Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
Tom Clifford still has more work to do after five terms on city council.
He is one of five incumbents so far who have declared their candidacy for re-election this October.
In an interview with the Gazette Wednesday, the veteran councillor noted one of his top priorities, which shouldn't come as a surprise given he's chaired the city's finance subcommittee for the last eight years, is advocating for reform to the province's interest arbitration process.
It's one Stratford found itself on the wrong side of in late 2011 when its firefighters and dispatchers were awarded a $2.75 million settlement that included retroactive pay dating back to 2007. The city did not have the money in reserves to meet the one-time payout, and was forced cut back on spending in other departments in the following year's budget as a result.
Some firefighters received up to a 13 per cent wage increase that year because of the settlement, while the salaries for other municipal employees increased about two per cent.
Clifford said these kinds of settlements might work in larger cities like Toronto and Hamilton but are unrealistic for smaller municipalities with limited purse strings.
"We need to keep pressure on the province so that we control the costs of police and fire (services)," he added. "Their wages are going up much higher than other municipal employees, and eventually that's going to cause some really upset people."
Clifford said he plans to campaign at least partly on this issue, though he recognizes it's not something he can do alone.
"I have an interest in keeping after the province, and I think all municipalities have to do it," he added.
Clifford said the decision to seek re-election didn't come as easy to him as it has in the past, which he partly attributes to being that much older. But he stills enjoys the work, and noted in the new year he will be stepping back a bit from his company, Brown Heating & Cooling, which should afford him more time for the job.
It also doesn't hurt that he's had a good experience these last four years, a period which he described as being "productive" for a council that focused on investing in infrastructure where necessary and key initiatives like the university campus, while making sure to not spend irresponsibly. He said it would have been easy for council to have given in to those who are calling for a new library, police station, or soccer facility.
"Council has resisted going into further debt. We've been careful and it's being paid down gradually," he added.
Clifford indicated he is also proud that the city has kept its municipal taxes in line with inflation – slightly higher some years and slightly lower in others.
"We can always improve, but I think the city has been running quite efficiently," he said.
Clifford agreed with the assessment that it's an exciting time to be involved with local politics, especially with two major downtown revitalization projects – Market Square and the Cooper site – on the horizon. He said he can appreciate that people have been critical of council for the lack of progress on the former railway shops site, but suggested it's far more complicated a matter than people might realize, with ongoing litigation between the city and the site's former owner over compensation. There's also the heritage aspect of the site to consider, he noted.
"I know the public says we're not doing anything, but believe me, all of us, including Mayor Mathieson, are working very hard on that," he added. "We would all like to get it done."