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Charlebois says Petrolia is looking to be ‘a leader of the pack’

By Melissa Schilz, Postmedia Network

Mayor John McCharles will be in Toronto Friday, representing Petrolia as a featured panelist. (File photo)

Mayor John McCharles will be in Toronto Friday, representing Petrolia as a featured panelist. (File photo)

Mayor John McCharles and Treasurer Rick Charlebois are heading to Toronto Dec. 1 to present at the 2017 Municipal Finance Forum that will see over 100 attendees from across the province.

Charlebois called it a great honour to be chosen to speak at the forum led by the Municipal Finance Officers Associations of Ontario (MFOA), Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario (CPA) and the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario (AMCTO).

After Charlebois received the Engagement Award from MFOA in 2016 and Coun. Liz Welsh spoke at the Canadian Network of Asset Managers (CNAM) conference in Alberta earlier this year, the tiny town has put its name on the map and asserted itself as a financial leader.

McCharles is the only mayor to be a featured panelist at the conference.

“It’s really an honour to be chosen,” he said. “I’m proud of what we’ve done, and we’re still on that curve to get better.”

Charlebois and McCharles will be presenting alongside well-known politicians, including Kelly Gillis, Deputy Minister of Infrastructure and Communities Canada, and MPP Bob Delaney, Parliamentary Assistant to the Ontario Minister of Infrastructure. Charlebois will also being acting as monitor for the afternoon.

Charlebois, who first joined the Town of Petrolia in 2013, said they’ve turned things around financially for the town of under 6000, and now they are being asked to share just how they did it. Charlebois credits a good working relationship between staff and council for their success; they aim to get things done.

“It’s critical to the town in getting better,” he said. “A lot of municipal staff know what needs to be done, but they can’t get their council’s attention.”

Charlebois said he’s implemented new methods to ensure they get their budget done well before the new year, something he said a lot of small municipalities don’t do. By doing this, he hopes Petrolia can be a leader and influence other local municipalities to do the same.

“The hardest part of a budget is there’s never enough money…you have to decide what the priorities are,” he said. “If you don’t do that, you’re not really making any decisions.”

He said in previous years, Petrolia was one of the last municipalities to submit their Financial Information Return (FIR). This year, Petrolia was the 12th to submit their FIR for 2016, placing them in the top 15 of 444 municipalities.

In the last few years, Petrolia has managed to secure several major grants to use towards infrastructure in the town, including the Waste Water Treatment Plant, the reservoir and roads. Charlebois said the key in obtaining these grants started with getting ahead of the game in terms of their budget and financing, showing upper levels of government that they are doing their part in raising dollars to go towards these projects through tax increases.

“The most important thing council can do is manage that infrastructure,” he said. “That helped us get grants because the province realized we were doing our part.”

Just this year, they got the maximum number of dollars from the Clear Water and Waste Water Fund - $630,000 – that has gone towards construction and upgrades on Florence, Kerby and Egan streets.

Charlebois said in a group of professionals, there’s always about five per cent who lead the herd, somewhere he said he believes is the best place to be.

“You’re at the front end, and you get to influence the front end, and you get to see the future better,” he said. “We’re trying to lead.”