The 12 Town of Ponoka council candidates faced off last week in the hopes of being elected into one of the six seats available.
Held Oct. 5 at the Kinsmen Community Centre, the event was hosted by the Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce. Candidates were given a few minutes to speak and then came questions, mostly written.
The 12 candidates were all in attendance and are listed: Incumbents are Sandra Lyon, Carla Prediger, Teri Underhill and Marc Yaworski. New candidates are: Ted Dillon, Kevin Ferguson, Edwin Geuder, Curtis Jacobson, Dave McPherson, Clayton Nelson, Greg Nelson (the two are not related) and Adria Perepelitza.
There were a variety of questions; from regional services, to the potential of a chicken bylaw or to dealing with budgets. Ponoka News has reported on the questions that seemed to be the most resounding of the evening.
Fire services was a big question.
One of the written questions asked how incumbents voted to move forward after receiving a petition from 1,000 signatures to hold a plebiscite on the issue. The question also asked new candidates how they would vote.
The petition was not considered legal as it couldn’t force a plebiscite. At the time, council voted 4-3 to ignore it.
Dillon said he doesn’t agree with the way the system works currently but suggests a proper look at the budget would be the way to solve it.
Ferguson is about listening. “I wasn’t aware about the petition and that does concern me.”
“What I have done already, (is) I’ve gone to our local fire department, listening. I think if we’re going to solve this issue then we’re going to have to all sit down and listen.”
For Geuder’s part, he wants more information but suggested if the pubic felt that strongly about an issue, a plebiscite would be appropriate. Jacobson agreed. He offered that he wouldn’t ignore that many signatures.
Lyon said there was a lack of information regarding the fire services issue. “Both provided to the public as well as to council to make a decision different than what was made at the time.”
She voted to ignore the petition, saying it wasn’t considered legal.
“That whole situation maybe needs to be revisited again,” said Lyon.
McPherson, while he said he doesn’t have all the information, would consider further discussion. “I would probably vote that we revisit it and we should get back together the town and the county.”
“That’s a lot of signatures,” said Clayton. “I’m sure there’s councillors that got elected on council with 1,100 votes so we need to take that seriously.”
He said regardless of whether the petition was valid or not, council has a responsibility to its residents.
For Greg, the town and county should work together but said this isn’t the first time council ignored a petition. He referred to the borrowing bylaw that eventually saw the purchase of the Siding 14 Crossing bridge. He spoke against the money used to build the bridge.
“This isn’t just the fire issue. When it comes to the town listening to its shareholders, that’s what has to be addressed,” stated Greg.
Perepelitza, who said she would have voted in favour of a plebiscite, wants to see a solution. “It definitely has to get resolved before it gets worse.”
Prediger voted in favour of a plebiscite and said she’s advocated for regional services the first four years on council and will continue to do so. “I believe moving forward we need to respect and listen to each other’s opinions to have anything else be effective.”
Underhill voted in favour of a plebiscite. She said being a councillor is about listening to residents, and that petition is an important part of that. Underhill based her actions regarding fire services on that strong response.
There was and still are a lot of questions on the issue, offered Yaworski. “What exactly is it going to cost us? What is it going to cost the county? What is it going to cost us together?”
“We have to sit together and really talk this time,” added Yaworski.
Yaworski, who voted to ignore the petition, said it wasn’t legal but added that if everything was done correctly he would have had no choice but to vote for amalgamation of departments, although that wasn’t the purpose of the petition.
“I voted with my conscience, with people I talked to in town, with the information that I had,” said Yaworski.
Field house or new RCMP detachment priorities
One question related to whether there should be a higher priority for a new field house or a new RCMP detachment.
Speaking directly in favour of a detachment was Yaworski, who wants to see something done as soon as possible. “It’s been delayed way too long.”
Most other candidates, including the incumbents suggested it should be part of a long term plan.
Underhill says it has to be part of a 10 year asset management plan, “So that we can allow for the planning and timing of it to make it work and the minimizing of taxes.”
Dillon said he wants to see a new building but with some planning. He says there’s been some air quality issues in the detachment. “I don’t want to see us lose the integrated traffic services out of that building either but again, it has to be done through the budget process and some strategic planning,” said Dillon.
Prediger added that she believes there are some reliable models available for a regional policing service that she feels the new council could consider.
Most candidates agreed there needs to be some more planning, with Jacobson suggesting the town doesn’t have enough money to for pay for a bylaw officer.
For closing arguments, Ferguson spoke strongly about what he would like to see from councillors he votes for. “I expect my councillors to attend meetings and come prepared.”
He added that while they will disagree with each other and the mayor, he expects those individuals to shake off the dust and to move forward for the common goal of putting Ponoka first.
“I want my councillors to be positive, and hopeful for our town’s future,” said Ferguson.