SACKVILLE, N.B. - Economic development, the tourist bureau relocation and promoting physical activity were the key issues debated at last night’s candidates’ forum in Sackville.
Nearly 300 residents showed up to hear the views of the 16 candidates running for eight town council seats in the May 10 municipal election. Local citizens had the opportunity to ask questions about relevant topics and the candidates were allowed to give timed responses.
Candidates were divided on the issue of the town’s proposed $865,000 tourist bureau relocation to the former Baughn property on Mallard Drive.
After local resident Joanne Goodrich asked whether candidates felt that money might be better spent improving the downtown area, political newcomer Cameron Bales said he felt the new site is an excellent location for a tourist bureau.
“I’m hesitant to revisit a lot of decisions that have been made by the present council,” Bales admitted, but went on to explain he feels the new location is excellent in bringing people in off the highway while downtown attractions such as Live Bait theatre will draw them to the community’s core.
Candidate and downtown business owner Craig Patterson admitted he is conflicted when it comes to this topic.
“If the tourist bureau works like it’s supposed to, it’ll be a good thing,” Patterson said, noting that he hopes the relocation of the tourist bureau will help attract more visitors into the downtown and not just the highway development area.
“Now we’re going to find out. The proof is in the pudding,” he added.
Incumbent Virgil Hammock feels the tourist bureau location is excellent as it’s situated between the two exits into town.
“Let’s remember the highway development area is part of Sackville,” he said, pointing out that this area pays at least one-third of the town’s tax base. “We have a very dynamic area there.”
However, at least two candidates, Bob Berry and Colin Estabrooks were not as enthusiastic.
Berry said he feels more planning needs to go into the “streetscape” in the highway development area as, in his opinion, safety is a concern.
“We’re putting so much in that area…it’s getting too congested. We need to take time to develop it and figure out that streetscape.”
Berry also said the high cost of the project is an issue for him.
Estabrooks questioned council’s eagerness to spend $800,000 on a building “that can’t be worth more than $200,000” yet they turned down Tantramar Sanitation & Trucking’s contract to an outside company to save money. He also cited the policing issue as another example when the town chose a more costly option in the RCMP.
“Money meant nothing then,” he added.
Current councillor Ron Hounsell said the tourist bureau plan has been worked on by “a lot of knowledgeable people” and that citizens will probably like the result of the relocation.
Local resident and Renaissance Sackville coordinator Pat Finney asked the candidates their opinions on the proposed pedway project over the Trans-Canada Highway, linking the Waterfowl Park with the wetlands behind Tantramar Regional High School.
Newcomer Joyce O’Neil said she feels there might be more useful ways for the town to spend its money in the short term.
“I think a pedway would be an awesome sight across our highway,” O’Neil said, “but right now I can’t help but feel there are other areas in our town (that need to be addressed right away).”
O’Neil added that she would like to see tax dollars spent in building a water tower, for example, rather than embarking on the pedway project.
Hammock said he is in favour of the pedway but added it’s a “multi-faceted issue.”
“It’s only a matter of time before someone gets killed (crossing the highway),” Hammock said. “Surely this is not just an asthetics issue or a tourism issue, but also a safety issue.”
Two residents brought up physical activity and recreation as a concern. Susan Kastuk-Ridlington asked what candidates plan to do to encourage physical activity while Dorothy Linkletter inquired about the lack of physical education and civics courses in local schools.
Councillor Ron Corbett said recreation is something that needs to be looked at and he supports reduced usage of automobiles through walking and cycling.
“(We should) encourage people to bike and walk within the town,” Corbett said, adding that he would like to set up more bike and walking trails and places to park bikes in front of stores and workplaces.
Candidate Wayne MacKay suggested utilizing school gymnasium facilities during non-school hours as a way of increasing activity.
“Gymnasiums are used a lot during school hours but a lot of the time they’re just sitting there not being used.”
MacKay added that child obesity is something he is concerned with, and candidate Ross Monk agreed that, if elected, he would support recreation programs for youth.
Hounsell said a civics course in schools would be a good idea so that youth are informed as to how government works.
“I think we should address this right away,” he said.
Patterson added that, as a minor sports coach in Sackville, he has seen the benefits of children being involved in sports.
Deputy-Mayor Louise Estabrooks noted that the provincial government sets the curriculum for what can and cannot be taught in schools.
“We certainly think they need more (physical education) but that’s just the way it’s set up.”
Sackville resident Andrew MacFarlane inquired about candidates’ interest in supporting green energy and wind power in the area.
Candidate Dave Slipp responded he is very interested in seeing wind power initiatives come to town.
“My wife and I have talked about alternative energy…I think (the town) really needs to look at it,” he said.
Estabrooks said he is also in favour of bringing green energy to town and has been following wind power generation in Prince Edward Island, which has been a successful venture. “I believe Sackville would be a prime location for wind energy, especially because of our marshes and our wind,” Estabrooks said.
Resident Virginia Harries asked select candidates what their number one priority would be, if elected.
“Economic development,” responded MacKay, adding that council and the community must work to develop an economic strategy, a plan to encourage business development in Sackville.
Ron Aiken agreed that his top priority is economic development.
“We do need a long-term strategy—it’s fine to say ‘economic development’ but I think the new council has to sit down and make a plan.”
O’Neil said council needs to sit down, create a plan, and make it work.
“We need to have a plan, decide where we want to go, and put the plan to work with council and the staff working under council.”
Resident Melody Petlock questioned candidates about plans for providing greater accessibility for people living with mental or physical disability
Political veteran Jim Purdy agreed this is an issue that needs to be continually reviewed, especially considering town hall doesn’t have accessibility for those individuals to council chambers on the second floor. He did note, however, that improvements have been done in recent years to allow for greater accessibility, including upgrading sidewalks and implementing a system at the traffic lights for visually impaired people.
Hammock explained that, under new legislation, that accessibility must be taken into consideration for any new development that is taking place.
Concerned resident Dodie Perkin questioned the candidates about how they would help those individuals who “live on the fringe,” such as single low-income parents or the working poor so they would be able to participate in more activities or programs.
Berry, who is chair of the local recreation advisory committee, said the committee is working on implementing a program so that kids from low-income families will be able to participate in more local sports or other activities.
New candidate Bruce Phinney said more needs to be done to get kids off the streets.
“Maybe we should find out they’d like to see developed,” he said, noting they just need a place where they can go to “enjoy each other and get off the streets.”
Middle Sackville resident Sandra Bales said she is concerned over some of the unsightly premises in her area of town and wanted to know how the candidates would work towards ridding the town of these deteriorating buildings.
Incumbent Hugh Davidson said the local planning commission is working on getting some of these properties cleaned up.
But, as Corbett noted, these things can take time. As the former director of the planning commission, he said there are a lot of legal implications involved in trying to get a building torn down or a property cleaned up.
“There’s not a lot you can do about it except to keep at it.”
All the candidates said they were in favor of a ban on cosmetic pesticides, which was a concern of local resident Anna Sheridan-Jonah.
Slipp said a ban has seemed to work well in other areas and there are alternative measures that can be used to keeping your lawn green.
The candidates agreed that the pesticides were harmful to young kids, pets, and are known to cause cancer and birth defects.
“This is something that’s long overdue,” said Hammock. “I think this is one of the first things we need to do as a new council.”
Although many of the candidates chose to use their closing statements as a way to urge people to vote on Monday, others felt they wanted to make their final words count.
“I think you’ve got a good broad range of candidates this time around,” said Corbett. “And I just want to add that I am fully behind the mayor in term of his vision for the town.”
Aiken said he was also impressed with the selection of candidates in this election because “council requires people with a broad view.”
Bales said he hopes that, no matter who gets elected, the town will have “an excellent council that is committed to moving forward.”
Hounsell warned voters of “one-issue candidates and those candidates wanting to deal with issues that have already been settled.”
Phinney said he would like to see the “serious problems in town be addressed so that we can move forward.”
Slipp said he hopes to bring more jobs, improved tourism and more open discussion within council.
Purdy said residents need to come straight to town councillors or staff when they have questions or concerns about issues.
“Then you’ll understand better why we make some of our decisions,” he said.
Patterson said he’d like to bring continued improvement for youth activities and to the downtown.
Estabrooks said he would be accessible to the people. “I, for one, will listen to the people,” he said.
MacKay said, during his recent campaigning, he has listened to the concerns of the residents to get a sense of what’s important in town.
“May 10th is the day of decision,” said MacKay.
Hammock said he looks forward to the great future in our community and noted how Sackville will need to be “different” to attract people to the town.
Davidson said although some candidates seem to be focused on the past while others are looking towards the future, the decision is now up to the residents.
O’Neil said voters really need to think about who’s going to “do the most for you in the next four years.”
Berry said, if elected, he will work to solve some of the problems that the town faces.
“We want your support to pick this council,” he said, “and to have this council work for you.”