By Michelle Poirier
With the municipal election on October 24, the Post reached out to all six mayoral candidates to ask them why they are running, what they think about the major issues, and what the next four years could look like for Georgina.
Candidates Ralph Hirmann, George Sheffield, Jeffrey Cathcart, Boris Godzinevski, and incumbent Margaret Quirk responded to all questions. Candidate Frank Sebo chose not to respond.
1. Why did you decide to run for mayor?
Hirmann: I felt compelled to run for mayor because many residents reached out to me at my barbershop and in the community to express their concerns and the frustration they were experiencing.
Sheffield: After several months and looking closely at the budget, I concluded I could really make a difference in our services, roads, health care, schools and for our seniors. I’ve learned that much of our tax dollars seem to disappear without seeing the benefits of this spending. Watching small businesses close up shop became very disheartening. I believe if elected, I can change our current course and aim us all in a positive direction.
Cathcart: My wife and I have grown up in Georgina. As a lifelong resident and business owner, I have observed and been part of the many challenges residents have faced with municipal levels of government and their lack of concern. I wholeheartedly believe it is time for a real change.
Godzinevski: After running in 2018, I saw the situation with Town inefficiencies had not improved. I continued to hear the same stories regarding bylaws, the lack of youth programs and infrastructure, and our now notorious building department. I registered on the last day after reading the other candidates’ platforms and did not find one I could fully get behind. There needed to be a complete and concise package presented to the residents of Georgina.
Quirk: I love Georgina, and I love living here, and I want to continue to serve the residents of Georgina. More work is needed, and I believe my experience, knowledge and proven leadership are required to continue moving Georgina forward.
2. What experience can you bring to the position of mayor? And how will that experience benefit your constituents?
Hirmann: I am a local business owner who has lived here in Georgina for over 20 years. I have real-life experience that will bring a fresh perspective to the role of mayor. I have been in the trenches with my neighbours and local business owners through the most challenging period in our lifetime. My experience in the real world directly benefits the constituents of Georgina because they have overwhelmingly expressed to me that they do not feel heard or valued as taxpayers of Georgina.
Sheffield: My main and most valuable asset is managing business growth; I’ve been a leader of many large projects with substantial employees to organize and motivate. Lastly, I know how to stop talking, listen closely to citizens’ concerns, and fully comprehend their needs. It is a built-in personality trait (from my parents) to completely understand an issue down to the smallest fine print. There will not be any misleading facts; I will have full comprehension of every issue, no matter what it takes. There will be no guessing, and I will not be swayed without a full understanding of the immediate and future repercussions of all Town policies.
Cathcart: What I bring to the table if elected as mayor is four years of financial planning experience, fifteen years as a business owner, and a strong and knowledgeable construction background for residential and commercial applications. As we know, Georgina is going through a growth phase. With both my financial and construction background, I will be able to ensure development is completed on time and on budget.
Godzinevski: I have experience in many different fields, and, as before, I offer a hands-on approach, working closely with staff. I have a background in legal, business, and financial education, as well as history, which I find helpful in analyzing what has worked and what has failed. In terms of work experience, I have worked in a federal constituency office with children (recreation, music, tutoring), film production, marketing and numerous skilled labour contracts. I could cover a lot of ground myself while working with hired staff. This means I would already understand several departments and be on the ground level with residents’ concerns. I would be able to address many issues directly or faster without needing much assistance.
Quirk: I have a total of 24 years on council, with eight as mayor; I know the issues facing Georgina. I also have 14 years of experience in the financial banking sector and have operated two small businesses for approximately ten years. My knowledge and proven stable leadership will be critical with at least three new council members this term.
3. What is Georgina’s most significant issue, and what would you do about it?
Hirmann: Listen and act. Our current mayor has wasted taxpayer dollars on expensive out-of-town consultants instead of just listening to the people. The next issue that I have heard again and again is that our residents feel that tourism and visitors get priority over the residents who live here. This has caused many issues that need to be addressed.
Sheffield: I suppose the easy answer is the waterfront, which is an issue we can’t ignore anymore. But after speaking with so many people, it’s affordable housing for the working class and seniors alike. My first step will be to immediately change the bylaws pertaining to basement apartments, in-law homes on properties that have the space to build these, etc. Keeping in mind all of these must be safe spaces so the fire inspectors will be involved, but should a person decide to offer a unit, there will be no tax increase on this property. Through my studies, I believe we require a 75-unit seniors complex in Sutton; this will service Port Bolster, Udora, Pefferlaw, Sutton, and Keswick. I don’t think it’s the answer to all of this, but we must start somewhere.
Cathcart: I truly believe Georgina’s biggest issue is the building department. Long wait times and too much red tape. I will immediately table that we implement using the Cloudpermit system, which can improve the processes by up to eighty per cent and is already in place in 102 other Ontario townships.
Godzinevski: Georgina, unfortunately, has major issues that need addressing. The inefficiencies of the building department need to be corrected, as well as outdated bylaws that only serve to entice conflict between neighbours or be counterproductive, and there is not enough infrastructure and programs for youth. The operating costs and management of the Multi-use Recreation Complex (MURC) will also have to be addressed when it opens. There is, of course, still the Upper York Sewage Solutions (UYSS) project and having wastewater running to Lake Simcoe on the table.
Quirk: One of the biggest issues is our lack of an industrial/commercial tax base. We have been working closely with the owner of the private business park in Keswick as they develop the first of seven buildings. That development will bring hundreds of local jobs and much-needed non-residential taxes. The Town currently offers development rebates for building permits, site plans, and rezoning. We need to expand that program to attract more businesses to come here and for current businesses to grow. I will continue to support efforts to brand Georgina as a key location for investment. Learning about us is the first step in investing here. Outreach to key business organizations, trade shows and investment groups is key to getting the message out that Georgina is a place to invest and grow. The other big issue is the 2023 budget and dealing with the impact of the current rate of inflation and higher costs. It will be a difficult budget, and many tough decisions on service levels and projects will be made. I will continue to work closely with our experienced staff as council reviews the proposed budget with a close eye on the bottom line.
4. What challenges will Georgina face in the next four years, and how can you help our community address them?
Hirmann: The challenges we are currently facing will only get worse if we don’t have a change in leadership. Residents and business owners are suffering from the pandemic, and they see no hope that the current mayor cares or will even listen. I will always listen and do all that I can to bring positive change for these real concerns.
Sheffield: The next four years will bring much upheaval in the housing market; no one truly knows how all this will land. This idea that we’re just going to pay everything with developer charges is naive. Should housing values drop like they did (23 per cent) between February and August, these developers will just sit on the land till the maximum profit is there. I know many of these developers (some for decades), and this is what they do. Time and money are a non-issue for them. So, we must diversify our tax base and get the most out of our services as they are right now.
Cathcart: Over the next four years, Georgina will face many growing pains. I will do whatever possible to attract businesses to create jobs, be a steward of Lake Simcoe and its preservation, and work with the council to strengthen our infrastructure as our population continues to increase.
Godzinevski: Georgina will continue to grow with more housing, and the lack of commercial infrastructure and public amenities will become ever more apparent. Simply put, we will need the political will to catch up to a standard of living the residents deserve.
Quirk: Two challenges would be balancing our growth with keeping the small-town atmosphere. Also, keeping our taxes low as we maintain our service levels will be extremely challenging over the next four years. Again, my experience is key to providing Georgina with the leadership that is needed to move us forward while respecting our taxpayers and protecting our environment, agriculture and Lake Simcoe.
5. What is your position on municipal taxation? Do you believe residents are getting a good return for their tax dollars?
Hirmann: Taxes go up, and services go down. We need to be much more accountable for how tax dollars are both collected and spent. For example, our roads in the downtown areas of Georgina need to be addressed. I will work towards tax fairness for everyone.
Sheffield: We all know the last few rounds of increases just added more pressure to the system brought to its knees by the pandemic. I will propose a 1.4 increase per year over the next four years. As for whether we are getting our money’s worth? I’d say some are very happy with the programs and services, while others feel they are receiving absolutely nothing but a snow plow and two bags of garbage. It wouldn’t take much more than some creative planning to make the vast majority of citizens feel part of the community again.
Cathcart: Municipal taxation is a fact of life. But how it is spent needs to be efficient for the community. Lately, with the Town’s reliance on consultants and lawyers, I believe taxpayer dollars are being squandered away.
Godzinevski: The value for our taxes in Georgina could be argued as one of the worst in the entire province. I have long compared our operating budget to certain cities with larger populations and more infrastructure to maintain. I brought this up to the mayor roughly six years ago and received no attempt at an answer. But there has to be an answer, and I would certainly increase our value, leading council. Georgina should enjoy state of the art in many areas for the money we spend.
Quirk: I believe taxpayers get a good return on their tax dollars; $0.52 of every tax dollar stays here in Georgina, and the rest goes to York Region ($0.33) and the province for education ($0.15). With those dollars, we provide services such as the operation of recreation facilities and provide programming, fire emergency service and fire prevention and education, maintain roads and sidewalks, plow snow, maintain parks and beaches, provide bylaw enforcement and building and planning services, to name just a few. Last year we did a 0 per cent operating increase, and in 2021 it was 0.95 per cent.
6. Do you think controlling tax increases over the next four-year term is the most important thing the next council can do to help Georgina residents with affordability?
Hirmann: Our taxes have gone up repeatedly under this mayor while our services have gone down. My position on property tax increases is twofold: a) As mayor, I will work with the town administration to find efficiencies right now with the goal of not only maintaining our current property taxes but with the vision to see our taxes lowered; b) We can accomplish this goal by attracting new investments from the provincial and federal governments while attracting new businesses and industries to move into Georgina. As a small business owner and someone who has raised a family here, I know firsthand the massive affordability crisis we are in, and I will do all I can to make life more affordable for our residents.
Sheffield: As all of Georgina has faced increases year after year, it will be my aim to keep them under two per cent. Without access to specific spending, this question is almost impossible to answer. We all want services and certainly do not want them reduced. We must find improvements to our current system. This, in my opinion, is the only way to stabilize these taxes.
Cathcart: I do believe we need to get a handle on tax increases before they get out of control for homeowners. In saying that, I do believe we have a large enough tax base that, in my opinion, if elected, we can put a freeze on them for the next four years to keep Georgina affordable for families. From firsthand conversations with residents, they understand that taxes need to be collected but want to see value for what they are paying. I wholeheartedly believe it is time council, including myself if elected, steps up to the challenge of helping keep Georgina affordable and stop all the wasteful spending of residents’ hard-earned tax dollars.
Godzinevski: Property tax increases are directly due to inefficiencies with money generated from tourism and existing amenities. If revenue is increased, it puts less burden on taxation. This is why Georgina’s wasted potential hits taxpayers back.
Quirk: The 2023 budget will be a challenge due to the current inflation rate, higher costs and trying to maintain our current service levels. My position over the next four years is to work to keep tax increases at or below the rate of inflation and within the means of the average taxpayer to be able to afford them. In 2022 we did a zero per cent increase of the operating budget, which assisted residents and business owners. The budget discussions over the next four years need to include updating our long-range financial plan to ensure a solid plan is in place for the next four years and beyond. Failing to plan is planning to fail. The other focus to ensure affordability will be increasing our industrial, commercial tax base to help relieve the reliance on residential taxes. Increasing the amount of tax dollars coming from the industrial sector (such as the development of the business park) will go a long way to provide relief to local residential taxpayers.
7. What will you do as a mayor to protect the lake and its watershed?
Hirmann: We need to educate residents and visitors about how we can all work together to protect Lake Simcoe and its watershed. Simple things, like not pouring toxic chemicals down the drain, proper fertilizer usage, picking up after our pets, and disposing of garbage properly. We can also do more by planting trees and additional landscaping options to beautify the lake and avoid erosion and other negative effects caused by inaction.
Sheffield: The first thing I did was study phosphorus, what it is, where it comes from and what can be done to reach the much lower levels we need for the water; this is a very fixable problem. The political will and ability to stand up for the lake with a powerful voice in step with the many organizations working very hard to keep Simcoe the beautiful asset we all love so much.
Cathcart: If elected as mayor, I vow to stand up to higher levels of government to have them provide funds and resources for the protection of Lake Simcoe and its watershed. I will look for ways to implement green energy initiatives for new buildings and work with existing businesses to reduce pollutants entering our waterways.
Godzinevski: A close working relationship with provincial authorities to maintain or better the guidelines for safe ecological standards.
Quirk: As a member of the LSRCA, I will continue with their efforts to reduce the impacts of phosphorus loading. Locally on council, we need to work on our stormwater management retrofits/ maintenance to improve the water quality that those facilities discharge into watercourses and eventually to Lake Simcoe. The Holland Marsh Phosphorus Recycling Plant, announced by the province this spring, needs to be a reality, and I will work to ensure it is built and operated successfully. Salt levels also need to be monitored, and look for ways to reduce the salt levels going into our stormwater system and, ultimately, the lake. I continue to be against expansion into the Greenbelt and the Upper York Sewage Solution; I voted against York Region’s official plan for that reason. There were too many issues within the plan that I did not support and saw as negatively impacting our watershed and Lake Simcoe.
8. What is your vision for Georgina over the next four years?
Hirmann: Over the next four years, under my leadership, Georgina will grow from where we are now to where we need to go. This will be accomplished by listening to residents, assisting businesses with the pandemic recovery, and proactively attracting millions of dollars in new investments from provincial and federal governments. We must move forward and do so collaboratively and with the utmost in consultation.
Sheffield: I am not satisfied with our high school dropout rate; it’s nearly double anywhere else in York Region. I plan on changing that with engagement, apprenticeship programs, some scholarships, and possibly enticing a post-secondary school to open a campus in Georgina. I would also be soliciting for a number of developers to build a variety of townhome complexes and a number of one- and two-bedroom apartment buildings in the four to the six-story range.
Cathcart: My vision for Georgina over the next four years is to bring back the feeling of home. Revitalize the downtown cores of Sutton, Keswick, Pefferlaw, and Jackson’s Point and have it be a harmonious place to live, work, and play.
Godzinevski: Finally getting our money’s worth; making it easier for citizens to get their building projects approved, for existing businesses to have room to grow and for new businesses to be able to start, and for children to be excited about programs offered by the Town.
Quirk: I want to see Georgina be the place where residents can live, work and play. We are blessed with Lake Simcoe and our natural environment, including farmland that attracts many people to move here and visit here. As mentioned above, we need more good-paying local jobs that allow residents to forgo that long commute to the city. Also, a place where entrepreneurs can thrive and grow their small businesses, again creating local jobs. I want to see more mixture of housing, including affordable housing options both for young families and those seniors looking to downsize. We also need more long-term care facilities and options to “age in place” for our seniors. I want to maintain the small-town atmosphere while growing our community in order to provide a strong local economy.
9. Please share one big idea you have for Georgina.
Hirmann: Imagine having a mayor that recognized they work directly for the people of Georgina? I am that person – the voters are my employer, and I will listen to you and act. I will be your voice to council and our key stakeholders. This is a big idea because we have not had a mayor who listens for eight years.
Sheffield: I know it’s not a giant swimming pool or a tubing hill, but my big idea would be getting one doctor in Pefferlaw, two in Sutton and two more in Keswick. I’d like to see us not have to hope to see a walk-in or go to Emergency for simple ailments. Family doctors and patient relationships are very important; I want to see us return to that healthcare model.
Cathcart: With the projected growth of Georgina’s population, one big idea I have would be to build a hospital with a twenty-four-hour emergency department.
Godzinevski: A well-functioning marketing department that promotes the community for what it always has been; a beautiful landscape to enjoy nature away from the city that offers events in tune with the environment. Of course, working in line with improved infrastructure, bylaws, protecting residents, but where Georgina becomes famous for its events and community. I grew up, like many residents, outside Georgina, not knowing where it was or any of the natural gifts and history. I want that to change.
Quirk: While not a direct municipal responsibility, we need an urgent care facility/cottage hospital. I am a member of Health Georgina, and we have been working with both Southlake and Markham Stouffville (Oak Valley) on bringing more medical services to our area. We are a large geographic area, and the need for close medical treatment is critical.
10. How would you describe yourself to a voter?
Hirmann: I am your neighbour. I am a husband, father, friend and business owner. I experience a lot of the same challenges you face. I know the struggles – and I know the hopes and dreams we all have for our community. I am the only candidate who can deliver on my promise to be your voice and to lead us from where we are to where we need to go.
Sheffield: I am a forward thinker with the ability to foresee problems long before mistakes are made. I take much pride in the success of others and want to be part of the engine that drives us.
Cathcart: I would describe myself as a compassionate, caring, dedicated, hardworking individual who will not stop until the job is done.
Godzinevski: Someone who works hard for their money and is tired of our town failing to live up to its sizable budget. Someone who will try and understand why something doesn’t work and fix what can be fixed quickly.
Quirk: I would say that I am dedicated to working for our community. I follow through with my words into action, and you can believe what I say.
For more information on the election, visit www.georgina.ca/municipal-government/2022-election
You can also watch the previously recorded mayoral, regional councillor, and ward councillor debates on the Rogers tv Georgina YouTube channel.
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