ATHABASCA – Rob Woito is looking to do things a bit differently if he is elected mayor of Athabasca Oct. 18.
It’s the second time Woito has put his name in to sit at the head of the Athabasca town council table, having taken his first run at the position in 2017 against eventual winner Colleen Powell. He will go head-to-head with one-term councillor Rob Balay this time around, who announced his intentions earlier in September.
Woito is a power engineer by trade, working in the oil patch at different locations around the province. He came to Athabasca from a small town in northern Ontario in 2007 and hasn’t looked back.
“I've always said I was an Albertan born in Ontario,” he said in an interview Sept. 22.
Woito is taking a different tact than a lot of the candidates running in the Athabasca municipalities, coming out in favour of amalgamation with Athabasca County and of setting Athabasca University free to operate where and how it wants.
“I think we'd be better off served by potentially amalgamating with the county or dissolving the town so that the county takes the town,” he said, adding that it’s inefficient and costly to have two councils making decisions on many of the same issues.
Ideally, less government makes for less bureaucracy and opens opportunities to get things done, he said.
As far as the AU situation goes, Woito isn’t shy about saying he would be in favour of sending the institution packing and using the infrastructure at the location to attract a research company to the area.
“Sign the University over to the town for $1, all the property, get out of Dodge, and we'll get a research facility to come to town that wants to locate to a small community,” he said, calling the relationship between the town and the university dysfunctional.
Lower taxes also feature prominently in Woito’s agenda, as he has seen his own taxes increase substantially in the last few years, with little to show for it.
“You have to ask yourself, what have we seen improve with the increased taxes? We don't really see anything improved, they've kind of maintained the status quo, and in my opinion, status quo doesn't work because your town slowly dies,” he said. I think what we need to do is definitely revisit our budgets to maintain core services in the community … It’s nice to have social programs, and I hate to say this, but you really need to look at whether or not you can afford those things.”
Woito says he is all about making Athabasca a better place to live and making it more appealing to those from outside of town, in the hopes of attracting them to the community. To that end, he would like to see some revitalization of the downtown core.
He is also a big proponent of shining a light on the recreational opportunities people can get involved with in Athabasca. As the former president of the Athabasca Recreational Trails Association, he was involved in securing more than $2 million in grants for trail projects like the Athabasca Landing Trail, the Peace River Trail, and the Redwater bridge project, he said.
Some may say small town life boring, Woito said. He has directly heard that from people, and disagrees emphatically, saying it is what you make it.
“There are things you can do to get involved with the community and if you don't get involved with the community, yeah sure it's going to potentially be boring,” he said.