The stage was set, and the spotlight shone on five dedicated candidates at the 2023 Penhold Council By-Election Debate.
Two overarching themes took the forefront during the hour-long discourse, guided by none other than Penhold Mayor Mike Yargeau. The candidates delved into the pressing challenges that Penhold currently grapples with, while also casting their gaze toward the town's promising future nestled just outside Red Deer, Alberta.
The quintet of contenders - Rob Burton, Mike Dodman, Cameron Galisky, Samantha Miller, and Brandon Pringle - sparred intellectually over the course of the evening, bringing forth their perspectives and plans to captivated audiences.
FUTURE OF THE CITY
The hour-long debate commenced with a pivotal question: "What is your vision for the Town of Penhold 20 years from now?" Each contender took the floor, unveiling perspectives that promised to shape the very fabric of the town's future.
Miller, with eloquence and empathy, spoke of the town's elders. Her vision entailed a town that echoed with inclusivity, offering a warm embrace to its aging population. "I'd like to see more inclusivity, more homes for seniors," she declared.
Dodman, on the other hand, aimed to thread the delicate needle between growth and preservation. "Penhold would probably be twice the population, but the same small-town feel," he mused.
For Burton, the crux of his vision revolved around the cyclical return of the town's young minds. He ardently advocated for creating an educational haven that beckoned its graduates back home. "We know that a lot of kids moved out of small towns," he acknowledged, "The thing I'd like to see from Penhold 20 years from now is to bring them back."
Galisky, with a practical lens, identified housing as a linchpin for the future. "I want to see a Penhold that has housing and opportunities for people of all ages," he emphasized, particularly those in his own age bracket of 24.
Pringle, invoked a timeless Greek proverb to encapsulate his perspective. He echoed the wisdom that society flourishes when its elders invest for the benefit of generations to come. "So if we have a great vision for Penhold for the future, we need to put things in place right now," he declared passionately.
MUNICIPAL FINANCIAL CHALLENGES TAKE STAGE
A spotlight was cast on the crucial issues of affordability and finances during the debate on Wednesday night, as candidates vying for municipal leadership in Penhold shared their strategies to tackle the prevailing financial challenges faced by the town.
Pringle, emphasized the need for a thorough review of the town's budget to uncover potential efficiencies. "We need to do the best we can to bring that tax rate down," Pringle asserted confidently. His belief in the power of a lower tax rate to attract residents back to the community underlined his commitment to revitalizing the local economy.
Miller, underscored the importance of community engagement. She expressed her intention to actively listen to residents' concerns and ideas about addressing the financial matters that loom over Penhold. "I invite other people to give me ideas of what their take would be," Miller Stated on stage.
Drawing inspiration from neighbouring communities, Galisky brought a unique perspective to the conversation. Citing Blackfalds as a case study, he raised the question of how municipalities can leverage financial challenges effectively. "How do we make sure that the mill rates in town remain lower or at the same rate?" Galisky inquired, hinting at his exploratory mindset.
Elaborating on his thoughts, Galisky compared Penhold's approach to Blackfalds over the past decade. While Blackfalds focused on housing development, Penhold honed in on enhancing services. Galisky suggested adopting a page from Blackfalds' playbook while maintaining Penhold's identity. "If we try to take a chip off the old block from our neighbours up north," Galisky mused, "we might be able to find new methods and means to generate the revenue our town desperately needs."
GETTING CAUGHT UP, FILLING WALSH'S SHOES
The candidates vying to fill the void left by former Councillor Mike Walsh's departure were confronted with a poignant question posed by Mayor Yargeau in the culminating moments of the debate. Each contender faced the challenge head-on, expressing their thoughts on the task of filling Walsh's shoes and navigating the next two years of his vacated seat.
Miller, with a sense of reverence, acknowledged the void left by Mike Walsh's absence. "The shoes, I'd have to fill," Miller remarked, emphasizing the substantial contribution Walsh had made to the community. "We definitely have lost a valued member of our community. So replacing those shoes would take a lot of trust," she added. Miller recognized that a significant challenge for her would be stepping into those shoes while demonstrating her potential to the community.
Galisky echoed Miller's sentiments, reflecting on the deep personal connection he had with Walsh. "He's been a brother I consider and a friend for a very long time. And he's dearly missed," Galisky shared with heartfelt emotion. Acknowledging the enormity of the task, he concurred, "The toughest challenge will probably be filling Mike Walsh's shoes."
Burton, on a pragmatic note, envisioned an environment of collaboration. He believed that the incoming councillor, irrespective of who it would be after the September 6th by-election, would be stepping into a well-coordinated team. Burton recognized that the real challenge would be acclimating himself, finding his unique role within the council, and contributing effectively.
Dodman, with his previous experience on the council, highlighted the challenge of reintegration. "My biggest challenge getting back up to speed would be the hardest part. It's progressed a little bit in the last 15 years," Dobman admitted, addressing the evolving dynamics of the council since his previous tenure.
Pringle, while acknowledging the common thread of catching up, brought a unique perspective to the table. Citing his proficiency in reading and preparation, he confidently shared, "When I was in school, I read 800 to 1000 words a minute. So that's been helping me a lot going through all the paperwork that I've had to do to prepare for this event."
NOW IT'S YOUR TURN
The debate showcased the earnest commitment of Penhold's aspiring leaders as they articulated their visions for the town's future and the challenges that lie ahead for the town.
Addressing a range of critical issues from housing and finances to community engagement, the candidates demonstrated their capacity to steer Penhold toward progress.
As the community eagerly anticipates the impending By-Election Day on Wednesday, September 6, 2023, the stage is set for the residents to exercise their democratic rights. The polls at the Penhold Regional Multiplex will be open from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., inviting all eligible voters to cast their ballots and play an integral role in shaping the town's destiny.