Posted on Wednesday, October 24, 2018 at 2:33 p.m.
Mayor Gary Barton has his last words
Gary Barton smiles as he contemplates how he will get to spend the new year coming up. It won’t involve spending at least one night a month plus several afternoons or mornings each week dealing with Champlain Township business.
After almost four decades in municipal politics, Barton is stepping down. He’s looking forward to attending next month’s inaugural session of township council and watching his son, Peter Barton, get sworn in as one of the two councillors represent Ward 1/Vankleek Hill.
Unofficially, as of the October 22 municipal election, Barton is no longer mayor of Champlain Township. That becomes official during next month’s township council session when he hands over the gavel and chain of office to the new mayor-elect during the inauguration ceremony. He has a few last words of advice to his successor and to the new council, as well as to all the other new mayors and councillors in Prescott-Russell’s other communities.
“The major challenge ahead is going to be getting infrastructure work done,” Barton said, adding that part of the challenge is doing the work without also having to increase the local debt. “Because no one likes to see a tax increase, no matter what reason. That’s always the challenge, funding infrastructure, and I’m not sure where they’re going to find the money.
Barton borrowed a quotation from Gerard “Gerry” Miner, one of the long-sitting members of Champlain Township council, to explain the problem. “Gerry said it well, ‘You’ve got to balance what you want with what you’ve got.’”
Barton and other members of township council have often contemplated the amount of necessary infrastructure work on the municipality’s wish list. If Champlain Township could get all of the money all at once that it needed for its roadwork needs, it would amount to about $10 million.
But the number of available federal and provincial grant programs to support municipal infrastructure are dwindling and there is a long lineup of other municipalities competing with Champlain Township for the funding that is available, which leaves the new mayor and council to continue the current strategy of trying to prioritize what paving or other street improvements are feasible within the limits of the annual budget.
Barton noted that roads are not the only expensive item township council has to deal with during its annual budget planning. There’s also the increasing cost for police services for the municipality.
Five years ago, Champlain Township spent about $900,000 for its OPP contract needs. Since then the OPP has revised the billing system for municipal policing and now the township could be facing a cost of about $1.6 million for OPP services.
“That is a major increase for us,” said Barton, “and it (police service cost) is going to be a major headache for all municipalities.”
Listen to the people
Besides his cautionary words about the budget challenges that the new mayor and council will face as they settle down in earnest next January to dealing with Champlain Township’s business, Barton has one suggestion about dealing with residents, both during council or committee meetings and on a day-to-day basis out and about in the township.
“You have to listen,” he said. “Communication is so important. You have to be open, you have to be listening, and you have to be a good communicator.”
Sometimes the message that the mayor and council may have for taxpayers may not be what they want to hear. Barton noted that it’s necessary to try and be patient while explaining what the situation is and how someone’s demand to council may not be possible, or at least, not possible to do right away.
Which reminds Barton of another thing the new mayor and council need to remember, which may help them in some situations. There are many local service groups which may be able to assist the township on some projects or programs.
“Community is so important,” Barton said, adding that a lot of people do a lot volunteer work that benefits the community and many of them do so with little or no recognition for their efforts.
Barton has been part of the local political scene since he first sat as a councillor for the Village of Vankleek Hill prior to the 1998 amalgmation, except for a two-year when he was absent after losing in one of his earlier mayoral attempts. Champlain Township was created with the amalgamation of Vankleek Hill, West Hawkesbury Township, the Village of L’Orignal, and Longueuil. Barton became mayor in 2002 and has occupied the post for 16 years.
“One thing that really sticks in my mind,” Barton said, about his four decades in local politics, “is the 2011 International Plowmen Association (IPA) competition. That was a great community event, not just for us but for all of Prescott-Russell.”
Profits from the IPA event were shared out among all the service groups and clubs which assisted with the event. For many of them, the amount of money they received as their share far exceeded the funds that they had pledged towards helping finance the event.
Another memory is how the community rallied to help those in trouble during last year’s flooding of the Ottawa River or a couple years before that when there was a gas main explosion in Vankleek Hill.
“Those things stick in your mind,” Barton said.
He expects to still be involved with the community even after he is no longer mayor of Champlain Township. He is a member of various committees like those for the Vankleek Manor, the Vankleek & District Historical Society, and the Higginson Tower heritage monument.
“I probably will find some other things to do,” he said, smiling. “I just want to thank all the good people that I’ve had the opportunity to work with.”