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Would-be mayors square off

Candidates face public on local issues
by Paula Levy

Mayoral candidates answer questions in a well-attended forum in New Germany.
 NEW GERMANY - Over 80 people piled into the St. John-in-the-Wilderness Anglican Church hall to hear how the three mayoral candidates feel about local issues.

 The forum on September 30 was organized by the New Germany Area Promotion Society in an effort to gauge candidates' response to previously developed questions. While Don Downe and Elmer Garber stuck to answering the questions, Aubrey Silver used his opportunities to speak to promise lowering taxes.

 "What I think the council should do is try to keep the tax rate as low as they can so the poor people can pay their taxes and not have to have their houses and their property sold by a tax sale and have nowheres to go. That's going to happen for sure if they [council] don't look after what's going on," answered Mr. Silver to a question about what he thought Lunenburg County's greatest assets were.

 The remaining two candidates, however, did tout Lunenburg County's resources. Mr. Garber said the strong volunteer base was a great asset to the area. He took the issue further by saying that if he was elected, he would redefine the role of current staff to provide professional support to community organizations, increase capital grants, provide a skill development program and hire a fire emergency services co-ordinator.

 Mr. Downe said the strongest asset was its hard-working and productive residents who volunteer and keep the area's economic base viable. He said the area needs infrastructure and economic growth to keep its residents, including young people, at home.

 Mr. Garber and Mr. Downe also said they felt the same about dealing with the issues of one community while treating another fairly.

 Mr. Garber said developing a community-based sustainability plan will help individual communities identify their individual needs. Such a plan, he said, would be supported by council.

 Mr. Downe said the municipal council should work with the towns to develop an economic strategy for the whole area, not just the municipality.

 Mr. Silver, however, disagreed. He said those people who use the parks and trails should be paying the costs rather than all taxpayers in the municipality.

 On budget priorities, Mr. Silver simply said that everyone can't have everything. He said community organizations should be fundraising instead of relying on the tax base of the municipality for funding.

 Mr. Downe said council should look at its needs and decide whether or not the taxpayers can afford it. He said the municipal staff should justify the programs that council funds to ensure value for money.

 Mr. Garber said council needs to ask whether a particular program benefits the community, if it's affordable, if it's a priority and whether there are opportunities for partnerships.

 Partnering with other units was also a specific question asked by the moderator. Mr. Garber said he would seek out partnership opportunities with other municipal units with regards to health care, economic development and recreation facilities and programs.

 Mr. Downe added co-operation with other municipal units and levels of government is a way to make things happen in municipal government.

 Mr. Silver said his objective for council is to reduce, not increase, spending.

 When the floor was opened for questions, one resident wanted to know what were the two top issues facing the municipality.

 Mr. Garber said building sustainable communities is the most significant issue facing the municipality. He said in order to achieve that the municipality needs health care, education, housing, public transportation, recreational facilities, literacy, environmental protection, solid waste, waste water and economic development.

 "Being able to keep people here, or bring people back, is the number one issue," he said.

 Mr. Silver responded to the question by saying that the tax rate needs to be kept as low as possible.

 Mr. Downe added an important issue is the municipality's fiscal outlook. He compared the unit's finances to a "maxed-out" credit card. He said if the municipality wants to borrow any more money it has to have approval from the provincial government. All municipalities have a cap on the amount of money they can borrow. He said growing the economy would rectify the situation.

 Of particular concern to the New Germany area was attracting physicians to work in its medical centre. Mr. Garber and Mr. Downe both promised to work with South Shore Health to attract health care professionals to not only New Germany but the entire municipality. Mr. Silver did not comment.

 However, Mr. Garber said the municipality should be involved with offering signing bonuses and moving expenses to relocate to the area.

 On whether or not the area even needs a mayor, Mr. Downe said it was what voters wanted. He said having a mayor that is elected at large by the entire municipality gives more accountability to the head of council.

 "I'm going to be accountable to you. I'm not going to just be accountable to the district I'm elected in," said Mr. Downe. "I think that's a great asset to you, the voters, and that means I have the responsibility of representing you."

 Mr. Garber agreed. He said a mayor is the "people's representative." Although the job descriptions of the warden and mayor are the same as the head of council, Mr. Garber said electing a mayor gives people more control.

 "The primary role of the mayor will be to listen to all residents of the district of Lunenburg and to ensure the issues of the people are placed on the agenda of council to be discussed," said Mr. Garber.

 But Mr. Silver disagreed. He said the municipality did not need a mayor because the warden system worked well. He added that if elected he would ask for a reduction in salary from $40,000 to $35,000 and a reduction in the mileage rate to equal that of the provincial government.

posted on 10/07/08
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