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Warden wants county to evolve to be productive

Updated: Jan 9

Essex County is evolving.

That was the message Warden Hilda MacDonald brought to county council at its final meeting of 2023.

“We’ve completed vital infrastructure projects this year and we’ve invested in front line health care,” said MacDonald, the Mayor of Leamington. “We’ve supported affordable health care and we’ve joined in the fight against homelessness.”

MacDonald cited the fact that at the recent Warden’s Luncheon, county councillors were given the opportunity to speak. Also, the manner in which councillors renumeration is determined is also changing. 

In 2008 a citizen-driven committee made the decision and now, heading into 2024, a third-party consultant is being engaged to help get through the process which could see a substantial increase in pay.

“Time and evolution have happened and we need to move with it. I love that we are where we are and not afraid to speak up.”

The past year, MacDonald’s first as the head of the Essex County government, saw significant events and issues.

Back in April, hundreds of people packed into the council chambers protesting a perceived 15-minute city concept which, in reality, was not being proposed. The meeting, which was to address the new Official Plan, was suspended and for a couple of meetings there was a heightened level of security.

“I know how difficult this job can be at times,” said MacDonald.

In the fall, an attempt to have all seven local municipalities come together and have a regional waste collection system was narrowly defeated.

Perhaps the biggest change for Essex County was in personnel as Sandra Zwiers was elevated from treasurer to CAO. Melissa Ryan moved into the role of director of financial services/treasurer. Essex-Windsor EMS Chief Bruce Krauter retired and Justin Lammers took over.

MacDonald acknowledged that change is needed and the county needs to keep being productive. She added that she is looking forward to the upcoming 2024 budget deliberations and said that “it won’t be a walk in the park.”

This is the first of four years for the current siting 14-member county council.

“I want to see, at the end of the four year-term, that we’ve been progressive and we’ve moved the needle forward.”

As far as the budget is concerned, Essex County residents will see an increase of about $10 million to the bottom line.

The warden thanked county employees and county councillors for their contributions to the food drive and toy drive.

“Get out and explore everything Essex County has to offer. I’m looking forward to the start of 2024 and working shoulder-to-shoulder with all of you,” she said to her fellow council members.

At the final meeting of 2023 MacDonald also acknowledged that Essex County has its first ever Strategic Plan and she also said that change is for the greater good and not disruptive or ‘just spitting into the wind.’

On a personal note, in a recent interview with AM 800 Radio, MacDonald was asked if she liked her job as Essex County Warden.

“Sometimes I love it and sometimes I hate it. We are all in the same boat. We do it for how we can affect our communities and how we can make our communities a better place to live.”

She added that why being the Warden does have its satisfaction, but sometimes arrows hit a little too close to the heart.

By Fred Groves

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