Two candidates are in the running to become Perth South's first mayor. The rural township will do away with its long-standing designation of reeve, the position currently held by Ron McKay, who has moved to Stratford and is running there for city council, to the more contemporary title of mayor as of council's next term. Current deputy reeve Robert Wilhelm hopes to be the first to carry the new title. The owner of Ulch Transport has served on Perth South council for the last two-and-a-half terms representing Blanshard ward. "As deputy reeve, and with my business leadership, this is a natural progression for myself," says Wilhelm. "It's a good opportunity for me, and I think it would be beneficial for the municipality to have someone with my experience (as mayor)." Wilhelm says he's learned much over this past term -- one in which he believes council has made many great strides, but still has "quite a ways to go." The municipality will continue to face a number of hurdles, none larger, he notes, than its dwindling tax base.
"This council has struggled with (the municipality's declining population) in the past and the next council will struggle with it," he adds.Wilhelm says council has been pro-active on this front, pointing to the recent extension of the service agreement with the Town of St. Marys for James Street South. Council has also investigated the possibility of providing communal water and wastewater services to St. Pauls and Sebringville and held a visioning session with the community to get a sense from residents how they feel council is doing and what they see as priorities for the township. The number one thing they heard, he says, was the need for increased industrial land and residential development. Wilhelm is being contested by Coun. Roger Fuhr, who announced his candidacy in January. His is completing his first term on council.Since that announcement, Fuhr has chaired the meetings for the extension of services agreement between Perth South and St. Marys. "It took a long time, but we finally got there," says Fuhr of the two-year process.And this agreement, which will see St. Marys service Perth South lands north of highway 7 on James Street South, is key, Fuhr says, to the township's "long-term sustainability," as its population is on the decline. Also key, he believes, is the yet-unresolved surplus farmhouse severance issue, currently before the Ontario Municipal board. "It's been a major struggle," he says. Fuhr, if elected, would like to "plead Perth South's case with county council," as he doesn't believe that the township's prior representation at the county level "allowed us to prosper." He also wants to continue to nurture the township's relationship with St. Marys ' while the extension of services agreement has helped, he says that "we're joined at the hip and can't deny our geography; who knows what the future may bring?" Fuhr, who is semi-retired and lives conveniently close to the municipal offices in St. Pauls, stresses that he "has the time to be a full-time mayor," and wants to better collaborate with council and residents alike, if elected. As for the six councillor seats, only seven names came forward before the deadline for nominations. Acclaimed to represent Downie ward for the next four years are incumbents Jim Aitcheson and Stuart Arkett and newcomer Bill Adams. Incumbents Liz Armstrong and Cathy Barker, as well as Chuck Armstrong and Don Henderson, will vie for the three Blanshard ward seats. Jim AitchesonAitcheson calls his first time on Perth South council "interesting," and he was surprised by the array of different issues the council dealt with. "I enjoyed it immensely," he says.And now, being acclaimed to a Downie ward council seat, he's looking forward to addressing the future of the township's dump sites, whether that be keeping one or both open, and developing a management plan for further development and revenue.Now that the township has signed an extension of services agreement with St. Marys, Aitcheson wants to "move forward" with developing these lands, south of St. Marys on James Street South.Aitcheson also wants to take the results of the township's strategic planning process to the next level to keep younger residents in the township, whether that be industrial jobs coming to James Street South, or allowing farms to have secondary industries on them. Aitcheson himself is a farmer by trade.Aitcheson is currently chair of the St. Marys and Area Mobility Bus Services, and helped guide the organization through its recent amalgamation into the EasyRide program, and was excited to see the organization acquire two new vans and a new bus during his tenure.Stuart ArkettHaving finished his second consecutive term on council, Arkett feels it will be beneficial to the township to keep some continuity on a council that will face many of the same challenges over the next four years. Arkett, like many rural property owners in the county, is watching closely the Ontario Municipal Board hearing regarding farmhouse severances. Perth South and West Perth have appealed county council's rejection of an official plan amendment that would allow severances in their municipalities. Without it, the two municipalities say many of these homes will be torn down, continuing to erode an already withering rural population. "Bare farm land doesn't pay enough taxes to run the township," adds Arkett. "We need people to populate our schools, live on our roads and be a community."Allowing for severances would only be part of the solution, says Arkett, who notes until there is fairer representation for Perth South at the county level, the township's interests will continue to be ignored. He suggests the township look into the possibility of amalgamating with West Perth, which would double the representatives for the area and provide a stronger voice on county council."I think there's some merit to that, but that may or may not be a popular view," he adds. He likens such a move to the merging of rural schools to counter declining enrolment "for the sake of delivering services to the kids that they should have."If (our township) becomes so small that we can't afford to provide the services that (our residents have) come to expect, than we have to do something," he says. Bill AdamsAcclaimed Downie ward Coun. Bill Adams jokes that "he took the easy way out" in his first run for a council seat. But the lifelong Downie resident feels he has the experience to serve the township.A long-time member of the Downie Optimist Club, Adams has just finished a term as the Midwestern Ontario district governor for the organization, and says that he's become "used to dealing with the issues" of a broad range of people."(Being on council) is another way to help the community," he says of his volunteer experience. "I would like people to feel they can contact me with issues pertaining to council." Adams is looking forward to the four years ahead, and is interested in road maintenance, as well as the rates for municipal well users in St. Pauls. While he acknowledges that post-Walkerton legislation has driven the cost of water higher, "it seems to be an awfully high price they're paying (in St. Pauls)," Adams says, and he'd like to find out more specifics. Adams owns and operates Midwest Energy Services, which specializes in heating, propane and natural gas equipment and services. Cathy BarkerAs a farmer, Barker says she understands both sides to the debate over farmhouse severances and knows just how important the OMB's eventual decision will have on the township's long-term livelihood. "I can't see a way for Perth South to develop housing with the parameters we face today," she says.Not just residential, but industrial development will continue to be a priority of hers if re-elected, she adds, noting the servicing agreement with St. Marys was a "win-win" for both municipalities, and an example of the kinds of partnerships Perth South must pursue. "We're going to have to find more cooperation with our neighbours and the rest of the county," she says, adding it's becoming increasingly difficult for small municipalities to manage the ongoing downloading of costs from the province and federal government. Barker says her first term on council was a bit rocky, partly due to there being so many news faces elected the last time around, but notes council and township staff have come a long way over the last three years, and believes they're heading in the right direction.Don HendersonFirst-time candidate Don Henderson is running to give all township residents a voice at Perth South Council ' and hopefully, beyond.Henderson, a farmer in Blanshard ward south of St. Marys, wants the township to have better representation at the county level (Perth South has two votes in Perth County council, whereas the other townships have three).Henderson also wants farmland to get more respect through "back to basics" policies that are "good for the majority," he says. Despite the township's declining population, Henderson says that industrial needs (such as construction rules) need to be better balanced with agricultural ones."Every neighbour has the right to uninterrupted enjoyment of his own land," says Henderson, paraphrasing a quote that he firmly believes in. He's long been interested in safe spreading of sludge on farmlands, as well as what he believes is an imminent application for windmills in the township. Henderson, who recently retired from a trucking career with Hutton Transport, adds that he feels that "people from Blanshard are out of the (township) loop because we're cut off by St. Marys' location," and wants the ward to have a strong voice again."I want to see both wards brought together as one unit," he says.He and his wife Jenny have been deeply involved with the community action group to prevent a reduction of emergency room hours at St. Marys Memorial Hospital, and has been attending council meetings for both municipalities regularly.Chuck Armstrong Armstrong believes he would bring a business sense to council that is sorely missing."I think people are bleeding to death from taxes," says the long-time owner of Anderson Automotive. "We need to get in there and look at their books and find out where we can save some money."Armstrong says the township is not watching its spending closely enough, noting he's concerned with the budget for road maintenance and snow removal in the winter. Plows are out all day and not always when they're needed, he adds. If elected, Armstrong says he would come to the job with an open mind and enthusiasm to work with the other councillors to find solutions to some of the pressing issues. As of press time, there is no all candidates meeting scheduled for Perth South. Township CAO Tim Ivanyshyn says it is up to a service club or other local group to organize the meeting if it's something the community wants. The Journal Argus was unable to make contact with Chuck Armstrong in time for press deadlines. Look for an interview with him in next week's edition.