Bill Fehr set aside his responsibilities as Central Elgin Ward 4 Councillor for about 10 minutes Monday night to address Council as “a private citizen.”
In the ‘absence’ of a Ward 4 Councillor, Fehr calmly, but firmly urged Council to support a campaign to merge his constituency with the City of St. Thomas.
“In 1997 when area municipalities picked the organizational model for this area, the wrong model was picked,” Fehr said at Council’s meeting. “It haunts us up to this day.
“People who move to (Ward 4) often think they’re in St. Thomas, but that’s only their mailing address,” he added. “They’re really (in) Central Elgin.” The reality of that scenario sinks in, said Fehr, when newcomers to Ward 4 realize they actually live “a few hundred yards from St. Thomas,” but their property taxes and water rates are “higher, sometimes double.
“It just doesn’t seem right,” he said. “Ward 4 is not only linked physically, infrastructure-wise and servicing-wise, but in many other ways.” Among many other things, Fehr noted Ward 4 residents rely on St. Thomas for library services, shopping malls, arenas, and stores. “Our links to St. Thomas are far greater than they are to Central Elgin. St. Thomas provides all this with very little return, if any at all, and Central Elgin gets all the tax dollars.”
Fehr even called Ward 4 the “financial breadbasket of Central Elgin … subsidizing the rest of the municipality.” He envisioned a municipality where Ward 4 “no longer subsidized the rest of Central Elgin, especially – I know it’s been said before – Port Stanley, which we really have no physical or commonalities with in Ward 4.”
Fehr described a “rising flood of discontent in Ward 4 which has gone on for a number of Council sessions. I will seek the support from all the residents in Ward 4 to push forward, through petitions, protests, maybe even referendum, if that’s possible. If there’s the will there I will personally commit to approaching St. Thomas, Elgin County, even the provincial government.”
Ward 2 Councillor Dennis Crevits was quick to offer a rebuttal. Crevits pointed out that Central Elgin’s total assessment amounts to $2.336 billion. Total assessment in Ward 4 alone is $430 million, or about 18 per cent. That’s less than one-fifth, of the municipality’s total, he added.
“Your analogy of the breadbasket, I don’t see how that’s going,” said Crevits. “I think the exact opposite of what you’re saying. I don’t think we need a loose cannon rolling around on this ship anymore.
“This municipality is set up as a ward system. There are five wards. The day after the election, you become a member of Central Elgin Council, not a Ward 4 Councillor,” said Crevits. “You took an oath to help the residents of Central Elgin.”
Some more math tips were offered by Deputy Mayor Tom Marks, who also serves as Elgin County’s Warden. He said that in 2011, for example, the County spent some $5.5 million in Ward 4, with Central Elgin taxpayers contributing one-third of that expenditure.
“For someone who is an accountant, it just doesn’t add up,” Marks said after the meeting. “It just doesn’t make sense. Sometimes you have to be careful what you wish for.”
Central Elgin Mayor Sally Martyn was empathetic. “It is something many in his ward complain about and want to be part of the city,” said Martyn. “I believe he felt he was just representing their wishes.”
St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston welcomed Fehr’s remarks. “St .Thomas and Central Elgin are neighbours and friends,” said Preston. “Together we share schools, recreation, shopping and more. We share so much.
“We all work well together,” added Preston. “It is the citizens’ duty to share with their elected representatives if they would like change.”
Central Elgin Ward 4 Councillor Bill Fehr