Cobden -- Members of the newly-elected council of Whitewater Region are looking forward to a busy four years ahead for them.
There will be three new council members at the table: Mark Bell, Connie Tabbert and Joey Trimm. Actually the only unfamiliar face in the council chamber will be that of Councillor-elect Bell who topped the polls with 1,663 votes. Second, with 1,374 votes, is Councillor-elect Tabbert who has been a fixture in council chambers for many years in various roles in her previous career as a journalist. And Councillor-elect Trimm is no stranger either, having served previously on Whitewater council.
While the October 24 election night count showed Councillor-elect Trimm in fifth place among the 10 hopefuls vying for the five seats, his election was not confirmed until Friday, October 28. Only seven votes separated his 1,188 vote total from the 1,181 garnered by his nearest runner-up, incumbent Councillor Daryl McLaughlin, and the less than 10-vote margin triggered an automatic recount confirming the election night result.
For some council members, it will be the same table but different roles. Mayor-elect Neil Nicholson, who won the mayor’s race with 2,156 votes over the 548 going to his opponent, Donna Burns, is just completing his first term as councillor, and is trading places with incumbent Mayor Mike Moore who vacated the mayor’s chair in order to run for the new council. He was successful with 1,208 votes.
The current reeve, Cathy Regier, will be back at the table but now acclaimed as deputy-mayor. The outgoing council eliminated the reeve’s position and created the new deputy-mayor designation earlier this year.
The only member of the outgoing council whose status hasn’t changed is Councillor Chris Olmstead, who was re-confirmed in that role with a solid 1,346 vote total.
Councillor Dave Mackay’s 1,131 votes were not enough to return him to the table. Other unsuccessful candidates were Joe Kowalski with 884 votes, Jim Butterworth with 790 and Ron Laronde with 683.
Mayor-elect Nicholson said the past two weeks have been an emotional roller coaster.
“After the build-up of stress to election night, I was overjoyed with the results and the faith the community has in me to lead council for the next four years,” he said.” Now I’m excited to get things started.”
Team-building is first on his list of priorities.
“A successful council needs to have a good working relationship and open communication,” he said. “I will be meeting with each senior staff member in the coming weeks so we can hit the ground running later in November. I am hoping to build similar relationships within Renfrew County council as there were a number of issues raised during the election that will require the support of county council to address. So, it will be important for us to forge good ties there as well.”
He noted the election period has paused a lot of municipal processes.
“There will be a number of rapid-fire decisions we need to make to get us caught up,” he said. “Top of mind is that we need to review and approve a 2023 budget so staff can get on with planning operations this coming year. At the same time, we need to start looking beyond 2023 in order to get multi-year projects and plans in motion.”
Reflecting on accomplishments during the past term, he noted council led the municipality through two significant emergencies, a flood and a pandemic, and still was able to “move the yardsticks.”
“There has been unprecedented growth and development that has not slowed down and council has implemented a number of new plans like a recreation master plan, active transportation plan and age-friendly communities plan, to name a few. As we continue to move forward, we need to build on these successes, refining things to reflect the input of the new council and community feedback, so that in four years we can look back and see that we have achieved as much (as the outgoing council).”
He praised all who put their names on the ballot for mayor and council positions.
“It takes guts to volunteer, to get out there and knock on doors, and to share your ideas,” he said. “It was great to have such a variety of folks, with different backgrounds and from all corners of the township. I also want to recognize the work and dedication of Councillors (Charlene) Jackson, Mackay and McLaughlin. They will not be returning to council this next term and we need to thank them. They served their community and made significant contributions to get us to where we are now.”
Coun. Jackson did not let her name stand for re-election.
He added municipal staff to his list of people deserving gratitude “for all the work behind the scenes to ensure we had a smooth election process. It went off without a hitch, including the recount.” He also recognized the help he had throughout the campaign from his family and from all who donated their time, effort, ideas and funds.
Supporting the Mayor
Incoming Deputy-Mayor Cathy Regier says her role will be to support the mayor as much as possible and includes serving as the acting mayor in his absence.
“It includes attending county council, chairing Whitewater meetings and attending functions should he have a scheduling conflict,” she said.
She is looking forward to working on ongoing issues such as aging infrastructure in arenas, roads and fire halls, and how to continue to maintain the same level of service.
“New issues include affordable housing for seniors and families, an aging population and how we keep seniors within their own community, including providing needed services in rural areas,” she said.
Now that he has been elected, incoming Coun. Bell says he is really looking forward to getting started.
“I think we have a good group of individuals that will be great to work with,” he said. “There is a lot of turnover in our township with a new mayor and four new councillors. With that comes a fresh start, but also some challenges for individuals, such as myself, who are in their first term and will have to pick up some details on the go. There will be lots to take in and plenty to learn early on, but I’m confident I can get my feet under me quickly. “
At the top of his priority list is the Beachburg Arena, which is not operational at present.
“I know it is being looked at and considered carefully, and we should have a clearer picture very soon on what some options are moving forward,” he said. “There are a lot of questions and concerns within the community that will need some straight-forward communication and a plan for this winter season, so the township and those in the community are on the same page and can work towards a solution.”
He said that, on a general scale, the public will dictate the priorities they feel need addressing early on.
“Throughout the last month I’ve heard plenty of concerns, from cell phone and internet service, Air BnB’s, river access, local seniors’ issues, daycare availability and infrastructure improvements, among others,” he said. “I want to hear from those that have concerns and look forward to connecting with the residents of Whitewater Region. I want to be as accessible to the public as possible and will work hard to address the concerns that are brought to me in a timely and efficient manner. I look forward to working with the rest of council and the staff at the township to approach challenges and create meaningful and lasting solutions.”
He thanked those who gave him a chance to serve as their councillor for the next four years and pledged to do his best to live up to their expectations.
Councillor-elect Tabbert admitted to feeling somewhat overwhelmed on the morning after the election, as she was coming down from the excitement of being elected and the elation of finishing in second place in the vote count.
“That’s a lot of trust in me,” she said. “I knew that this is a huge township from covering events over the years, but when you start knocking on individual doors hoping to talk to each person, you realize just how big it is. I sent out an information card through the mail and answered emails regarding various issues. I travelled roads I didn’t know existed.
“I knew it was a big responsibility. It wasn’t until Tuesday, when I was having my morning coffee, that I realized just how big. Now I’ve calmed down and am getting ready to begin the next chapter in my life.
“I am looking forward to working with the men and women who will be guiding our township for the next four years.”
At this time she doesn’t have a top priority.
“Each person in the municipality has their own and I will have to prioritize as I work with council.”
She does want to find out if there are puppy mills operating in the municipality.
“I don’t want to duplicate things other organizations are responsible for, but I do know there is a kennel by-law.”
She wants to learn more about the township’s roads.
“Road maintenance is the Number One complaint I’m hearing,” she said. “However, I don’t think they are poorly maintained; it’s just that at certain times of the year they are worse due to potholes. Is there a way of getting rid of potholes?”
The prospect of a recession also looms large for her.
“The Minister of Finance says we are heading into one,” she said. “In that situation it shouldn’t just be people who are tightening their belts, but this municipality. I fear there are tough decisions to be made. When the township is rife with money, we provide more and more services. When the coffers need to be tightened, it’s difficult to take back services, which means council will have to cut services. But, it must all be done with a plan.”
While she still needs to learn everything council is – or is not – responsible for, she is looking forward to individual meetings for incoming council members with Mayor-elect Nicholson and Township CAO Ivan Burton during which the challenges facing the new council will become clearer.
“One challenge I think will be responding to each and every email and phone call,” she said. “But I will definitely try, even if it’s just to acknowledge each of them.”
Even with two terms already under his belt, Coun. Olmstead says he is extremely excited and a tad nervous for the next term of office.
“While I feel we have the persons and personalities to form a solid council, I believe over the next four years this council will face some of the toughest decisions Whitewater Region has faced since amalgamation,” he said. “Due to the current high rate of inflation coupled with more programs created and more money handed out in the last three years than any other time in Canada’s history, there is no doubt the provincial and federal governments will look to make cuts to grants and raise taxes. Our region will need to become less dependent on grants and subsidies and will need to raise and spend more of our own funds. The only path to do this is to grow our tax base.”
He foresees that most of his efforts this term will be put towards growth and development.
“Economic development is inter-related with, and holds the key to, almost every opportunity in our region,” he said. “The only way we get to keep our schools, arenas and churches is to ensure we have a population that is using and funding the facilities. The only way we will be able to offer proper seniors housing or ensure families have access to daycare is to ensure there is enough demand. The only way we can encourage new investment in businesses, such as food stores and health and fitness facilities, is to show that we are a growing and thriving region.”
Short-term items that need more immediate attention include getting the Beachburg Arena operational, improved high speed internet and cell service, an end to 911 calls being directed to Quebec towers, and more immediate action for mental health and addiction related incidents.
He recognized all candidates who put their names forward for office.
“It takes much courage and soul-searching to do so regardless of their reasons for running,” he said. “I also want to recognize Councillors Jackson, McLaughlin and MacKay, as these people were great ambassadors and worked extremely hard to the benefit of all residents in Whitewater Township.”
He wants the residents of Whitewater to know and understand he will go to work with and for them.
“I look forward to working together with council on new issues and opportunities that will challenge our individual and collective skill sets over the next four years.”
Outgoing mayor and newly-elected Coun. Moore says he is relieved the election is over.
“This is a stressful time for anyone running,” he said. “I am happy that the voters felt secure to re-elect me and I thank them very much for their support.”
He said he is excited and ready to begin his second term at the council table but in the role of councillor instead of mayor.
“The first quarter of this council term will be the 2023 budget and to determine which items are or will be priorities,” he said. “Such items as seniors engagement with the current program that is in place now, arenas updating or upgrades. Access to water, meaning docks, is a hot topic and needs action in the budget for repairs and/or upgrades.”
Incoming Councillor Trimm says that during the eight years since he last was on council, he has been busying himself with other projects and interests, including things he had planned to do during retirement.
“I have pretty well caught up with all those things and want to spend more time with community involvement,” he said. “Being on council is something that I know and enjoy and it is my way of giving back to the community that has been so good to me and my family. As I said at the all-candidates meetings, I don’t come into this with a firm agenda. That does not mean that I am devoid of ideas. Something that is a concern and a need for our young families is daycare. I will be looking at ways that the municipal council can promote or in some way influence the provision of daycare that would take advantage of the federal and provincial grants that are now available.
“Inflation is affecting the municipality as much as the rest of us and strategies to control cost will be more important than ever. Maintaining and updating infrastructure is an important and constant challenge and the boat launch in Westmeath and the rink in Beachburg are good examples of challenges that lie ahead.”
He feels that having a close race is an indication the last council did a good job.
“There were just too many good candidates to choose from,” he said. “If that is true, I am honoured to be chosen and will work hard with the other councillors and staff to address the needs of our community.”
Voter turnout in Whitewater Region was 40.81 per cent, with 2,715 of 6,344 eligible voters casting ballots.
Marie Zettler, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader