PARRSBORO - The venue for the candidates' forum may have been a theatre, but there were little theatrics from the eight candidates vying for the four seats on Parrsboro Town Council.
Hosted by the Parrsboro and District Board of Trade and held at Ship's Company Theatre on Tuesday, Oct. 9, the event drew a good-sized crowd of interested community residents. Candidates Betty Atkinson, Robert Fancy, David Harrison, Dawn McCully, Ron Shaw, Lloyd Smith, Lisa Ward and Lyle Yorke presented opening and closing statements, and responded to random questions presented by moderator David Beattie.
A number of issues dominated the discussion, such as jobs, tidal power, taxes and sewage treatment. Questions were asked and answered directly, with no debating between candidates, and very little criticism directed at each other's views.
In fact, the only candidate who came out swinging was McCully, who stood in staunch defence of council's record of the past four years, and fired back at the armchair quarterbacks and keyboard warriors who take potshots on forums such as Facebook.
"It absolutely takes more than four councilors and a mayor to make a great community," she said. "For everyone willing to sit back on their computers and walk down Main Street and say, 'They should be...,' it takes you as well to help make changes for our town."
Fancy waved his opening speech before the crowd and then tossed it on the table, choosing to speak without notes about the job he was committed to doing.
"I don't need to stand here tonight and give a rah-rah speech, because we all know what we have to do," he said. "We know we have to pick up and give everything we have to get this town where we know it can be. Instead of reading this, my pledge is to all of you right now that I'm willing to give 150 per cent for this town."
Smith came the closest to criticizing the current council when he pointed out that the town's revenue from taxes has increased more than $400,000 in the past six years, from $823,000 in 2006 to more than $1.2 million in 2012.
"There were also significant funds dumped into reserves," he said. "With three-quarters of a million in reserves, council could have made a choice to cu taxes by 20-25 cents per $100, or to continue growing the reserve fund."
When questioned about why the town's commercial tax rate was more than 100 per cent higher than its residential rate, Ward pointed out that council has lowered both rates in its current budget, but still has to provide services such as snowplowing, water and infrastructure upgrades.
"I'm sure businesses struggle; it's not an easy thing to deal with," she said. "We don't have a lot of industry here, so there does have to be slack taken up. We only have a certain pot of money from taxes."
The people of Parrsboro are tired of high taxes, according to Atkinson, who said she is tired of hearing her community referred to as a "dying town."
"We have to have something to go by, where taxes remain the same and we should work from here, with no increase in taxes," she said. "People really are hurting. People are on a budget, and we have to be on a budget."
When one question posed the idea of Parrsboro giving up its town status to become a village, Yorke said he was not in favour of the idea.
"It may save some in taxes, but houses are assessed because of where they are, in a lot of cases," he said. "I don't really know how much we would save. I think we can prosper (as a town) if we really work hard and work together."
Harrison endorsed fellow councilors McCully and Ward and encouraged voters to support them, stressing the importance of returning familiar faces to council so they can return to "business as usual."
"I think we're just starting to hit our stride," he said. "We've found a comfort level in managing finances, and planning and implementing some projects, as well as pushing forward and trying to do our best for the town," he said.
Shaw was one of many candidates who listed completion of Phase 2 of the sewer system as a priority, as well as shopping locally and pursuing a nursing home for the town.
"We must set a strong, clear, realistic vision for the future of our community," he said. "We must work with all stakeholders to set reasonable and attainable goals, to allow us to make that vision a reality."