Thursday, November 25, 2010

Better Know a New City Councillor Part 2 of 2

Continuing on our introductory tour of the new city councillors, we return to the cool and comfortable confines of the Red Brick Café to chat with Ward 1’s Jim Furfaro and Ward 2’s Andy Van Hellemond. Furfaro spent over 30 years working in Guelph as a teacher and educator, while Van Hellemond is well known for his nearly three decades as a referee in the NHL. What both men have in common though is an eagerness to get down to work.

Furfaro campaigned on low taxes, more commercial development and greater communication and he sees those being amongst his top priorities. “Obviously, those are the issues that resonated with constituents and those are the issues that I think are going to be part of my agenda for Ward 1,” he says.

Van Hellemond, meanwhile, says that he plans on looking out for seniors, who are a well-represented constituency in his ward. “Many of them are on fixed incomes and obviously rising costs definitely affects a lot of people,” he explains. “I’ve talked to a lot of people on $24-26,000 a year income, and they budget quite strictly and worry about a substantial raise in taxes.”

Also of concern to seniors, as well as being a campaign issue for both rookie councillors, are the proposed changes to the city’s garbage pick-up and introduction of bins. Among concerns the councillors have heard include questions about their size, the storage demands, and hygiene issues. “This should be part of a public forum like a town hall meeting,” says Furfaro. “Let’s go back to the people that will deal with this everyday, and I know that’s sound simple, but we know that whenever you introduce something new, it’s not a simple as it looks.”

What both Furfaro and Van Hellemond want to see is more communication. “There’s a lack of information being relayed to the people,” says Van Hellemond, “and you can blame the people for not being interested, but there are people that are interested and they don’t have a lot of information as to where the money’s being spent.” Van Hellemond adds that he’s spoken with the owners of the Speedvale Mall and his fellow Ward 2 Councillor Ian Findlay about holding quarterly town halls in an empty storefront there. Furfaro also plans to have regular town halls with an eye on March for his first.

Along with last week’s interviewees Cam Guthrie and Todd Dennis, Furfaro and Van Hellemond want to make sure that Guelph is “open for business.” Van Hellemond feels that Guelph has developed a reputation as a place that’s firmly anti-business and would like to see that changed. “I don’t think the city knows just how much taking 10 years to get Wal-Mart here, with all the protesting and all the campaigning, has hurt the city in the business world,” he says. Van Hallemond’s comments echo those made by Guthrie in last week’s column about rebranding the city.

Part of a rebranding campaign may include a focus on cultural activities in our city. “Why not take all the different cultures that want to showcase their traditions and customs, and let them choose a date between July and the end of August?” suggests Furfaro. Van Hellemond, meanwhile, would like to make Guelph a regional destination like the train tours that take Torontonians on day trips to the Niagara Region “Why can’t we get something out this way where riders can ride to Elora and back and spend an eight hour day out here and see the countryside and see what we have to offer?” he asks.

As for their goals in office, Furfaro is looking to start evening out the tax base ratio by increasing the percentage of commercial tax from 16 to 20 in the next four years. Furfaro also wants to see progress on the IMCO brownfield. “The city’s owned that property since the early 90s,” he explains. “I’ve often asked myself, and I know this isn’t going to get me any bouquets left at my home, but if that site was anywhere else in this city but Ward 1, would that have remained dormant for all these years?”

Van Hellemond meanwhile hopes to help create co-operative and productive council that can get things done, but leave disagreements on the floor of the council chamber once the vote is done. And even though he admits that he’s “not a great computer guy,” he’s dedicated to reaching out to his constituents and creating a dialogue with them. So Ward 2 residents can look forward to getting to know him better in the next four years.

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