ST. PAUL - County of St. Paul Reeve Steve Upham has announced he will not be seeking a fourth term as reeve in this fall’s municipal election, choosing instead to step away from the role after 11 years spent as the people's choice as the County’s top politician.
“I think people are surprised,” Upham said of his announcement last week. "We’ve had a great four-year term on the heels of a good 11-year run. I’m proud to leave the County in really good shape fiscally and, from an operational standpoint, I think we‘ve had a good council and we’ve worked hard to do the work that we needed to do as a County.”
First elected as reeve in 2010, Upham came into the role after having served six years as a school trustee. He then went on to win again in 2013 and 2017. Winning those elections tops the list of his fondest memories of his time in municipal politics.
“Not that I’m a competitive guy, but there’s nothing sweeter than winning an election.”
He believes he is leaving the County at a time when it is on solid footing, describing the last four years as being a time when all of the council worked as a cohesive team for the betterment of the municipality.
“This last term as been a wonderful term. We’ve worked well together and really come together as one force; pulling together in one direction rather than having fragmentation which can happen in some councils. So, it has been a great term, but it is just time for me to make a decision to take time for myself.”
Upham said the County has “a great staff and crew that undertake the work they need to do well and with an incredible amount of pride and that bodes well for the future for the council coming in. The machine is working well.”
Asked about the challenges that lie ahead for the County, Upham did not hesitate in citing the unknowns around government funding going forward as being a significant concern for rural municipalities. The decision by the province to take control of industrial property assessment, moving it out of local municipal hands and into the hands of provincial assessors, also stands to significantly impact tax revenues.
“The biggest cloud over the head of the County is revenue and government granting. MSI (Municipal Sustainability Initiative) is being discontinued and there is going to be another government granting formula taking over that in 2022, which is going to reduce the amount of money counties receive. So, that is a challenge. Also, resource revenue from linear and industrial/mechanical assessment - with the assessment review panel still deliberating we have no idea where that is going to land and that could have a big impact on the financial health of the county.”
At 64 years of age, Upham said his stint as a municipal politician has been an immensely rewarding chapter in his life, describing it as having been a privilege to serve County residents for the past 11 years as their reeve.
“I love meeting people and I love building and developing relationships and that has been a highlight of my career,” he said pointing to his work with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities as being particularly rewarding. “Being able to meet people from all points in Canada, share my viewpoints, share my experiences, learn from their experiences to bring back information and things that enhanced my ability to do my job as reeve. Another highlight is having great office administration. It has been great working with our CAO, Sheila (Kitz), and I’m going to miss that."
Asked about his words of advice for anyone considering throwing their hat into the ring for reeve, Upham said it is essential to always keep your eye on the bigger picture while not ignoring the details.
“Understand that when you run for the position that the County is your responsibility, not your division. Your singular focus should be at all times to bring all of the councillors along together in the process of making decisions. You have to be a collaborator,” he said, adding “Don’t ever let the job go to your head, because there will always be someone there to cut your legs off if you get too much of an ego.”
As for what is next, Upham said he will figure it out as he goes.
“I have two sons that are pretty active in the farm and a third who likes to help. There will be time to spend some time doing what I want to do - maybe a bit of travelling. There are other opportunities to serve, not that I’m positioning myself, but I will look at other ways to contribute.”
As for the reeve’s chair he is vacating, in Upham’s words, “Let the race begin.”