Q&A with South Dundas Mayor Evonne Delegarde
Iroquois native Evonne Delegarde was elected as the first female mayor for the Municipality of South Dundas nearly three years ago – a feat that has come with both its rewards and challenges. As she heads into her last year at the head of the council table, Delegarde says that she is satisfied with everything she has accomplished in the municipality so far. Alicia Gosselin recently sat down with Delegarde to discuss the highlights of the past year, what goals she hopes to reach before her time is up, and whether or not she wishes to seek re-election in 2018.

Q: Last year, you mentioned the municipality was forced to face several curveballs due to the potential school closures. How did that affect the start of this year’s term?   

A: Luckily, we ended up with a very positive outcome in South Dundas – for the most part, the Upper Canada District School Board retracted many of their proposed closures in our area. It was a pivotal moment that set the tone for the rest of our year. The whole community got involved when the closures were announced. It was a time where we saw every age group from zero to 100 get involved, all the local businesses stepped up, organizations and service groups banded together, and whether or not residents had children in schools, it was a situation where everyone really seemed to bond together. If we would’ve lost our schools, it would’ve affected the whole community – we maybe wouldn’t have seen the growth we did in the community this year.

Q: What type of growth are you referring to?

A: First of all, from the school situation, we ended up with a major partnership between the municipality and Ross Video – they donated 30 laptop computers to [Seaway District High School] to expand the learning laboratory. During the closure discussions, Ross Video was also on the fence about its 40,000-square-foot expansion in Iroquois. When it was announced the schools would remain open, we were glad to know that it would go ahead as planned. As well, we saw several new businesses take root in South Dundas – Quesada, Barnfull O’Goodies, Stone Crop Acres Winery and Vineyard, Max Smoke Shop, the Great Waterway Hearing Clinic, In the Now Yoga, The Travel Agent Next Door, Design Farm, and ID Communications. It’s a variety of services and commercial stores that have opened, and of course, our first winery, which was something new and special for the municipality. We also still have plans for an Innovation Centre, which [economic development officer] Rob Hunter has been working on with Carleton University and the Cornwall Innovation Centre. They are trying to get that up and running – it’s just a location we’re looking for.

Q: What do you feel has been the most challenging issue to face as mayor in 2017?

A: This year, I think we had a lot more exemption requests from individual residents. They wanted us [council] to make exceptions, which made for some difficult decisions on behalf of council. I don’t think a lot of people understand that we are so governed by the provincial government as to what we can and can’t do. A lot of the time, our hands are tied. That’s probably the hardest part of the job – you have to say “no” to people. Everybody has to be treated the same. We can’t make these exceptions, and that makes it tough. It’s not really accepted well by residents, unfortunately. We sometimes can’t be involved in some things – for example, the committee of adjustment hearing. There’s some things that council cannot make decisions on and we are not involved in, and that’s hard to explain to the residents.

Q: What was the largest municipal project that was knocked off the list this year?

A: There were two major projects that took a lot of staff time this year – the asset management plan, and completing the building and property review, which went hand-in-hand. Staff did a lot of behind-the-scenes work on the asset management plan, which will soon be a mandated exercise that all municipalities will have to complete come 2019. So that puts us ahead of the game. It was a huge undertaking to get all of that done. Staff had to research each municipally-owned property, figure out what we could and couldn’t do with them – if there were any covenants on them. That was a lot of work to get all the history. We also did a complete building review of all the municipally-owned buildings. We completed engineering reports, which is something that hasn’t been done since before amalgamation [20 years]. The estimates that came in to restructure, recondition, or upgrade all buildings amounts to about $2.5 million. Of the four public works garages, we’ve sold the one, and we’re hoping to amalgamate the Morrisburg garage with the two in Matilda, and that’s where we’re at – completing a potential expansion on the Matilda garages, which will be coming to council during 2018 budget. In the property review, we identified 50 municipal properties that we owned across the municipality. We were able to put five of the properties up for auction, so we were very successful and pleased that the process worked, which was the first time it was done in South Dundas.

Q: Are you satisfied with the projects that were completed during your third year as mayor?

A: Some of the top projects completed this year include the economic development strategy, the streetscape plan, and revamping the municipal website. In our recreation department, we replaced the slab at the Morrisburg Arena, which was also a big project for us this year. There were also several improvements to the Iroquois Beach, and additions to the Matilda Memorial Park in Brinston – both spots that are coming alive in South Dundas. From the counties perspective, we benefitted from the construction of the Iroquois roundabout, as well as upgrades to County Road 1 and County Road 4. It’s in the works to download County Road 1 in early 2018. County Road 4 won’t be downloaded until all the work is done. We also increased the bylaw officer position to full-time, and he’s been very busy. When we replaced the landfill attendant, we replaced it with a supervisory position, and the gentleman who was hired has credentials to do more assessment and planning of landfills, and the future of our landfills. So we have some more expertise in our landfill department. That was a great addition.

Q: Speaking of staff positions, will council be working on finding a replacement for the public works director? The position has been vacant since August.

A: Yes, we have the public works director position vacant at this time. We’ve looked to three of the gentleman who supervise the different departments of public works – water and sewer, roads, and landfill sites. We’ve basically taken the public works department and split it into three positions for the supervisors. It will be the solution until council looks at the whole picture of the organization chart in 2018 during budget time. With the changeover in staff, public works has been moving slower than usual – we lost most of our construction season, the bridge study we’ve been waiting almost a year on it, and some roads weren’t completed this year, including Pigeon Island Road, which will be a top priority in 2018.

Q: Is there anything you want to complete before your term as mayor is up?

A: All in all, I’ve pretty much hit everything on my list, so it’s just cleaning things up that we have on the plate for 2018. We will be getting a handle on the roads needs study, which hasn’t been done since 2009. We will also continue to work on our Morrisburg streetscape project, with the priority being crosswalks in the community. The tender for the Ottawa Street and Fifth Street sidewalk projects and the parking lot expansion at the South Dundas Municipal Centre will also being going out early next year. Another thing we are looking to firm up [in 2018] will be finding a location for the Dundas County archives. We also should be getting a draft of the Community Improvement Program from [EDO] Rob Hunter by March. That will be a huge opportunity for business owners to improve their facades and more.

Q: Will you be seeking the position of mayor again in 2018?

A: That remains to be seen. There’s a lot of stuff to do before the campaign begins in May. That’ll be a decision I still have to make. It’s not the right timing yet to answer that. The campaign used to start right away in January, a window that municipalities have been pushing to be shortened. In 2014, [the campaign] was such a long period of time, we basically lost the whole year. I will make the announcement probably in May sometime. At that point, I’ll know if [my husband] Ron is retiring or not, so that’s part of the decision-making. If he’s ready to retire, we want to do some travelling. Right now, it’s 50/50.