Gary Zalepa wants to be the next mayor of Niagara-on-the-Lake.
He has officially submitted his application to run for lord mayor, saying he wants to address the town’s financial situation and improve communication between the municipality and its residents.
“It was not something I ever really had my sights on,” Zalepa said in an interview on Wednesday.
But when he hears comments "about councillors feeling the budget isn’t sustainable and there’s no plan — that’s just not acceptable,” he said.
He said his experience as chair of the regional budget committee for the past four years will help build a sustainable capital budget for NOTL.
“Capital is the backbone of your roads, of your water system and of all the infrastructure that runs your day to day life.”
The longtime realtor said he will work to address housing in NOTL, saying the municipal government has an important role in providing affordable housing in its community.
“Niagara-on-the-Lake is a really attractive place for people to live and I think we need to get out in front of that with clarity and policy.”
Zalepa said he would also focus on the role of the lord mayor as an advocate for municipal affairs to higher levels of government.
“(I would make) sure every minister in whatever government it is, whatever colour or stripe they are, they know who the mayor is of Niagara-on-the-Lake and they know what’s important to their council,” he said.
Zalepa said he enjoyed working with Disero the last four years as a regional councillor.
“I have great respect for her. She works really hard and we worked together on a lot of files,” he said.
“I just know that I have a different way of doing things and so I wanted to put that out there.”
There are two things he said he might have approached differently in the past four years if he had been mayor.
The first is the official plan.
“Obviously there’s a document prepared but that document is incongruent, or, it’s not compatible with the provincial policy statements,” he said.
Instead of waiting for the official plan to be approved by a higher level of government he said he would have brought the plan back to the drawing board and made it more compatible with provincial policy.
He said he also wants to provide more protections for heritage buildings.
Secondly, Zalepa said he would have approached communication about the COVID-19 pandemic differently.
“I think I would have engaged the local businesses in a more fulsome way, to let them know what options were available from a public safety point of view.”
He said people and business owners may have been more accepting of pandemic restrictions if the reasons behind them were better communicated.
Zalepa spoke about his support for a proposed roundabout in St. Davids, a controversial issue for many in town.
“I don’t think I’m being a non-representative. I think I’m actually taking a difficult decision and staying fast in it because I think the process that’s gotten us to the recommendation so far has been very solid,” he said.
Even if the solution is not popular, he is not willing to change his mind on it due to public backlash, Zalepa said.
“I will never bend to something that I don’t think is right.”
He compared the issue to another from NOTL’s past: moving the library from the courthouse to the community centre.
“There were people who didn’t want that and kudos to the council at the time who stayed brave in front of a tough decision. And now that’s a fantastic facility.”
“I think in the long-term people are actually going to say, ‘Oh, that worked out better.’ ”
Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report