Neebing mayor won’t run

·5 min read

NEEBING, ONT. — Even though Municipality of Neebing Mayor Erwin Butikofer isn’t running in this fall’s election, that doesn’t mean he’s mailing in the rest of his term.

With just over three months before municipal elections on Oct. 24, Butikofer, who started as the Neebing at-large councillor in 2014 before winning the mayor’s title in 2018, wants the passing of the torch to go into good hands.

“It’s been eight years and as a council, I think we’ve set the table on a few issues,” Butikofer said. “I’m not taking any time off from what I’m trying to pursue here, but at the same time, I’d like to think we’re setting the table for future councils to keep on with this thing.

“We’ve had discussions and various things with the province, like we’ll be meeting with the Ministry of Tourism at (Association of Municipalities Ontario general meeting in Ottawa) in August, so we’ll be bringing up the tourist centre once again and Pigeon River Park . . . having the park reopened and the tourist centre turned into year-round use.”

During his term as mayor, Butikofer was also a proponent of shaving down council from seven members to five with the townships of Pardee and Pearson combining into one township and eliminating the at-large position.

It looked like the motion would pass in December, but an appeal was made on the final day (Dec. 20) and is currently still on the books until a review of the appeal.

It may be a resolution the new mayor will have to deal with come October as former mayor Ziggy Polkowski and current council member Mark Thibert vie for the mayor’s chair as the only two candidates that have filed nominations so far.

Butikofer is proud of the work he’s done during his eight years on council, especially when it comes to the municipality’s finances.

“We created a real good investment policy that has served the community well in terms of putting our reserve funds into the one investment fund that was approved by the province. As a result, instead of getting a pittance for having a couple-$3 million in a reserve fund and seeing a couple $1,000 in a (guaranteed investment certificate), we’ve made significant improvements on the investment fund.

“It helps promote some other projects we want to do, plus defer some taxes, so we try to keep the maximum tax rate at two per cent. Let’s face it, we’re a rural community and we don’t provide a whole lot. Taxes should reflect the services we provide. We don’t have sewer and water, we don’t have buses, we don’t have anything like that. We don’t even have a town centre.

“At the same time, we’ve applied for funding from various agencies to improve the recreation in Neebing. You look around Neebing, what do we have around for recreation? Not a whole lot.

“The funding applications can go to provide a hard surface at Pearson Township, which was a real going concern in its day — ball tournaments and all manner of activity — and Blake Hall will be improved in terms of hopefully having a roof over the top of the hard surface. We’re still waiting in line for funding announcements.”

And like he did during his 35-year commercial pilot career, his manoeuvring through some rocky issues concerning Neebing will continue until the end of his term . . . and, from the sounds of it, probably beyond.

“Neebing is one of the largest municipalities in the province. Neebing makes up one-third of (the Thunder Bay census metropolitan area), but with 2,400 people, we’ve got a lot of ground to cover,” said Butikofer, who flew for Air Canada and Calm Air.

“We have a very, very good road staff that has to maintain 560 kilometres of road. . . . Thirty per cent of the residential properties — camps or whatever — are owned by people that don’t live in Neebing.

“One of the issues that I’m pursuing through (Northern Ontario Municipal Association and Association of Municipalities Ontario) is hopefully they recognize the fact — that when it comes to the (Canada Community-Building Fund) that is alotted based on population — that 30 per cent of our population doesn’t live here, meaning they’re not included in the census, which would include a higher number for us in terms of receiving funding. That’s a significant amount.

“It’s like the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund. That’s pretty much a fixed pool of $500 billion to $505 billion. Up until last year for five years in a row, Neebing took a $60,000 hit. Sixty thousand dollars — in the grand scheme of things — may not sound like a whole lot (but for a small municipality), it’s a huge amount. For us, every nickel counts.

“If we’re making comparisons to ourselves and other communities — per household — we pay a significantly higher amount. When you add up 880 square kilometres of land, it’s going to make us look a lot richer than we really are.”

Butikofer won’t be stopping in retirement either, planning to help out the community any way he can.

“There’s lots to do,” exhalted Butikofer. “l’m not going to vacate Neebing in terms of not doing anything. There’s lots of volunteer work to be done. Every community is suffering from a lack of volunteers.

“We like doing that stuff. Occupies the time and we’re well retired. We have a good life in Neebing. So we just want to promote it as a modern community.”

Butikofer and his team will be back in council chambers on Wednesday for Neebing’s next council meeting.

John Nagy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal

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