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Town, County Division 2 candidates speak out at chamber forum

File photo

ELK POINT – Elk Point’s two mayoral and six council candidates, along with three County of St. Paul Division 2 candidates, took part in a virtual candidate forum on Wednesday, hosted by the Elk Point and District Chamber of Commerce and Givens LLP and moderated by Jennifer Van der Hoek.

Candidates had a five-minute slot to introduce themselves and their platforms, followed by a series of questions submitted by email, with the two-hour event winding up with each candidate’s final remarks.

Mayoral candidates

Terri Hampson, an Elk Point resident for seven years who spent the past four of those as a town councillor, this past year represented the town on 14 committees, including chairing the Economic Development Committee, with its current focus on downtown revitalization. As the chamber of commerce president for the second year, she has seen a 50 per cent increase in membership and recently acquired a $12,000 grant to assist with the chamber’s efforts to promote the town and its businesses.  As mayor, she said, she would be open to conversation, available and visible, advocate for the community’s health and emergency services “and work with our rural neighbours, now and in the future. I would look at growth alongside of fiscal responsibility, with a local focus in the challenging times ahead.”

Parrish Tung, a retired teacher in the area for 44 years, spent 16 years on town council, 12 of them as mayor, improving relationships with the county, obtaining considerably increased funding for Elk Point Municipal Library, and acquiring many government grants for betterment of the town. One “proud moment,” he said, was becoming chairman of the Regional Water Commission and providing a reliable supply of treated water for town residents. Cooperating with the county resulted in Elk Point’s new fire hall. Two residential subdivisions, a second industrial park, school playgrounds, water spray park, outdoor rink and walking trail were added during his time as mayor. Tung feels the town “is in big trouble right now,” with internal and external financial pressures, decreased assessment, decreased MSI funding and the need to pay policing costs all impacting property taxes.

Council candidates

Jason Boorse has lived the County of St. Paul all his life and in Elk Point since 2004, raising three unique children with wife Crystal. He has a background in heavy agricultural equipment and has been involved with 4-H since his youth, currently as a leader. He believes in a diversified economy, is deeply community minded and is involved in many non-profits and is president of the Elk Point and District Lions Club, “an organization with deep roots in the community. I volunteer to give back to the community and to inspire others to volunteer, and believe that volunteers are crucial.” Boorse recently joined the Economic Development Committee as a member at large and wants to “bring that information to council.”

Bernice Capjack, a lifelong resident of the area who previously spent 15 years on council, believes “Elk Point is the right place to be. I care about my community and its concerns, meeting the needs of residents, making sure they are informed and encouraging growth.” She would like to see essential infrastructure maintained and more support for businesses and local organizations. She vows to be a dedicated, reliable, respectful member of council and would serve the people with integrity and trust and says, “Elected officials have to remember that every concern is important and must be looked after.”

First time candidate Wanda Cochrane was raised in the community, returned here after four years in another area “and have been here ever since. I am active with many groups, and it’s time for me to give back to the community. I believe in our town.” She feels that aging infrastructure, including recreational facilities, need costly upgrades and the town needs a strong business core and retention of its healthcare facilities. “Things are tough,” she acknowledged. “Do I have all the answers? No, but I would love to have the opportunity to help find them.”

Incumbent Debra McQuinn has been part of the community since 1997 and has been in banking for 19 years. She has enjoyed two terms on council as “an active and productive councillor” who serves on numerous committees, including representing the town on the Northern Lights Library System board and “is active, attentive and always part of any thing I can be.” She feels collaboration is a key path to obtaining government grants and feels the town currently has a great working relationship with the county and other communities in the area. “My love for this community knows no bounds.”

Fellow incumbent Tim Smereka has lived in Elk Point all of his 52 years and “never left, it’s the best community in the region.” He joined council three years ago in a by-election. “I really believe that the past is the past and we need to look forward at where we are going. We need stable supportive healthcare with nurses, doctors and ambulance service .We need a strong economic development committee to bring business in and keep businesses going. They bring people in and keep them here. “ The community also has to find a better solution for Internet service, he said, “without costing us a ton of money.”

New candidate Olivia Wilkins is originally from the Tulliby Lake area and has worked in Elk Point for 10 years, she and her husband establishing a business here two years ago, Recently taking on the role of chamber of commerce vice president, she is also the president of the Elk Point Auto Club and says that “small towns are only as strong as the people who live in them,” and considers Elk Point to have a strong population looking for equally strong leadership. If elected, she admits, “I would have a learning curve ahead of me,” but is more than willing to take that on if elected.

Incumbent Dwayne Yaremkevich, a lifelong resident of the Elk Point area, has worked at Elk Point Truss for 42 years and has been on council for 17 years. With multiple contenders for council seats, he feels it is “great to see such interest in becoming part of council.” He and wife Donna have been married 38 years and have three children, 13 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He currently serves on a number of council committees and is the president of North East Municorr, and vows to bring commonsense and problem solving to council. With COVID and the drop in assessment “putting a damper on our economy,” he looks forward to seeing the community thrive again in the future.

After hearing from County of St. Paul Division 2 council candidates Jim Kiss, Jonny Nielsen and Kevin Wirsta, who also took part in the County forum the previous evening, candidates answered questions on their volunteer involvement in the community, whether municipal funds should be used to fix aging infrastructure or to expand for growth and what they would do to increase internet speed for businesses and residents, before giving their final remarks of the evening.

Hampson and Tung also had one more question to answer, Van der Hoek asking, “It is well known that the town relies on the support of the county. Is your plan to rely on this support or to join the county?” Both were emphatic that they had no plans for the town to lose its autonomy, as they wound up the forum with closing statements.