2022 City Election



- by Jeff Caldwell

Richard MacDonald recently posted a number of questions that he felt every person running for council should answer.
Here are my answers.

1. Do you think our main street/downtown is healthy and successful? If not, what would you do to change that?
Whatever your measure of healthy and successful is, our downtown could be better;

it would be pretty hard to argue against that. The how is the rub. I’d propose property appearance standards and push for a vacant property tax. The vacant property tax break was the carrot. It’s time for the stick.

2. What’s more important for our city right now: building new homes and commercial space or rehabbing/expanding/better utilizing our existing homes and storefronts?
With over 40% of our housing being rental stock I’m not sure that more small 1 and 2 bedroom rental housing units are what we need. I haven’t seen any data to support that argument, maybe it is what we need, maybe it’s not. Either way it's something we should know. More than 35% of properties are occupied by one person over 65, a high percentage of those family homes. We have a housing allocation problem perhaps more than a housing shortage problem. What's important for our city right now is building the right type of housing and using the powers of inclusionary zoning to ensure that we provide attainable housing for those that need it. Developers and the city can both benefit; the two are not mutually exclusive. As an example, there is a development in Meaford that's building attainable housing, offering 3 bedroom townhomes starting at 409,000 dollars. As of this writing there’s nothing even close to comparable listed in the city. This is the kind of development that we need to attract, that deserves tax breaks, not income trusts that are focused solely on their bottom line. But we can’t wait for them to come to us, we need to go out and recruit them.

3. How do you feel about the transportation options currently available in our city? Do we have enough options? If not, what will you do to increase those?
Our transit system has been gutted; the taxi service seems overburdened as well. Our aging population, many of whom will soon no longer be able or want to drive, are going to find themselves stranded without services that meet their needs. Yes transit is expensive, but that's a cost we will just have to eat. Imagine if we had the 3 to 6 million dollars in development fees this council has given away, that are meant to subsidize, amongst other things, transit.
Ride share services provide a transportation option that costs the city nothing, and provide casual gig jobs for many looking to make some extra cash. I drove Uber in Hamilton at night when I was a stay at home dad. It was fantastic and provided a source of additional income that easily covered the costs of a new baby. Ride share services also have higher standards than the Taxi industry. An added bonus is that studies have shown that ride sharing reduces the instances of impaired driving. But we have to let them do their thing and not burden them with onerous regulations, as the city is often want to do.

4. Some people in our community say that we have traffic problems. What do you think? How would you mitigate those concerns or change the situation?
I know we have traffic problems. Raise your hand if you’ve found yourself wondering “what the heck is going on” as you sit on 10th Street. The city has had at least one traffic study and is waiting on another. Why? They failed to implement all the suggestions from the first one and now wonder why problems still exist. If you go to your doctor and they prescribe medications for your illness, do you pick and choose which one to take? No. An expert gave you the solution, you follow their advice. I would move to accept all the recommendations from the first traffic study, which includes left turn stages on 10th street. The amount of idling traffic we have because of the congestion creates unnecessary pollution. We need to make changes for environmental reasons if for no other reason at all.

5. If you could change one thing in our zoning code, what would it be and why?
Inclusionary Zoning is the most powerful tool in any city’s toolbox when it comes to zoning. The city’s own master plan spent pages addressing its usefulness. But when developers came to town council required nothing of them. We waived millions of dollars of development fees, meant to build and maintain infrastructure and public services. We made no requirements for types of housing units, parks, or facilities, or that a percentage of units be attainable. Instead developers got a free pass and now the overburdened taxpayers of this city have to cover the cost of infrastructure services, which serve to only increase the value of developers land. That’s just bad business. We have the tools we need, it's just a matter of having the backbone to use them.

6. How do you plan to involve residents in the decision making process in our town?
Unlike the current city council who tends to ignore citizen input, re: the vacant property tax credit survey which overwhelmingly told council to scrap it and they didn’t, the city needs to engage fully with non profit groups and social agencies in the city. Don’t wait for them to come to you, invite them to the table. These people are the experts, these people have spent their careers dealing with these issues. Again, when an expert tells you the solution, you should listen.

7. If someone came to you with a proposal to build a new piece of public infrastructure in our city (road, bridge, etc.), how would you evaluate whether or not that project was worth implementing?
Every single proposed development needs to answer some simple questions. Do we need it? Does it make the city better? Who’s paying? How will it benefit citizens? This city cannot become the wild west of developers, with taxpayers left holding the bag.

8. If elected, what three steps would you take to put our city on a firmer financial footing?
No more tax breaks for wealthy developers and property owners, then passing the financial responsibility onto already overburdened taxpayers in a city that has one of the highest tax rates going. This is trickle up economics, which concentrates wealth at the top.
No more passing increasing police budgets that are secret. I won’t give my kid 5$ without knowing what he wants it for. The police will tell you that budgets are secret because they don’t want “criminals” knowing how they allocate their resources. I highly doubt The Joker and Mr. Freeze would be poring over a public police budget hatching plans to overtake the city.
No more short sighted proposals like charging for parking for out of town visitors. You’ll lose more than you’ll gain with proposals like that. My dad went on and on about paid parking downtown when the mall was being built, his argument was that if they kept paid parking and the mall was free to park it would gut downtown; he was right then, and he’s rolling over in his grave now.

9. If you received a $1 million grant to use for the city any way you wanted, what would you do with it and why?
I will admit my bias as a father of a 6 year old. I, like many parents I talk to, find the recreation facilities in the city lacking, and prohibitively expensive, especially given the median income and costs of rents, there isn’t that much left over for many families at the end of the month. If the city wants to attract younger families, it needs to provide the things that younger families want and need: public recreation facilities. We call ourselves a city but have no public recreation center, no public pool, the wading pools are a vague memory. Any place that dares to call itself a city provides these recreation facilities at a low cost, for the benefit of the city, to keep and attract new life.
Even a couple more outdoor ice rinks in Owen Sound one on the west side, one on the east, with boards, I’d even take just flooding a couple ball diamonds every winter, having the lights on in the evening. We pride ourselves on being a hockey city, but the reality is if you don’t play organized hockey you won’t find ice time to take your kids to shoot around the puck. The Harrison Park ice rink is great but on busy days it's packed and not walkable for many, especially kids without licenses.
The boring safe side of me would want to put the grant in an annuity that pays out grants semiannually to non profit organizations in the city. That million dollars could be turned into 1.5.

10. What neighborhood do you live in? Why? Where are your favorite places to spend time in our town?
I live in the North West of the city. Why? Because it’s the only place our family could find when my wife took a teaching job here.
Like any parent with a young child I go where they want to go. Kelso Beach, Hibou Beach, Harrison Park, the soccer complex, the ice rink, baseball diamonds, the bike park. I’m essentially a taxi driver, but what my son doesn’t know is I’m leaving the meter running and hopefully when he’s older Owen Sound will be an actual option for our grown kids to return to after they go away to school. Then he can drive me where I need to go.

It's important to remember that no one single councilor has the power to implement anything on their own: you need a majority. So when it comes time to vote on October 24th, vote for people you think will actually make change, that won’t pass the buck to the county, the province, or city staff. That have passionate answers to the questions above. Vote for change.

Jeff Alan Caldwell
[email protected]



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