Chelsea, Quebec election-Low Down Q & A

Liam Fitzgerald: scale back spending, keep Chelsea rural

It is arguably the most important election in Chelsea’s history. The municipality is at a crossroads and its future development has never been more passionately debated.

The Low Down Q&A will hopefully shed some light on who and what residents are voting for this Nov. 1.

We sent each mayoral candidate the following Q&A questions by email, written answers of no more than 175 words per question to be sent back within three days.

What are Chelsea’s options for reducing its municipal debt?

Mayor Jean Perras’ October 2009 annual financial report stated that: “once the two wastewater treatment systems and the Meredith Centre Sports and Culture Complex have been completed, the community share of this debt will be $11 million.” One of the first things I would do as mayor is institute a full audit of municipal finances.  The results would be made public. Working with council, I would review the current costs for all municipal services and programs to see how we could get better value for our dollars.  By spending less for comparable services, we should achieve savings. The present debt also includes two major projects that have not yet been started: a wastewater treatment system in the centre village and the Meredith Centre. If we want to keep our debt under control, we must review the scale and cost of these projects. For example, we may not need to run pipes along the entire length of Old Chelsea Rd, and sewage treatment might be done on location with the costs born by the developer and users.

What are essential municipal services? What services can be scaled back or eliminated? Please be specific.

Essential services are the services needed to keep our municipality viable. They include ensuring things like adequate supplies of safe water; keeping roads safe, plowed and useable; making sure that waste is properly dealt with, and ensuring that you and your property are safe through adequate policing and fire protection services. I do not propose that we eliminate any of our existing essential services, but that we review our costs, ensure all contracts go out to tender to get the best value for our money, and ensure that all spending decisions are carefully considered against the goal of keeping Chelsea affordable for both current and future generations. There are other services that many consider essential: recreational and cultural services, for example – these too we need to consider against the bottom line of keeping Chelsea affordable for current and future generations.

Does the next council need to revisit the plan for the Meredith Centre? Under what circumstances?

The current plan for the Meredith Centre has divided our community; this to me indicates there is a serious underlying problem, so Council should revisit the proposal. I believe it is possible to build an affordable facility that provides space for a range of community needs without incurring massive debt. There have been other proposals put forward that do not include an arena, for example. The debate around the referendum suggested to me that we need to properly survey the community on various options for a community centre to determine what residents want and are willing to pay for.  The previous Council and the Chelsea Foundation had an opportunity to find out what residents wanted for the project, but by choosing a referendum, an extremely divisive political process, they chose not to.

Chelsea Creek caused a huge debate over density in “rural” Chelsea’s centre village. Describe your vision for the centre village 10 years from now, including a specific number when it comes to density (housing units per acre).

My vision for Chelsea in 10 years is a community that is quite similar to what we have now, one that includes thriving businesses in buildings that fit in with the tone of a heritage village. We don’t want to see strip malls, and lots of concrete and asphalt on Old Chelsea Rd. I would also like to see a network of trails and bicycle paths winding through our area; this would allow people to visit the centre village without having to get into a car – less traffic is good for all of us.

Density must be based on what the land can support without the need for expensive infrastructure. A rough guideline could be what Chelsea has already determined is viable: one house per acre.  We must also recognize that different geological areas have different issues, for example areas with leda clay may not be able to support this level of density.

Just about every candidate talks about the need to re-unite this divided community. List three specific ways you would improve Chelsea’s situation.

1) A new approach to governing: Chelsea needs to take a bottom up approach to decision-making. Residents need to be able to provide input at the outset when major issues are being considered – not after a decision has been made.

2) True public consultations: Consultations via electronic media or through the Chelsea Express are important ways to survey Chelsea residents. The “Vision Centre Village” process is another interesting model of how to reach the public. Electronic tools need to be backed up by other processes to make sure we reach residents who are not comfortable with electronic communications.

3) An elected council that represents the will of the constituency: Council must represent its constituents and should really listen to the concerns of residents. To augment council, we could consider establishing a broadly-based community advisory group made up of representatives from all demographic and socio-economic groups who would provide input and guidance as we chart our course forward. We need to respect and value the diversity in our community.

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