Thursday, May 6, 2010

Ward 6: A Hub of Activity

After an inadvertently long hiatus, Better Know a Ward returns. For those of you who’ve forgotten, this six-part, award-eligible series profiles a different ward in Guelph and the councillors that represent it. Today, it’s Ward 6, the southern most ward in the city that covers everything below Kortright Road. Containing many of the newer parts of Guelph, Ward 6 is a hub of activity with a near constant level of development. The two councillors representing this Ward are Christine Billings and Karl Wettstein, and I recently got a chance to sit down with them in Guelph City Hall.

So in the mind of these councillors, what makes Ward 6 unique? Two words: growth and development. “We’ve got the age-old dilemma about services,” adds Wettstein. “I think we’re really well serviced now, but we went through a lot of years, as a ward, where there has been a service gap for the last decade.”

It’s a matter of some confusion for constituents as Billings points out, because many pay higher taxes as compared to the rest of the city. “Karl and I can have the same size lot,” Billings explains. “We can have the same size home, and I can live in the south and Karl in the northeast, for example, and his taxes are much lower. And why is that? Market Value Assessment.”

In other words, taxes rates times market value assessment equals how much you pay in taxes. “Where that gets complicated in the minds of the taxpayer,” says Wettstein, “is when you’re in a new area, with high growth, quick development, slow to be serviced by the city and commercial services, the public says ‘Hold it. We have the highest taxes and the lowest services.’ There’s a mismatch.”

Another issue that’s becoming more prominent on the Ward 6 plate is student housing. With the south Gordon corridor intensifying and the availability of transit, this ward is attracting more and more student tenants. “There are some streets where there’s clearly a disproportional number of [student] houses in the minds of the residents,” Wettstein says. He and Billings have been looking at how other communities including London are dealing with the issue. “We said we’re going to do something significant so when the students come to school on September the first they’re going to notice a difference.”

The issues aside, and the occasional tedium of the debate there of, the councillors find their jobs rewarding. “What will happen is that you have a constituent and their frustrated. Maybe they’ve already gone through the system and what they do is phone you and e-mail you and go ‘Help!’” explains Billings. “When there’s resolution and the constituent’s happy, the staff’s happy, and we’re happy, what a good feeling of accomplishment when you’ve actually helped.”

But this is an election year, and soon the discussion will look to the next four years and the next term in council. Wettstein has already declared saying that he likes to make his intentions known early. His goal, if re-elected, will be to continue looking at the business side of the city. “I have a lot of interest in the financial strength of the city. I have a tonne of interest in good corporate governance and try not to step in each other’s backyard too much. But I also recognize that we are one team, we’re not two teams, and we’ve made progress in that area.”

Billings says she hasn’t made up her mind if she will run for re-election, and will take the summer to decide whether she’ll try for her third consecutive term. “For me it’s very serious, it is a commitment,” she notes saying that in 2003 she made up her mind on the last day nominations were open. “Because I have a family, things change. If you win it is your term, it’s a four year term, so it’s not something you want to do halfway.”

Still, Billings sounds like she’s already in re-election mode saying, “At election time, a lot of people say they are fiscally responsible, but I will have a different definition of ‘fiscally responsible’ because I do not find that to be the case, for me anyway.”

Wanna hear the whole interview? Beam over to Guelph Politico at

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