Hastings Highlands’ new mayor says it’s an honour for him to lead the municipality now, given his life-long dedication to the area.
Tony Fitzgerald was elected Monday night in a close race against fellow Councillor Dorothy Gerrow. The outgoing mayor, Tracy Hagar, is returning to a councillor role.
Fitzgerald is a retired local educator and a lifelong resident of Hastings Highlands. He was elected to council there in 2018.
He says now’s a great time for the rural community to build its economy. He believes the pandemic has accelerated population growth, with more people wanting to leave cities to retire or run businesses in the highlands.
“Retirees now are younger, healthier and wealthier than previous generations,” he says. “We need to capitalize on that and build up our tax base, which gives us more leeway to develop services that these people need.”
Fitzgerald adds that it will also be important for the municipality to fund more health services in the region, given the rising population and, particularly, the growing number of retirees.
Fitzgerald also says he has a long list of priorities as he gets ready to lead the rural community.
He wants to see improvement in council-to-staff relationships, new investments in fire services and continued work on roads, which constantly dominate budgets.
He also says a new and particularly tough challenge for Hastings Highlands is dealing with short-term rentals.
“There are many people who rent out their cottages for just a week or two in the summer to help them pay their taxes and that’s a legitimate source of income for them,” he says. “But it’s the ones which are just permanently established as rentals [that are problematic].
“Quite often there are far too many people there. There are serious questions about whether septics are designed to handle that many people and that’s a serious concern with our lake health.”
Fitzgerald says council will need to carefully explore how to solve the problem, without interfering with personal property rights.