Manitoulin Votes 2018: Meet your candidates in the Municipality of Killarney

Stock Image

Geoff Cosh, candidate, Killarney mayor

by Michael Erskine

KILLANRNEY—Killarney mayoral candidate in the 2018 municipal election Geoff Cosh has plenty of experience in municipal politics, having been elected reeve/mayor from 1985 to 1988 for the Township of Rutherford and George Island (the former name of the Municipality of Killarney), elected councillor for the terms 1977 to 1985, 1999 to 2000, and 2003 to 2006. In that time, he sat on numerous municipal committees and boards where he said he “provided strong leadership that resulted in many successful fundraising campaigns.” He also owned/operated a local business in Killarney from 1977 to 1989.

“We raised our four children here and still own our home in Killarney that we visit each weekend, or more, the year round,” he said.

Mr. Cosh said that his vision for the community is to: “Ensure the opportunity for ratepayers/members of our municipality to ask questions at our monthly council meeting and to fully investigate the costs/benefits of area rating for our municipality and work with all cottage owners within our municipality to provide better understanding of municipal area rating.”

In addition, Mr. Cosh commits to “providing information to Ward 2 residents regarding the current and future benefits of not separating from our municipality and to fully investigate and collaborate at the local level on various ways we can provide better efficiencies in our municipality to lower costs resulting in lower taxes.”

Mr. Cosh said that there is a need for a better standard of living in the township. “As your mayor I will seek out and investigate ways of creating better service for all residents. As your mayor I will listen and address your concerns as residents and will work closely with you and in collaboration with local initiatives in order to create better services for a stronger community.”

Mr. Cosh pointed to his previous record on and leading council as a bellwether for his candidacy. “I have made strides in the past with creating services for the community and plan to continue this success for you,” he said. “I welcome the chance to speak to you and hear your questions and concerns. Please visit my website for more information.”

Ginny Rook, candidate, Killarney mayor

by Michael Erskine

KILLARNEY— Ginny Rook is running for re-election as mayor of the Municipality of Killarney. She notes that the past year has presented a lot of challenges for her community, and for her own family personally. “The fire (Parry Sound 33) came to within two kilometres of our home,” she said. “Like a lot of people, we had to evacuate.” But unlike many of the fire refugees, Ms. Rook and her husband Jim did not have the luxury of living with relatives far from the fire. “Jim was the emergency lead and there were what seemed a thousand committees and meetings during the crisis,” she said. The couple set up camp in the Killarney Lodge for the duration. “But it was wonderful how the community pulled together and is still pulling together,” she said.

Ms. Rook said that her key priority in the coming years, should she be re-elected, would be in “keeping taxes down. I am a cheap accountant,” she laughs.

She explains “most of our permanent residents are people who retired from the summer hospitality industry. Most of them don’t have a lot and if taxes get out of hand they could be forced to leave their homes. I don’t want to ever see that happen in our community.”

With the advent of a new provincial government focused on cutting costs at all costs, the impact on small rural communities, especially ones with a large geographical region to service, is very concerning.

Mr. Rook is an accountant by trade and she operates her own business. “I got my accounting degree in 1993, but I was working as a bookkeeper for years before I got my CGA (certified general accountant designation),” she said. “I always liked numbers and I was good at it. If I got less than 90 percent on a test, I would be finding out why.”

“We have what I would call a lot of ‘isolated ratepayers’ in our community,” said Ms. Rook. “Actually Jim and I would fit in that description. We live well out in the country. A lot of those folks would like to see area rating (different millrates for different regions of the municipality) but the cost would be too expensive for a lot of the older folks who live here in town. We need to keep services like the fire department.”

Ms. Rook pointed out that a recent fire at one of the communitys’ largest businesses could have proven catastrophic had it not been for the timely arrival of the fire department. “The whole town could have gone up by the time other fire departments could have arrived,” she said. “We need to have them close by.”

Ms. Rook was a councillor for one year before becoming mayor, having been appointed to fill a vacant seat on council.

She describes her chief asset as a politician as “being very accessible to people. My home number is on the town website and I love hearing from people and I know I need to listen. I don’t live in town, in fact, I hardly every used to come into town before I got involved (unless it was for the town’s famous fish and chips),” she said. “So I need people to keep me informed as to what is happening and what needs to happen in the community.”

Barbara Anne Haitse, candidate, Ward 1

by Michael Erskine

KILLARNEY—Ward 1 council candidate Barbara Anne Haitse is a long established family resident of the Municipality of Killarney.

Communication is the centrepiece of her candidacy. “I just don’t think that there has been enough communication with people in the community,” she said.

“I have gained a sincere passion for the people, the beauty of our environment and I am committed to working towards making a difference in our future,” she said.

A graduate of Cambrian College’s Clerk Typist and Accounting certificate programs, Ms. Haitse began her career with a public accounting firm and worked there for 13 years. In her work, “information was highly personal and confidential,” she said. “After gaining valuable accounting skills, I progressed through administrative and leadership positions.”

For the past 14 years Ms. Haitse’s career has been with the Province of Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-term Care Direct Services Division, where she has been an acting team leader and claims assessor.

“My position requires that I provide leadership, coaching and mentoring to all staff on policy and procedures to effectively accomplish a high volume workload,” she said. Her work has involved her sitting on numerous government committees and projects where she has served as a “subject matter expert and change champion to effectively implement efficient ways of improving services.”

Ms. Haitse describes her work as having been “a tremendous experience and personal asset” developing skills that she is looking forward to applying at the council table on behalf of the community she loves.

Ms. Haitse lists some of her former community responsibilities including working as a volunteer for the United Way, the Blue Door Soup Kitchen, Christmas Family sponsor and a lead co-ordinator for the emergency fire evacuation committee and social committee.

Ms. Haitse said that her future plan “is to return home to retire on my property in the community I love so much.”

Eileen Lewis, candidate, Ward 1

by Warren Schlote

KILLARNEY—“I believe in working together to make sure peoples’ needs are met,” says Eileen Lewis, candidate for Ward 1 on Killarney municipal council. She is currently serving her first term as a Killarney town councillor.

“I’ve been on council for the last four years and I know what is going on. I really think that I could be of help in moving forward this term to accomplish what needs to be done for our town,” says Ms. Lewis.

Ms. Lewis has been living in Killarney full-time for 30 years. Ten years before that, she had been visiting the town seasonally. Ms. Lewis attended and graduated from college and one of Ms. Lewis’ ventures was running a snack bar in a Killarney hotel for a number of years.

Part of her priorities involve bolstering the tourism industry in the Killarney area.

“We need to make things more available for our tourists because it is a tourist town,” she says. “They can look through our little stores, but there should be some kind of entertainment for them or something for them to do besides just sitting at the lodge or the hotel, or the Sportsman’s.”

Ms. Lewis suggests hosting community movie nights could be a fun activity in which tourists could take part. She also mentions the possibility of hosting more self-directed entertainment up at Veteran’s Hall such as shuffleboard or cards.

“I know when I go away I don’t want to just be sitting in my room all the time, I want to go out and be entertained,” says Ms. Lewis.

She also believes in more initiatives geared towards Killarney’s senior residents. Outside of Christmastime, when the region hosts a bake sale and community tea, she says the activities geared towards seniors are lacking.

“It’s not an ongoing thing, it’s just occasionally,” she says. “A lot of (seniors) are just sitting at home, watching TV and not doing anything, really.” Ms. Lewis says that is very important considering the region’s large senior population.

Ms. Lewis says she believes in being available and accountable to the people who she serves. “As a councillor, I will do what the people want if I know their needs or their wants,” she says. “They can always come to the council meetings and tell us and then we can work from there.”

Michael Reider, candidate, Ward 1

by Warren Schlote

KILLARNEY—“One foot in the present, one foot going towards the future,” says Michael Reider, describing his philosophy for his Ward 1 election bid in the Municipality of Killarney.

Mr. Reider has previously lived in the Toronto area but moved to live in Killarney full-time in 2000, to a property he had previously owned as a cottage. Because of that, he says, he understands the perspectives of the municipality’s taxpayers—both seasonal cottagers and year-round residents.

“They have the sense that they get no services for the money they pay (in taxes),” says Mr. Reider. “Some resent paying for services because they never use them. That may be true, but if you wanted to use it, it’s there and you have the right to use it. That’s up to you, in that sense.”

Balancing the needs of the fewer-than 500 permanent residents with a reasonable tax burden can be a challenging task. As an example of responsible spending, Mr. Reider points to the current shared service regime between area municipalities to save on expenses by sharing things such as fire chiefs, bylaw enforcement officers and building departments. However he acknowledges that a lot of spending is dictated by provincial regulations, which limits the ability for councils to cut costs in certain areas.

Mr. Reider has experience being on municipal council for the past year after he was appointed into a vacant seat. He has served as treasurer on the board of directors of Friends of Killarney Park, and was on the board for the first daycare centre within a public school, in North York. His main vocational background is in education.

A major issue Mr. Reider says he wants to bring forward is improving the way the municipality shares information with the public, pointing to concerns that had emerged during the Parry Sound 33 fire that the town of Killarney was under an evacuation order when, in fact, it was the southern portion of the township had actually received the order. He also says the municipal website should be updated more frequently to give timely updates to the public.

Mr. Reider also says he hopes to keep municipal taxes as close to the rate of inflation and cost of living as possible to ensure there is enough funding for future years without implementing major tax hikes.

He says the township should be working on contingency plans for in case the tourism industry suffers a downturn. He would like to see a wider economic base outside of the tourism area to help stabilize the local economy, especially with corporate consolidation in the town of Killarney.

“If anything happened that affected the company that owns every major hotel in town, it could just wipe out our tax base because the tourism industry is the biggest business,” he says.

Nancy Wirtz, candidate, Ward 1

by Michael Erskine

KILLARNEY—Nancy Wirtz, who currently serves the Killarney community as deputy mayor and councillor for Ward 1, is seeking re-election again in 2018.

“I am originally from Thunder Bay and came to Killarney for a summer job after university,” said Ms. Wirtz about her background. “It was the landscape that brought me here but the people in this community that made me want to stay. I have lived here for 14 years now with my husband who is a life-long resident. We both enjoy the outdoors and the laid back lifestyle Killarney provides. I work from my home for a national non-profit organization in the health sector and lead provincial programs for Ontario.”

Asked what prompted her to run this time, Ms. Wirtz didn’t hesitate. “Well, as most candidates who decide to run for local government, I love my community and feel I have something to offer it,” she said. “I want to contribute in a significant way that can improve quality of life for our residents. With four years on council under my belt now, I have gained a greater understanding and knowledge of municipal government and our community and look forward to the opportunity to really put that to work in the next term.”

As for the biggest challenges that she sees coming down the pipe in the next four years for her community, Ms. Wirtz immediately pointed to taxes. “As with any municipality with a relatively small tax base there are always challenges around keeping tax rates low while costs increase,” she said. “In order to look for cost savings, the Municipality of Killarney engaged with St. Charles, Markstay-Warren and French River to undergo a shared services study. Through this process we identified a number of areas where we could work together to serve our communities better and save some money. We have already started some of this work with the introduction of the Sudbury East Building and By-law Department. More projects and partnerships like this will be important over the next four years.”

“Another area of focus is the level of development going on in Killarney over the past few years,” said Ms. Wirtz. “It is important for council to support this while ensuring that development occurs in a sustainable manner and appropriate planning takes place around infrastructure and services to support it.”

When it comes to what makes her the best candidate to help oar the ship of state for the next term of council, Ms. Wirtz supplies that “I’ve been told I have a great ability to simplify complex issues and drill down to the key concerns or areas that need addressing. I think I am a proactive leader who provides a nice balance of using a thoughtful approach to decision making and researching issues but also taking action and moving things forward.”

John Dimitrijevic, candidate, Ward 2

by Warren Schlote

KILLARNEY—“For the benefit of the community,” says John Dimitrijevic, speaking of the reason he is running for council in Ward 2 of Killarney.

Mr. Dimitrijevic has worked for over 30 years at Bombardier Aerospace where he held management roles. He is new to municipal politics but says his experiences working with people in his corporate roles have prepared him for the challenge. He has owned property in Killarney for 50 years and has lived there full-time for three years.

Mr. Dimitrijevic says he believes in maintaining basic services for the municipality’s outlying areas, including garbage disposal, road repairs, ditch improvements and timely snow removal.

“Businesses like marinas are often complaining the dump hours don’t work very well for them all the time; I want to look into that to see if I can help them,” he says.

“I want to ensure that the residents can continue to afford to live and do business in the area,” he says. “I’m committed to being accessible to residents and I will continue to return calls and emails in a timely manner.”

Holding public meetings will be one of the first steps for Mr. Dimitrijevic, to speak with residents about their concerns and try to find ways of addressing them.

“My main purpose will be to listen to peoples’ problems and interests in changing things for the better, and following up on it. I want to make sure accountability is there.”

“I care about the area. I love the area, love the people and want to make sure any improvements or issues we have currently can be resolved for the benefit of the community,” he says.

“In my 30 plus year tenure at Bombardier, I had a whole bunch of people working under me,” says Mr. Dimitrijevic. “I treated them fairly and I always tried to help them with any issues they had, whether business-related or personal. I’m just going to continue acting that way if I do get elected.”

Pierre Paquette, candidate, Ward 2

by Warren Schlote

KILLARNEY—“I think we’re on the right track—let’s continue what we’re doing,” says Pierre Paquette, candidate for council in Ward 2 of the Municipality of Killarney.

Mr. Paquette currently serves on council and is seeking reelection for his second term. He has previously served on a number of boards: the Rayside Balfour Slow Pitch Association, the snowmobilers’ association and he is the current vice president of the Rayside Balfour Minor Hockey Association.

Mr. Paquette says he hopes to continue developing the shared services study he has helped with in which positions such as building inspectors and bylaw officers are shared between the neighbouring municipalities of Markstay-Warren, St. Charles and French River.

“That has just started,” he says. “We’d like to continue those cost saving measures up here.”

One item on which Mr. Paquette hopes to work is getting civic addresses installed at docks to aid emergency first responders to find the location to which they have been called. He says that is a shared priority with the neighbouring Key River Area Association as well.

Mr. Paquette also says responding to fire damage in the southern portion of the municipality will be an important task.

“With the (forest) fire we had, getting everything back on track, getting businesses back on track, is going to be a priority,” says Mr. Paquette, referring to this summer’s massive Parry Sound 33 fire. He adds that the municipality will need to work closely with businesses and organizations to ensure the work is done as effectively as possible.

Mr. Paquette says he has shown good dedication to the municipality in his current council term—the Azilda resident says he drives an hour and a half to attend council meetings and frequently takes phone calls from local residents to address their concerns.

“I make myself available to the people,” he says. “I enjoy working with individual groups of people, I like hearing peoples’ concerns; I’m reachable,” he says.

Jim Rook, candidate, Ward 2

by Mike Erskine

KILLARNEY—Incumbent Jim Rook is taking another run at becoming one of the councillors for Ward 2 in Killarney, seeking re-election after what can only be described as a tumultuous summer.

“I have been asked to let people know what I will try to accomplish as a councillor if elected in 2018,” he said, offering a few taciturn but succinct examples.

“Taxes—I do not think that I can realistically promise to lower taxes,” he said. “Municipal taxes are influenced significantly by the province’s regulatory regime which increases labour costs, by the province’s transfer payments and by the province’s decisions on how costs should be shared. For example, since 2014, policing household charges have increased from $81 per household to $225 a household. Council has no control over these decisions. With a new government in power, which as of today has not provided their financial or regulatory plan to municipal governments, I would probably be misleading everyone by promising to lower taxes. I will promise to try and control spending on items that we can control.”

On economic development: “I think that we should be working to attract investment as it is not our job to develop private business operations,” he said. “We have been fairly successful with attracting investment with over $20 million being spent in Killarney. This is slowly increasing tax revenue. More importantly, the municipality is now being ‘discovered’ and the whole area has and is being scouted by the film industry. This theoretically will increase economic activity for all our business operators and provide a boost for tourism. In Ward 2 specifically, there is a potential expansion of a quarry operation, that if it clears regulatory hurdles and solidifies a market, will provide full time employment and municipal revenue.”

On shared services: “As you know, the present council in order to help defray costs has begun a shared service plan,” he said. “Presently building department and bylaw enforcement planning has been completed. There is lots of work to do in this area which, if elected, I will continue to promote saving through sharing services. Considering the unknowns at the provincial level this may be the most important item.”

Emergency Management: “I will continue to work towards improving the municipality’s ability to improve response to emergencies,” he said. “To protect people and properties, this will include mapping, communication and education. We have been able to get a modest $15,000 grant to kick start this program.

As for communication: Mr. Rook noted that “There is already a question period at council meetings, but if elected you can contact me and I will give you an explanation for any council decision. We may not always agree, but I will give you an answer.”

Mr. Rook notes that municipalities across the province are currently “up in the air” with the new government, but that one thing is certain: change has come. “But what form that change will take we don’t yet know but I suspect we will need to be pretty quick on our feet for the next four years.”