St. Marys Journal Argus
“We can do better!” said Perth South mayoral candidate Roger Fuhr, a former councillor who tried unsuccessfully to move to the mayor’s chair in 2010, losing out to former Council colleague Bob Wilhelm. The two men are once again facing each other this time around on the Perth South ballot, and will face off in an all-candidates meeting set to begin at 7 p.m. tonight (Wednesday, Oct. 15) at South Perth Centennial school north of Rannoch.
“To suggest that the last four dysfunctional years in the political world of Perth South would be best forgotten, is an understatement,” Fuhr told the Journal Argus. On the more serious side, he cited “broken rules of just about every variety, to OPP investigations, to harassment,” and even “kangaroo courts.” He charged that Wilhelm “appeared to be running his private boardroom.”
Wilhelm counters that Fuhr’s perspective on how things have unfolded over the past four years is not in keeping with how most people in Perth South feel.
“I’m hearing very positive things,” the incumbent Mayor — and 2014 Warden of Perth County — told the Journal Argus.
“And I think that’s mainly because our township is in a good position.” Wilhelm cites an almost non-existent long-term debt, reserve funds of almost $5 million, and a record of spending close to $1 million per year over the past four years on infrastructure.
Even when it comes to the loss, in recent times, of infrastructure grant programs from upper levels of government, Wilhelm feels Perth South is well-positioned due to an ongoing agreement with the City of Stratford over land that was annexed for that municipality’s RBC Centre.
“Last year, (the Perth South share of revenue from that project, under the annexation agreement) more than offset the amount that was reduced from our Ontario Municipal Partnership (infrastructure) Fund.”
But it wasn’t only high-profile signs of dysfunction that Fuhr feels were evident. Even from “just plain ordinary bickering,” he believes, “it was clear there was a rather large leadership void . . . (Wilhelm) never got a handle on the kind of leadership that is needed around a Council table.”
Fuhr said that, as Mayor, “one of my first priorities will be to set a new tone around the table — a positive one . . . that promotes inclusiveness, discussion and patience.”
“There will be no doubt in the minds of the newly elected councillors, that I am there to work with them, allow them to express themselves, hear their positions, and turn the page to a fresh new positive term of Council,” the St. Pauls resident added.
Raised on a local dairy farm, Fuhr eventually became a tradesman running his own business.
“I learned how to work hard and what the true value of a dollar is,” he said. During the four years between sitting as a councillor and the upcoming election, he stresses he has stayed up to date on the township’s affairs by attending over 90 per cent of Council meetings.
Experience in operating a business, of course, isn’t something about which only Fuhr can boast. His opponent is the long-time operator of Ulch Transport in St. Marys, and can draw on those skills as he seeks a second term as Mayor to follow up on previous experience as a councillor.
Wilhelm says his priorities for the next four years will include “working closely with staff to ensure that tax dollars are spent wisely,” and moving forward on efforts to develop industrial land on the south end of St. Marys.
“The challenge is basically convincing everyone involved that we’ve got to invest the money now in order to get the return on the investment, maybe two or three or four years down the road,” he said.
Wilhelm adds that, at the County level, a review is currently underway of Perth’s Official Plan, and that will represent an opportunity to revisit the issue of surplus farmhouse severances. This was something Perth South argued for, unsuccessfully, in the past, but the incumbent mayor is hopeful that will change this time around.
He stressed this doesn’t mean he wants to force landowners to sever unused homes from newly-purchased land, but rather that it be among the options open to farmers in their business dealings.
For the township, meanwhile, it could be a crucial step towards turning around the trend of decreasing rural population, Wilhelm said.
That decrease in population is equally troubling for Fuhr. Statistics he has seen indicate Perth South currently has the sixth fastest-declining population in Ontario out of over 440 municipalities.
“Priority number one” if he’s elected, he said, “is addressing our quickly declining population, a situation that has been ignored for far too long.”
Other priorities will be “planning matters and red tape,” as well as “decreasing our reserves levels, which have grown far too large for what is necessary.” He would like to see Council “pay close attention to procurement policies, possibly restructuring senior staff, and ensuring that our roads and bridges are well maintained.”
As for Perth South’s dealings with Perth County Council, Fuhr takes a decidedly different tack than his incumbent opponent. In contrast to Wilhelm’s comments that he’d like to “continue to develop the working relationship we already have at the County level,” Fuhr says he wants to make a bit of noise at County Council.
He says taking a strong voice to Perth County Council is something he definitely wants to accomplish, in order to scale down the projected lower-tier increases in what he believes is a budget that is “out of control.”
Other key matters to tackle early in the next term of Council, Fuhr says, include the Trafalgar and Avonfoot Bridges, as well as the proposed Transvaal gravel pit. “I do not believe the gravel pit should receive Council support as I see no benefits for the Township and great risks to the environment,” he said.