Petrolia’s mayoral candidates answer our questions

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As part of our election coverage, The Independent recently sent a survey to the candidates for the mayor of the Town of Petrolia; the following are their answers.

Brad Loosley

R.Brad Loosley, 73, is one of two former administrators of Petrolia vying for the top elected position. Loosley, who is well known as figure skating coach and active in his church and community, is seeking his second term as mayor.
What is the most important issue facing Petrolia in the next four years?
The control of the financial portion of the municipality to keep taxes under control while reducing the town’s debt, and recognizing the VPP as the only department under Council’s control that makes a sizeable profit each year – bringing approximately 40,000 people to the community which is a great benefit to the businesses and restaurants within the town. I also wish to follow the Town’s Strategic and Master Plans.
What would you do about the issue you identified?
I would work with staff and council together to control the municipal budget plus long range and capital projects through Asset Management. This budget control has resulted in finding that Petrolia is no longer listed as the highest tax rate in Lambton.
Do you support implementing development fees in the next term of council? Why or why not?
Yes, providing the fees are reasonable. The town has benefited from no development fees in the past. However, growth should pay for growth. Development charges can only be used for appropriate capital costs resulting from the growth or the residential development project. Our great town is fortunate to have several land development projects at the initial stages of the development process and now is the time for town council to have a Development Charges study completed. With this information, council can decide on fair and appropriate charges.
Many of Petrolia’s subdivisions do not have sidewalks – how do you think the town should address the problem? Should it be a priority? How much cash should be dedicated to the task yearly?
The current council did address this item going forward, in that any new sub-divisions will have sidewalks on one side of the street. Council directed a Connectivity Study that will study our current sub-divisions without sidewalks. It will bring recommendations to address and prioritize areas without sidewalks within the sub-division and connecting these sidewalks to key areas within the town, such as , the downtown, hospital, schools, etc. There has been one public session already and another one is planned for later this year. Public input will be key to getting this right. The budget amount will be determined as recommended in the study.
Transparency is key to good government; how do you think Petrolia could provide more information to the public about the business of government?
Yes, I fully agree that transparency is key to good government. Without transparency, government cannot be held accountable. And yes, government can always improve on informing the public better. Municipal government provides a very broad scope of services from safe drinking water to road construction to by-law enforcement. Each of these activities can be complicated in their own right. One of my ideas if re-elected, would be to survey the public and ask them for what aspects of municipal government would they appreciate more information and then hold public or town hall sessions with council. I would have staff as the subject matter experts present, and council would listen to any suggestions from the public for improvement. I have always been able to listen to the public and try as best I can to help with a solution to any concerns.
Recently, town staff applied for and received grants for projects which had not been approved by council in public session. This committed taxpayers to thousands of dollars in spending without the proper approvals in place. Do you approve of this process? Explain why or why not and what you would like to see happen in the future.
Staff does not have the authority to approve grant agreements and have always received Council approval prior to the Town of Petrolia committing to any Federal and/or Provincial grant program. The agreement, called a Transfer Payment Agreement, is a detailed, legal document committing both the Federal/Provincial government and municipality to many conditions on both sides. These agreements are usually 20-50 pages long. The Transfer Payment Agreements are presented to Council for consideration and council approval is requested for the Mayor and the Clerk (or CAO/treasurer) to be able to sign on behalf of Council. As Mayor, I have personally signed all of these grant agreements over the past 4 years. The Town of Petrolia has been extremely successful on grant applications over the past 10 years or so. This year we received grant approval for almost $12 million on our $16.2 million Water Treatment Plant In-take Replacement Project which is critical for the Town to maintain our safe drinking water system. Our current In-take is at the end of its useful life of 80 years. We also recently received a $700,000 grant to improve our recreational facilities at our Petrolia YMCA. Staff are doing a great job, and I would encourage them to continue doing great work at securing federal and /or provincial grants which are extremely competitive. Most municipalities use private grant writing companies, but in Petrolia, it is our staff that does all of this work. With additional special COVID grants over the past 3 years, Council receives a periodic grant summary report to keep Council appraised of how the Town is doing. This report not only includes grant approvals, but grants submitted and anticipated grant

Richard Poore

Richard Poore grew up in Sarnia and came to Petrolia to lead Victoria Playhouse Petrolia. In retirement, the 64 year-old continues to help with set construction today. He’s also the vice chair of the Petrolia Discovery Foundation.
What is the most important issue facing Petrolia in the next four years?
As I’ve spoken to our citizens over the last several months, many important issues are being raised, including but not limited to sidewalks and trails, sewer rates, bylaw enforcement, the homeless issue, development charges, a splash pad, youth engagement and a desire for change and better leadership from our elected officials. Citizens are telling me they don’t feel as though they are being listened to, and the public consultation process leaves them without a voice.
What would you do about the issue you identified?
The one issue that requires immediate attention, and which would in turn impact all of the other issues stated above, is better leadership from our elected officials. I would utilize my diverse training and leadership experience to ensure the culture of council is one of collaboration, consensus building, full participation, goal-setting and visioning for the future. Opportunity for public engagement/consultation should be better communicated, with advance notice on multiple platforms to ensure all residents are aware, informed and able to participate in the process. I would like to see more opportunities for residents and business owners to provide input and feedback, with opportunity for actual discussion so residents are able to fully understand the issues at hand.

Do you support implementing development fees in the next term of council? Why or why not?
I feel development fees are essential to responsible investment in the future growth of Petrolia. I believe development should pay for development. It will be a priority of mine to obtain the Development Charge Study so council can make informed decisions about the fees. There is the potential for approximately 1,000 new homes in the next 5-10 years. It is imperative that we plan financially to support the necessary infrastructure. I don’t believe existing citizens should be solely responsible for these costs. If these costs don’t come from development fees, it will be necessary to pay for them out of the property tax revenue.
Many of Petrolia’s subdivisions do not have sidewalks – how do you think the town should address the problem?
Walkability is definitely one of the major concerns of many citizens and, in my opinion, a huge priority. Council needs to rely on the results of the Sidewalk/Connectivity and Walkability Study currently being conducted to assist in determining what the residents feel are the priority areas. This is integrated with the 2018 Town of Petrolia Community Wellbeing Master Plan, which also identifies the need for sidewalks. Sidewalks are a community builder; they are integral to a healthy, safe community. In my opinion, all new subdivisions must have sidewalks on at least one side of the road, preferably both, paid for by the developer. In the 2023 budget, I believe we should at minimum double the sidewalk replacement budget in an attempt to catch up on existing sidewalk repair. This budget line should then be re-evaluated for 2024.
Transparency is key to good government; how do you think Petrolia could provide more information to the public about the business of government?
In my opinion, there is a broad lack of understanding about the role of the mayor and council. It is up to the mayor and council to educate citizens about the proper municipal governance. I would put a process in place whereby the mayor leads council in an annual self-assessment, the focus of which would be what the actual role of council is, setting measurable goals and the achievement of those goals. Input from residents would be sought during this process. The results of this annual assessment would be presented to the public. Improvements to the public consultation process will also assist in communicating what the business of government is about.
Recently, town staff applied for and received grants for projects which had not been approved by council in public session. This committed taxpayers to thousands of dollars in spending without the proper approvals in place. Do you approve? Explain why or why not.
Both short and long-term operating and capital budgets are reviewed and updated during each annual budget process and are therefore fully available to the public through the public consultation process. It is, in fact, staff’s job to be proactive in applying for and securing funds through grant applications from both government and non-government funders to assist with capital and operating funding. By doing this, it positions any given project to be “shovel ready” when or if an opportunity for funding arises. Staff do not act without proper approval. Simply applying for grants does not commit taxpayer dollars to a project; it is one of the many steps necessary at the beginning of the process. Staff’s job is to present Council with funder-approved dollars, which allows them to make fully informed decisions on whether to then approve the project and the municipality’s financial impact.