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Frustration grows in Centre Wellington as termite issue worsens

ELORA  - Township of Centre Wellington council has directed staff to look into the growing termite issue in Elora and Fergus after a lively debate at council Monday.

Initially, Ward 2 councillor Kirk McElwain brought forward a notice of motion to have the township contact and consider hiring noted entomologist Timothy Myles, who helped he City of Guelph successfully deal with it's termite problem in recent years.

McElwain wanted to use surplus from the 2019 budget to pay for Myles' services.

“I have received a lot of comments over the last month about the issue from the various citizens of Centre Wellington that highlights the problem as being larger than most of us anticipated,” McElwain said in council. He further said residents have been spending thousands of dollars for repairs and treatments for years. 

According to a report to council from February 2016, Centre Wellington is one of about 30 municipalities in Ontario where termites are known to exist.

Termites were first found in Elora in the mid-1970s and can now be found in Fergus as well. The township had previously hired Myles for a year but there wasn’t room in the budget to bring him back.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s stopped and he’s had such great success in Guelph since then,” McElwain said. “I asked to get it into our budget this year and they didn’t so I brought it to council this way instead.”

Thoughts on the motion were divided in council, with some in full support and others finding it too hasty, sole-sourced, and questioned the precise cost.

Councillor Neil Dunsmore made a motion to refer to staff for more research and to explore other options beyond Myles.

Coun. Bob Foster said in council that he felt McElwain’s motion was being misunderstood and the referral was redundant because the motion directed staff anyways. He also questioned why they were resistant to hiring Myles when there is no equivalent on staff.

“We often hire a consultant when we have our own expert,” Foster said in council. “I don’t see why we’re hesitating to hire an expert in the field of entomology. We need to take action and we need to take it now.”

Councillors Neil Dunsmore, Ian MacRae, Steven VanLeeuwen and Mayor Kelly Linton voted in favour of the referral which passed 4-3.

CAO Andy Goldie said a report from staff would take a minimum of three months to prepare. 

“I’m disappointed, I think we’re just delaying the inevitable,” McElwain said. “Possibly in three months there won’t be any money left to spend to do anything this year so you’re delaying it another year.”

McElwain said he brought forward this motion because of local residents Tammy Rutherford and Pat Ellis. Both said they have been dealing with a termite infestation for 10 years and are tired of a lack of action.

"We’ve been fighting this for ten years and they just don’t listen," Ellis said in an interview after the meeting.  "For the last five years the door has been closed, they’ve done absolutely nothing. The mayor refuses to do anything."

Rutherford created facebook page CW Termites to engage with others in the community with the same issue and to bring awareness. She gathered a large group which filled council chambers where they clapped for those in support of the motion. They also openly shared their frustrations and disagreement towards council.

The Mayor eventually chided the crowd and made clear the debate was strictly between councillors.

Rutherford said an infestation can cause a severe issue before a homeowner even knows there's a problem.

“Termites are known as the silent destroyer, they operate behind the scenes because they don’t like light,” she said. “Until there’s significant damage done, for example your door falls off the hinge or you lean against a wall and cave into it, you may not even be aware that you have a termite problem.”

Paul Balfoort, owner of Balson Termite Solutions, said he’s happy to be able to help the community but in his experience municipalities taking a step back increases the problem.

“It’s not one homeowner at a time that’s going to solve the issue,” Balfoort said. “It’s going to be the municipality and the homeowners, the whole community getting together along with private companies to make it happen.”

Councillor Stephen Kitras supported McElwain’s motion and praised the use of a notice of motion in council.

Kitras said there has always been an operating budget surplus each year besides 2010 but he isn’t positive the money will be there when the report is ready.

“If they spend it before, there will not be money for this termite thing,” he said. “That’s why we need to address it right now.”

Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com