After 28 years of continuous service on the Cumberland Village Council, Leslie Baird still has goals to accomplish in a third term as mayor. Besides finishing big projects like sewage and water treatment upgrades and a new fire wall, she also want more daycares and senior housing. Her secret? Helping her councillors achieve their own goals
Leslie Baird “completely loves the job” as mayor of Cumberland. There’s little about that because, after 28 years of continuous service on the Village Council, she’s running again.
Baird was first elected to council in 1990, at a time when there were few women in municipal office. She ran unopposed for mayor in 2011 and was acclaimed again in 2014. This year, she has an opponent.
The Village of Cumberland has changed dramatically over her two terms in the mayor’s office — businesses are thriving, the population is growing and the Village Council’s progressive approach has put it in the national and provincial spotlight.
And yet, the village has several serious issues to resolve and major infrastructure projects in the works. Baird is seeking re-election to see those through to completion.
At the top of her list are funding and constructing improvements to the village’s sewerage system, which fell out of compliance with Ministry of Environment standards a decade ago. Then there’s the upgraded treatment and capacity of village drinking water, and continuing to separate sewer and stormwater systems.
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And she adds the building of a new fire hall into her top priorities.
Those are big issues for a small village that relies mostly on a residential tax base from about 1,400 homes.
Two months ago, the village hired an economic development coordinator to help develop the Bevan lands as an industrial park for light industry. It’s already properly zoned, and the village would benefit from an increase in commercial taxes.
Baird says her secret for getting things done is fostering a functional village council. For her, that’s the main job of a mayor.
“I always remember that there four other people at the council table who were elected by the people for their own priorities,” she told Decafnation. “I work with them to get those (priorities) to the table.”
In other words, Mayor Baird helps her councillors do what they said they were going to do.
“It’s important to listen to the community, to hear what they need, and act on that,” she said. “When I was first elected, I tried to make everyone happy, you can’t. Now I do what’s best for the whole community.”
Baird also tries to find a good fit with each councillor’s interests and the committees she recommends for them.
But she would never appoint herself to the Comox Valley Regional District.
“I have never sat on the CVRD board as mayor, although I did as a councillor,” she said. “Because at the CVRD you have to look at issues from a regional perspective. I have to keep my focus on the village.”
Baird thinks it’s difficult today for a mayor to do the job properly with another full-time job.
“People used to come to the mayor to get things done,” she said. “Now it’s more complex, there’s so many factors to consider … and you need a good staff.”
There are more items on Baird’s list for a third term than the big projects of sewer, water and a fire hall.
She hopes to provide better daycare services in the village. There’s currently a one-year waiting list. She’s exploring provincial funding and bursaries for day care worker education, and she would like to see a 24-hour facility for the village’s shift workers.
Baird wants to address affordable housing — the village’s house prices are second only to Crown Isle, she says — especially for seniors. She says several private operators on the Island are interested and the village has land already zoned for affordable seniors housing.
“There’s a renewed interested in Cumberland because of the expected population growth” she said. “We have major grocery stores expressing an interest. There’s a change in attitude about everywhere north of Nanaimo.”
Village staff is doing a full report on the banning of single-use plastic bags and straws for the council to consider next year.
And, believe it or not, Baird says traffic and parking issues are a hot topic in the village right now.
“People aren’t stopping at stop signs, and this includes bikers,” she said. “I hear about it all the time.”
Baird urges people to vote yes on the sewage system funding referendum that is on the ballot this year. While the village still has to acquire external funding for the project, village voters can kick start the project by authorizing the village to borrow $4.4 million.