and the Fire Board. In 2018, Wade decided to run for Mayor. It was a contentious time in Shelburne, with the first OPP costing underway and the potential sale of Fiddle Park being debated. It was definitely time for some changes and Wade was in the middle of it all. Likewise, both issues weighed heavily on then mayor, Ken Bennington and ultimately likely had a profound affect on his decision not to seek a second term. With the future uncertain, at the time, Wade felt that Shelburne was at a bit of a crossroads and that the road the Town chose to pursue was pivotal. He had ideas as to where the Town should go and he subsequently threw his hat into the ring to run for Mayor. Those he sought out for advice all felt that there were going to be opportunities in the ensuing four years for Shelburne and that if they were not seized, those doors would close.Things were falling into place for him to make the move. His law practice was estab-lished, his wife was supportive and their new son, born in 2017, was old enough to settle into the political time constraints that would face a mayor. One thing he did not expect was to win by acclamation. He had assumed that someone would pick up the gauntlet, so to speak and run against him. It was not to be.Come election night, waiting for results he found himself waiting to see who he would be working with in the coming four years. The election results were dramatic, in that Council had changed very little in the pre-vious years, but now all but two, himself and Walter Benotto, remained. Even Deputy Mayor Anderson had not previously been elected, but rather appointed following the sudden death of Councillor Tom Egan ten months prior.Like many Council members, Wade had at first supported the sale of Fiddle Park. Financially, it was a strong plus for the Town coffers and made tremendous fiscal sense. Unfortunately, the majority of the negoti-ations were carried out “in-camera” and so they were not made public, but ultimately the strong public disapproval and the makeup of the final deal soured it in Wade’s eyes. At the time of walking away from the sale, Wade and several others opined publicly that now that the residents had expressed such strong feelings and placed such a high value on the land as a park, that they would now come forth and use the area. Unfortunately, with the exception of two groups, this has not generally been the case. That has become a driving force behind Council wanting to develop a Park Master Plan for Fiddle Park. Although it has been delayed in 2020 due to the pandemic, the Master Plan is on the agenda for 2021. All of the Town’s parks will be looked at as for what they currently have and what potentially could go there. An example is KTH Park, which will become the home for Shelburne’s new tennis and pickle ball court, as well as the proposed Cricket Pitch. The latter will be shared by the baseball diamond in the beginning, but a regulation pitch can fit in the park.In terms of capital expenses, Shelburne is facing many and the Mayor as well as Town Council are hard pressed to grapple with them, while maintaining a responsible tax increase. One of Wade’s primary objectives when he became Mayor was to invest strategically in infrastructure. An important item is the resurfacing of the connecting links in town. Those being, Main Street and Owen Sound Street, which are in actuality, Highway 89 and Highway 10. For a number of years Shel-burne had not received any provincial Con-necting Link Grants, however in 2019 they did receive a grant and have made another strong application in the current year. In the intervening years, the town, in an effort to keep ahead of the deterioration that occurs, has done maintenance and resurfac-ing efforts. To Wade, this is simply preventive maintenance to avoid reaching a stage where the costs become prohibitive and require large-scale borrowing to achieve results. Along those same lines Council created a separate water main reserve in 2019 to enable the town to maintain and repair aging water mains. They are looking at doing water main upgrades to minimize repairs. Perhaps the biggest issue now is the sew-age treatment plant. Currently it is running at about capacity and if future development is expected, changes must be made.The engineering and environmental stud-ies are virtually complete at the moment and a final decision as to which option to choose should be made in 2021. Reports from the engineers indicate that even a maintenance of the status quo will cost a considerable amount of moneyWade favours an upgrade and expansion option, which will bring capacity up to where it will meet the needs of the community. He said the majority of Council also favours this line of thinking. As well, in 2021 they hope to finish an arse-nic remediation project on Well #3, which will assist the Town water supply positively.The SCADA control panel for the wells and treatment plant will be upgraded this year as well, so that now all systems will be con-trolled by the same system across the board. In the west end, the existing wells, #7 and #8 have sufficient capacity for any future development needs, however they will have to have do pump upgrades to accomplish this. Originally, Wade said smaller cost effective pumps were installed, which were adequate for the Town’s needs at that time, but are inadequate for increased demand. A pumping station and new sewage lines would also have to be installed in order to accommodate waste water on any develop-ment on the north side of Highway. 89. These lines would run down to the main trunk lines and they go into the treatment plant. Good news for residential taxpayers is the growing commercial development coming to both ends of Town. Wade was pleased to see Fieldgate’s Phase One plan for the east end development and was eager to point out that things are progressing well. The highway improvements have been completed and Council has seen the plans for the first commercial stage, which will include a new Foodland Grocery Store. There will be a second phase on the east side of the new entrance later on and on the south side of Hwy. 89, east of the No Frills parking lot Loblaws owns more land, which is slated for development too. In the west end there is the property where the new Tim Horton’s is going, which will also house addi-tional commercial outlets.In closing, Wade discussed the upcoming tax increase for residents and why annual tax increases are not only inevitable, but necessary to run an efficient and balanced municipal government. Taxes need to rise by the annual rate of inflation just to maintain the status quo. Then if you want something extra, you have to turn to the tax base, or go into debt. The cost of maintaining the basic services to a community goes up annually by the rate of inflation, that is a given. Municipalities are not allowed by law, to run a deficit budget, it must be balanced; therefore taxes have to rise to meet that cost increase. Running zero tax increases does no one any favours. Eventually the pigeons come home to roost and the piper has to be paid, only when there isn’t enough to pay him, the tax increase will be many times higher to make up the slack. If the municipality does not keep up with inflation, Wade says in order to be responsi-ble you have to go back to the community and ask which services they currently enjoy and which ones are they willing to give up. Conversely, if you have to keep up with inflation to maintain the status quo, but you want to add services or amenities, you have to look at tax increases. Basically, because of the no deficit rule, a municipal government looks at expenses, revenue and the shortfall, and there always is one, which must be made up through tax increases. It is not conservatively fiscally responsi-ble to maintain low taxes; it is in fact fiscally irresponsible in the extreme long-terms. Not having enough income to match your expenses is simply not a sustainable model. Everything has a cost and that cost has to be paid somehow and by someone. In the case of a municipality, that someone is almost always the taxpayer. Wade says he’s dedicated to sound fiscal management and strengthening the economy in Shelburne – preparing it for the future.

Peter Richardson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Orangeville Citizen