St. Marys Journal Argus
ST. PAULS — The race is on for mayor in the township of Perth South, and at this point it looks like a rematch between the two men who tangled for the position in 2010: incumbent Bob Wilhelm and challenger Roger Fuhr.
Fuhr filed his nomination papers months ago at the municipality’s St. Pauls headquarters; Wilhelm, who’s currently rounding out his first term as Mayor with a one-year stint as Warden of Perth County, confirmed late last week that he’ll seek re-election.
“I’ve had quite a number of people who have come up to me over the past few months and encouraged me to run again, so that weighed heavily in my decision,” Wilhelm, who’s involved in the ownership of St. Marys-based Ulch Transport, told the Journal Argus earlier this week.
The municipal election of 2010 made regional headlines — not for the actual vote or the campaign leading up to it, but rather for its aftermath. Fuhr challenged the results, saying Wilhelm and some candidates for Council failed to follow legislated rules regarding the opening of a separate campaign bank account. A judicial review confirmed rules had not been followed completely, but there was never any order to have the election results overturned.
While that controversy died down, however, Fuhr’s intense observations of Council did not. He has been a regular at Perth South meetings over the past three and a half years (as well as the four years previous, when he served as an elected member of Council), and has repeatedly criticized Wilhelm, other members of Council, and Perth South administration on various fronts.
Matters he sought to bring into the public eye, mainly through the publication of a weekly column in the St. Marys Independent newspaper (the column is no longer being published), included the failure for many months of administrative staff to report the loss of a computer hard drive from the St. Pauls office; what he believed were the unnecessary attempts to have a pair of Council members reprimanded for their actions towards staff; and weaknesses in the methods used by Council and staff for the awarding of contracts.
“There’s been one after another where I believe they could have got a better deal,” Fuhr told the Journal Argus on Monday, when asked for his response to Wilhelm’s announcement that he’ll seek re-election. “The most recent example I can think of was with the Environmental Assessment contract for the two bridges — the Trafalgar and the Avonfoot. I pushed them to take it to tender because I thought they could do better, and I believe they saved about $6,000.”
When asked, however, if these are the topics he’ll highlight with Perth South residents as the Oct. 27 vote draws near, Fuhr said not necessarily.
“I want to look forward to the future, so there are some things I won’t dwell on,” the St. Pauls resident said. Looking to the future, he added, “is something I don’t think Mayor Wilhelm has done nearly enough of.”
Like Fuhr, Wilhelm also shied away from talking about the early-term controversies of the current Perth South council. He was more keen to discuss the prospects of bringing more economic development to the portion of James Street South that lies outside the Town of St. Marys, and seeing more value-added, on-farm businesses established in the township.
Already, the mayor noted, a dairy farm just north of Kirkton has been approved for and is building an on-farm processing plant within Perth South.
“We have to figure out what we can do to have more of that take place; figure out how we can retain more of our young people in the township.”
He said he expects the upcoming campaign to focus on maintaining strong rural infrastructure and building economic development within the township.
And, on those matters, Wilhelm believes his record will help him prevail in the Oct. 27 vote.
“I certainly am pleased with our record, and I’ll certainly stand behind it,” he told the Journal Argus. “A lot of municipalities would like to be in our position, with us not owing any money and having a sizeable reserve.”
Given what seem like polar opposite views held by Wilhelm and Fuhr on the matter of reserves, it’s the size of that reserve fund — pegged by Wilhelm as somewhere in the range of $6 million — that could become the biggest issue of the Perth South campaign.
Fuhr sees no reason why the township’s rainy-day-fund should have tripled in four years.
“As a township, we’re saving huge amounts of money on the backs of the taxpayers,” he commented. Combine that with the increased burden on taxpayers due to a decreased population over-all, and the mayoralty challenger says Perth South is headed in the wrong direction.
Wilhelm, by contrast, says the build-up of strong reserves is crucial in an age when provincial and federal governments seem to be cutting back significantly on supporting municipal projects.
“We’ve got some very trying times coming . . . and we’re going to require some good, strong management . . . and a good, strong reserve fund.”