The incoming Belleville city council. From left to right: Garnet Thompson, Paul Carr, Pat Culhane, Kelly McCaw, Bill Sandison, Ryan Williams,
Chris Malette and Mayor Mitch Panciuk. Sean Kelly was absent due to work commitments.(Photo:John Spitters/Quinte News)
Belleville Chamber of Commerce members met the incoming council at a breakfast meeting at the Travelodge this (Wednesday) morning.
And so far, it seems the new councillors are ready to support the general priorities that Mayor-elect Mitch Panciuk featured in his election campaign.
Thurlow ward councillor Paul Carr who was on council the past four years said it had been great to serve, stressing that his agenda was the residents’ agenda.
“I will work to push the priorities the residents want moved forward. We need to find ways to grow our economy and I well know that government can move
very very slowly but we need to make it easier for business and residents to thrive. I know we’ll be focusing on ways to make this a better community for
Bill Sandison, also representing Thurlow ward, said when he went door to door in the election campaign he heard that residents wanted roadwork,
better internet service, public transportation, and more housing of all types including affordable.
“Those priorities nicely mesh with the mayor-elect’s vision and we as a council need to support those during our term.”
Pat Culhane, a ward 1 (urban) Belleville councillor from 2006 until 2014 stressed the importance of Build Belleville, a 100 million dollar infrastructure
program started under former Mayor Neil Ellis.
“We’ve made some major progress over the past several years, but there are still serious challenges facing the city.” Culhane was unhappy that the new police
headquarters still wasn’t a reality. She said far too many residents couldn’t find decent housing.
“Despite the efforts to bring in more family doctors, the situation is now worse than it was back in 2006 when it comes to primary medical care for many residents.”
Culhane said she strongly supports the downtown revitalization project and hopes that waterfront development will occur but added “we must remember we should
serve all 50,000 residents.”
Former Intelligencer editor and reporter Chris Malette, also representing ward 1, said he’d had the opportunity to travel to different countries with the military over
his career. He’s travelled to such countries as Bosnia, Haiti and Somalia.
“When you go to places like those and then come back to Canada and a city like Belleville that’s when you know deep down how special a place this is to live.
I’m proud to be part of this group and I’m very impressed with the city’s staff. They are excellent. I thought I knew just about everything about how the city worked.
I was wrong.”
Ward 1 councillor Kelly McCaw, returning for a second term, offered a very pro-business outlook to the business crowd. “When I went door to door I found that
most people were concerned with the lack of housing, affordable and market value. We don’t just have an affordable housing crisis we have a “complete” housing crisis.
We don’t have enough affordable rental units and we don’t have enough more expensive homes to meet the demand out there.”
McCaw said the city is finally moving toward relaxing regulations regarding secondary or granny suites in homes. “We need to lift restrictions so people can “duplex” their
She promised to continue to provide honest and accountable representation.
Longtime councillor Garnet Thompson listed the many accomplishments of previous councils over the past 13 years such as expansion of the industrial park, downtown
revitalization, the Baybridge link and the new Veteran’s Memorial bridge, Shorelines Casino and the bringing in of the Belleville Senators AHL team.
“We’ve still got lots to do. We need a business development plan, development on the waterfront, affordable housing, and more opportunities for youth. I promise I’ll
be involved in the community as much as I possibly can.”
Next up was Ryan Williams who joked that Chris Malette was great at telling people what went on in 1982 while Garnet Thompson could still reel off stories from 1882.
Williams changed gears and said he liked Mayor-elect Panciuk’s vision for the city. “We have a lot to do but this city and this area has incredible potential.”
Williams said because of his involvement with rural innovation efforts through Quintevation he knew there were countless opportunities for new jobs and a
stronger economy locally. “We need to work more with business, work more with the Chamber and create a business “startup” culture here.
As far as the much talked about housing crisis, the hotelier said the biggest problem in the area was the lack of skilled tradespeople. “We just don’t have the people
here to build the houses, condos and apartments to meet the demand. We’re short 300 to 400 tradespeople. We have to address that.”
Councillor-elect Sean Kelly was absent from the Chamber breakfast due to work commitments.
The new council will be sworn in this coming Monday, December 3 at 11 a.m. at Belleville city hall.