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Mayoral candidate touts anti-amalgamation platform in Strong

Several issues prompted Lilley's run, including the poor road conditions in the municipality and the ongoing debate on whether or not Strong should amalgamate with the Village of Sundridge and Township of Joly
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Strong Township

Albert ‘Bert’ Lilley is one of four people looking to become the next mayor of Strong Township.

Lilley is married with two young children and moved to Strong five years ago from Alliston, Ont.

Lilley has an extensive business background including 17 years as an operations/branch manager for an international company and believes that experience will serve him well as mayor.

Several issues prompted Lilley to seek a seat in municipal government including the poor road conditions in the municipality and the ongoing debate whether Strong should amalgamate with the Village of Sundridge and Township of Joly.

Lilley says he doesn't believe amalgamation is necessary and adds the residents in Strong he's talked to feel the same way.

Lilley agrees there's a positive argument to be made that under amalgamation some money is saved because triplication disappears when three municipal councils become one council and any merger would also likely see redundant municipal jobs disappear.

However, Lilley says it's what follows years later that worries Strong residents.

Lilley says Sundridge has paved roads as well as a water and sewer system but Strong doesn't.

He says under amalgamation, the first several years are fine but once the grace period of no tax increases is over, the concern for Strong residents is they may see huge spikes in their taxes to cover Sundridge's ongoing infrastructure costs of water and sewer plus its roads while Strong may not see any of this infrastructure development.

In other words, Lilley says the cost for Sundridge's infrastructure gets divided among three municipalities instead of having Sundridge pay for this work itself like it does now.

“This is the kind of feedback I've been getting from the constituents,” Lilley said.

“Amalgamation is not the answer at this point.”

Lilley believes Sundridge is pushing for amalgamation “because it needs the constituents of Strong to add to the [tax] pool to increase the spending budget on a regional level.”

Lilley says road conditions in Strong have been an ongoing issue. What he's noticed is the roads get repaired but there's not enough consistency in their maintenance and this has to change.

“We really need to look at how our roads are maintained,” he said.

On economic development, Lilley says Strong has no industrial base from which it can draw.

“There are only small businesses, home businesses, local contractors and tourism,” he said.

He says tourism took a hit once the four-laning of Highway 11 was complete and travellers no longer passed through the Sundridge-Strong-Joly area.

Lilley says the all-season outdoor Community Hub that's going up in Strong is a great project and will draw people from surrounding areas but adds the municipality has to do a lot more to attract tourists.

He says the more tourists the area can attract, the healthier local businesses remain and are able to contribute to the tax base.

Lilley says part of the tourism strategy is to ensure Lake Bernard remains a healthy lake because not only is it home to many waterfront property owners, but the lake is also a major tourist draw so it's important to keep it free of invasive species and pesticides.

Also running for mayor are Jason Cottrell and Jody Baillie who are both Strong councillors and Tim Bryson who is the current mayor of Joly.

Incumbent Mayor Kelly Elik decided earlier this year not to seek another term in office.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.