Belleville Chamber of Commerce President Suzanne Hunt introduces
the 4 mayoral candidates Wednesday morning at the Travelodge.
From left to right are incumbent Mayor Taso Christopher, former councillor
Jodie Jenkins, and current councillors Egerton Boyce and Mitch Panciuk.
(Photo/John Spitters/Quinte News)
The Travelodge ballroom was packed Wednesday morning as Chamber members gathered to enjoy
breakfast and hear from the four men vying to become mayor of Belleville.
They are incumbent Mayor Taso Christopher, current councillors Egerton Boyce and Mitch Panciuk, and former
councillor Jodie Jenkins.
In his opening remarks, Mayor Taso Christopher said under his leadership, 22 major infrastructure projects have been completed leading to economic growth and the lowest unemployment rate in years. His biggest priority in
the next term, if elected, would be investment in Belleville’s waterfront area, which he called a huge untapped resource that will further boost the economy. The mayor said it was investments in the community that were keeping tax increases down to basically just cost of living increases.
Mitch Panciuk asked the crowd to imagine a city with more green space, trails and playgrounds, stressing he’d push for investment in affordable housing, culture, and heritage. Panciuk said council in the past 12 years had done a great job investing in hard infrastructure but for the years ahead a different strategy was necessary. “We’ve got to make the City of Belleville a place where our children have a future, a place they really want to stay in.” He promised a professional and collaborative style of leadership if elected to the mayor’s job.
Jodie Jenkins said he and his team had knocked on thousands of doors during the campaign and he said there was a very real hunger for new leadership. “People are tired of high and ever increasing local taxes. Some of our elderly citizens have hit the wall when it comes to paying expenses. I promise to push for an increase in the senior’s tax credit on local taxes if elected.” He also said taxes were too high on downtown businesses and that he’d govern for everyone, not just for a select few.
Egerton Boyce told the crowd that politics had long been a passion of his and said as leader he would stress that both council and city staff put their focus on better customer service to both regular residents and business. Boyce promised to be an open, approachable and honest mayor. “I’ve been on council for a while, and I’ve never seen
such bickering, infighting and so many personal agendas. I have no hidden agendas and I want to hear about your concerns and ideas. It’s time for positive politics.”
When it came time for questions from the audience, Dr. Aruna Alexander, a driving force behind the creation of the Belleville Inclusion Committee asked each candidate if they supported continuing support for the committee’s work in marketing, development, and communication to the public.
Each of the fou did and did so enthusiastically. Mayor Christopher said other communities wanted to know about the local committee’s work as it welcomes new immigrants and works to stamp out discrimination against newcomers.
Jodie Jenkins said diversity was a great strength in the community and both Mitch Panciuk and Egerton Boyce said they’d push for an expansion to the Inclusion Committee’s mandate.
Another woman asked how it was that candidates could talk about cutting taxes while at the same time promoting new investment in infrastructure and new quality of life programs. She stressed that that kind of equation didn’t add up.
Mayor Christopher said he never said he’d push to lower local taxes. “It’s wise investments in infrastructure and business support that grow the community and its economy and that’s why we’ve been able to hold tax increases to basically the same rate as increases in the cost of living. We will continue to invest and hold our taxes down but don’t expect tax cuts.”
“Anyone telling you they think they can lower your taxes isn’t telling you the truth,” said Mitch Panciuk. He added that if Belleville doesn’t grow it will die, albeit slowly. He added that’s why affordable housing and better jobs and recreation facilities are so important. Panciuk said there could never be tax cuts because the city’s fixed costs rise each and every year.
Jodie Jenkins said he had, in fact, been telling people he would try to lower their local taxes. He pointed to the about to be constructed Grace Inn shelter for the homeless, a project he has been much involved in. “That’s a $650,000 dollar project that will be completed and operated without a cent of taxpayers’ money. The old way of doing things, the status quo, just doesn’t cut it anymore. We must change the way we think when we try to solve problems and it is possible to lower taxes.”
Egerton Boyce said he has never and never would talk about pushing for a cut in taxes. “My father was on council in the 1990s and they held the line on taxes for a while, and we’ve had to play catch up on infrastructure ever since. Tax cuts or freezes lead to big problems, the biggest of which is the crumbling of crucial infrastructure. “Under my leadership we’ll try and boost residential and job growth, regional partnerships, and continuously look for efficiencies in the city’s operations.”
There was some levity at the breakfast. Boyce got a big laugh as he croaked into the microphone “you go door to door and you give people a pamphlet and they give you a virus!! I couldn’t speak at all yesterday!!”