Sunday, March 19, 2017

Committed to Urban Boundaries & Preserving Agricultural Lands

It doesn’t happen too often, but occasionally I am the only one to vote for or against something at Regional Council. A couple of weeks ago, for example, I was the only one who opposed promoting development outside existing urban boundaries.

Pelham Town Council remains committed to development inside the existing urban boundaries so that we can protect the environment and agricultural lands outside those areas. We also do this to ensure that existing urban services (like water, sewer, and storm water infrastructure) get used to capacity – instead of continuously adding additional and costly services outside urban areas.

This commitment led Pelham Council to encourage greater protection for the Fonthill Kame. Similarly, we have refused to endorse additional lot creation in the Greenbelt. Further, we continue to protect rural “lots of record” and impose agricultural-only stipulations on remnant parcels so that houses cannot be built on new severed farm lots.

And, while some might be upset with new development inside Pelham’s urban boundaries, Council remains committed to development only on lands in the boundaries that were approved in 2000 (for Fonthill) and 1990 (for Fenwick). We oppose expansions or extensions of the urban areas. (For more information about the "East Fenwick Secondary Plan" please click here. For more information about the "East Fonthill Secondary Plan" please click here.)

Yet, this belief by Pelham Council is not held universally across Niagara.

A perfect example was the March 2 vote over whether to endorse a Regional Staff submission to seek “special policy opportunities” in the rural and agricultural, non-serviced lands along the QEW between Niagara Falls and Fort Erie. (For a copy of the report, please click here.)

You see, after the Province designated a Gateway Zone from Niagara Falls to Fort Erie and a Gateway Centre in Welland / Port Colborne / Thorold, Regional Council developed special incentives to encourage industrial growth. It was these “Gateway Incentives” that helped convince GE Canada to build their new plant in Welland. Further, the incentives helped encourage the Federal Government to designate Niagara as a Foreign Trade Zone to support export related growth.

But, some large, rural property owners informally lobbied Regional Councillors and Staff so that those incentives and servicing might be broadened outside urban areas.

Ironically, those property owners bought cheaper, rural land but now want the benefits of more expensive lands inside urban boundaries. Eventually, they will demand new water, waste water and transportation infrastructure at a time when the Region has an accumulated infrastructure backlog of $545 million just to replace poor and very poor existing pipes and roads! (For a copy of the February 2017 asset presentation to Regional Council, please click here and see pages 26, 28-29.)

Why lobby the Province to add benefits to new areas when it will cost an extra $1,121 per household per year for the next decade just to fix the Region’s existing infrastructure?

Sadly, I was the only one to vote against trying to expand urban boundary development rights in that QEW / Niagara River rural area.

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If you would like to view the discussion at Regional Council, please go to 3:45:00 at the video by clicking here.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Demand Exceeded for Pelham Community Centre!

Last week, Town Council signed 5-year agreements with six major community groups for their use of the new Pelham Community Centre. These binding agreements exceed the Town’s revenue goals for the Centre and confirm the demand for a second arena.
Back: Doug Thomson, Southern Tier Admirals AAA Hockey; Paws, Pelham Junior Hockey Club Mascot; Ben Chambers & Dan Treblay, Welland Raiders Minor Lacrosse Association; Tim Toffolo, Pelham Junior Hockey Club; Brian Bleich & Darren Williams, Pelham Panthers Basketball; Mario Battista  & Todd Major, Pelham Minor Hockey Association.
Front: Mayor Dave Augustyn; Melissa Drulia, Southern Tier Admirals AAA Hockey; Dawn Good & Mandy Engemann, Niagara Centre Skating Club.

Council was thrilled to enter into these partnerships with the Pelham Minor Hockey Association, the Pelham Panthers Basketball Association, the Pelham Jr. B. Hockey Club and the Southern Tier Admirals AAA Hockey. The Town is also excited to welcome the Welland Raiders Minor Lacrosse and the Niagara Centre Skating Club back to Pelham. Now that we have these agreements with major users in place, the Town will work to rent and program the rest of the available time at the facility.

You will recall that a consultant report suggested sustaining demand existed for two ice surfaces. This LeisurePlan report projected 100% prime-time usage of one arena and approximately 70% usage of a second arena and influenced Council’s June 2015 decision to include two arenas in the design of the new Pelham Community Centre. (As you know, the Centre will also feature two gymnasiums, a walking / running track and multi-purpose spaces).

The recently signed agreements with the Town mean that the 1,000-seat Accipiter Arena will have 100% prime-time usage and the Duliban Insurance Arena will have more than 90% prime-time usage. This exceeds estimates from the LeisurePlan report and confirms the need for two arenas.

Before the signing, Brian Bleich, President of Pelham Panthers Basketball Association, said that the facility “can’t happen soon enough” for their 425 athletes from more than 350 Pelham families. He said that “Our agreement with the Town of Pelham guarantees that we can support youth basketball for many years to come” and suggested that the double gymnasiums will be known as the “Home of Champions” and the “Panther’s Den.”

Todd Major, President of Pelham Minor Hockey, reminded Council that their more than 300 Pelham families (representing more than 420 members) have “faced challenges in past years finding ice space.” In the 50th year of Pelham Minor Hockey, Todd said that the new facility will “ensure our programs meet our members’ needs and our Association’s goals.”

The President of the Welland Raiders Minor Lacrosse, Ben Chambers, informed Council that the group also started in Pelham 50 years ago as a Canada Centennial project. He said they were “excited to bring the Raiders back to Pelham” and promised that the club would reinstate the Pelham Raiders name.

I am delighted that these 5-year, binding agreements demonstrate that the Pelham Community Centre will be the place for residents of all ages to gather and enjoy a wide-variety of recreational, social, health and community activities for many, many years!

(To watch the signing of the agreements via the Town's website, please click here.)

Sunday, March 5, 2017

4-Year Freeze Means Pelham Rates 20% Lower!

I am thrilled that Council is set to approve the fourth year for a freeze on our residential and commercial water and waste water rates. Because of ongoing efficiencies and innovations, the Town will absorb the Region’s 8.5% waste water increase.

How are we able to freeze rates for the fourth year in a row? And, how do we compare to others in Niagara?

RF Meters Paying Dividends:
Prior to 2010 the Town measured water usage and calculated waste water charges with old gallon and cubic meter odometer-type wheel meters – many from the 1960s and 1970s. Many of the aged-meters counted slowly or were failing/broken. It took two weeks to collect readings. If a system leaked, it could take months to detect.

In 2010, the Town worked with Neptune Technology to replace and upgrade all 4,200 our meters to electronic, RF (Radio Frequency) meters. In addition to leak, backflow, and tamper detection, it only takes 3-4 hours for staff to collect usage data every two months.

Not only does this cost less and give much more accurate billing, but we also automatically notify residents / businesses by phone if there is a leak or other issue with their water service. And, after replacing all the meters, we reduced our water loss from +20% to less than 10%!

Infrastructure Upgrades:
As you know, we have also upgraded significant Town infrastructure over the last number of years. As we reconstructed or improved roads like Haist Street, Pelham Street, and Canboro Road we also replaced old water and sewer pipes. Over the last nine years, we replaced more than 14 kilometers of cast iron water mains, which helped stop costly leaks and reduces the number of breaks and repairs.

Best in Niagara By Far:


I reviewed the most up-to-date rates and calculated the fixed charges and the rates for both water and waste water for Pelham and for the other local municipalities. At $161 for two months (for the average residential use of 50 cubic metres) Pelham leads the pack with the lowest combined water and waste water charges!

Four of our neighbours – Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, Thorold, and West Lincoln – are between 19% and 27% more expensive. The others – Fort Erie, Lincoln, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Port Colborne, and Welland – are 33% to 79% more expensive!

Council and I are pleased that our investments in innovation and infrastructure save you hundreds of dollars each year and allow us to freeze water and sewer rates for a fourth consecutive year!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

4.7% Increase for Pelham Portion of Residential Property Tax

Council recently approved the Town’s 2017 Operating Budget. The new budget translates into an increase of approximately 4.7% (or $69.60) on the Pelham portion of your property tax bill for the average residential property (assessed at $316,400).

Since Pelham’s portion of your property taxes represents roughly 38% of your overall residential tax, we anticipate that the blended rate will be an approximate 2.6% overall increase. Thus, the Town will receive $1,558 of the $4,132 for the average residential property tax bill; the Niagara Region will receive 48% of the total amount and the Province (to fund education) the remaining 14%.

In preparing the operating budget, Council directed Staff to review all expenditures against customer service needs and the Town’s strategic plan.

First, we included an additional $197,827 for a “Sustainability Increase.” As you have noticed through the years, instead of cutting like other Cities / Towns, we continue to improve and maintain the Town’s infrastructure. We do this by increasing the amount we transfer to capital reserves. Thus, 1.8% of the 4.7% overall increase will help improve and sustain infrastructure. (This compares favourably to the 2.7% we added 2016 to capital and the 1.8% extra in 2015.)

Second, we added funds for the Pelham Public Library to open additional hours in the renewed Maple Acre branch. Council agreed with the Library Board and the broader community that the Library needed to increase hours to meet the demand and to better use the new facility—which was officially opened on Friday. The first month of operations showed a huge demand for the new facility over the former branch; every time I was at the Library, it is busy and well used!

Third, after a very successful pilot program, Council agreed to continue offering Pelham Transit. The ridership consistently increased during the Provincially-supported year-and-a-half pilot and many have come to rely on the service. For example, students use the morning and afternoon service to get to and from classes at Niagara College or Brock. Similarly, seniors from local retirement homes use the mid-day service to travel directly to the Fonthill Library, the Shopper’s Plaza, or to the grocery store. In addition, staff will work with Wainfleet and West Lincoln to potentially expand our transit service.

Finally, other increases include utility costs, staffing and benefit costs, and contracted services (like sidewalk snow clearing) so we can maintain expected service levels.

As a result of these and other initiatives, Council approved a net budget increase of $518,544 on a $11,791,264 net budget.

I will write more about your total property tax impact and compare with previous years after Regional Council approves the 2017 rates and ratios later this spring.

For more information about Pelham’s Operating Budget, please check out the Town's website at www.pelham.ca.
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Extra information:
As stated above, we expect the blended increase to be approximately 2.6%. This compares favouably to other municipalities.
Some folks have asked how this compares to inflation. The Bank of Canada has year-over-year inflation to be 2.1%.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Starting Planning for “East Fenwick”

I was a little surprised during our Committee of the Whole meeting last week because the East Fenwick Secondary Plan area is bigger than originally thought.

Last Fall, Town Council identified the preparation of a Secondary Plan for East Fenwick as a priority for 2017. While we set aside funds over the last couple of years to re-start this detailed planning exercise, Staff hadn't been able to get it started until now.

As you will recall, previous Councils expanded the Town's "urban boundaries" – the areas in which one can build houses, stores, and other developments. Since the Town had installed water and sewer services to the former "hamlet" of Fenwick in the early 1980s, the Town’s 1987 Official Plan made Fenwick an Urban Area and added development rights to those lands in 1990.

So, although not currently built-up, the area in which one can develop includes an additional 235 acres (95 hectares) from Cream to Balfour and between Memorial and Welland Roads.

So, what was my surprise? Staff included properties along Sunset Drive, Alder Crescent, and the east-side of Balfour Street as part of this "secondary" planning process. When I asked about it during our meeting, Staff stated that both the Town’s and Region’s Official Plans policies call for all lands inside Urban Boundaries to be serviced (with water and sewers) and that part of the plan needed to include studies to achieve that.

The goals for the Secondary Plan for East Fenwick include: permitting new development compatible with the existing character of Fenwick but also consistent with Provincial, Regional and Local planning legislation; ensuring appropriate capacity of transportation, water, sewer, and storm services; establishing areas for "public space" and protected natural heritage features; establishing design guidelines; providing well-designed areas that prioritize pedestrians; and providing a phasing plan.

Committee approved the proposal that calls for a collaborative community engagement process, including a community charrette, public meetings, open houses, and the use of an internet tool called PlaceSpeak.

If approved at Council next week, Staff will issue a request for proposals for late-March and work could begin as early as April. Staff suggested that the process could then take nine months.

The East Fenwick Secondary Plan will provide the appropriate policy guidance – including protecting key natural features, walkability, and linkages to the historic Downtown – so that this large area might develop and integrate more fully into the Town.

Councillors and I will look forward to working together with the community as the Town develops the East Fenwick Secondary Plan.
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Documents for More Information:

  • For the 6 February 2016 Staff report to Committee about East Fenwick, please click here.
  • For the Terms of Reference for the Request for Proposals, please click here.
  • For a video of the discussion at 6 February 2016 Committee meeting, please click here; discussion starts around 11 minutes, 55 seconds.



Sunday, February 5, 2017

DSBN Survey on Potential Park Revision

Last week, residents in the Cherry Ridge subdivision in Fenwick received a survey and draft plan from the District School Board of Niagara (DSBN) about potential changes to Cherry Ridge Park.

As you know, the DSBN is in the process of consolidating the former Pelham Centre School (grades 4-8) and E.W .Farr Memorial School (grades K – 3) to create one, grades K – 8 school at the E.W. Farr site. The consolidation required classroom additions and renovations including a new gymnasium, a learning commons, parking and bus drop off. This construction is well underway and the Board hopes to open the renovated school this September.

With this expansion, the school’s soccer field was eliminated. In an effort to provide a soccer field for students the Board approached the Town last year to enter into a community partnership. They proposed building a soccer field partially on school board property and partially on the public park lands.

Councillors considered this possibility in a report to the June 6, 2016 Committee of the Whole meeting and, on June 20, Council approved the authorization of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Town and the DSBN to negotiate an appropriate agreement. (Please click here to review a copy of the MOU.)

As part of these negotiations, the DSBN proposed a draft redesign for the Park and their lands late last Fall. (Please click here for a copy of the proposed redesign.)

At the request from the Town, the Board sent a letter and a survey to immediate neighbours and other Cherry Ridge residents last week.

Why is the DSBN is only surveying Cherry Ridge residents? When the subdivision was first developed in the 1990s, the developer paid the Town “parkland dedication” fees and provided land for this neighbourhood park. And, when the Town initially designed and built the Park around 2008, we only involved residents from that subdivision. We follow this approach in designing / redesigning other neighbourhood parks too.

The feedback on the design, a final proposed design, insurance and legal considerations, and any other items will form part of the potential final agreement. Just like any and all agreements between the Town and other corporations, Council will publicly consider the factors and the potential agreement during one of our meetings. DSBN Trustees would also have to consider such an agreement.

Finally, if approved, this would not be the first time for such a joint use agreement between a City/Town and the DSBN. Others with agreements with the DSBN include St. Catharines (shared park agreement), Welland (shared library), and Fort Erie (shared library and theatre).

Councillors and I will be interested in feedback when a proposed agreement comes to an upcoming Council meeting.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Maple Acre Library Now Open

Word got around quickly last week that the renewed Maple Acre Library opened on Tuesday. When I went by around 3:30 PM, it was a hive of activity!

Some folks worked in the Quiet Room (situated in the 1919 original Library), others used the computers in the Technology area. A senior signed up for a Library Card for the first time, and kids read and played in the new Children’s area. I met a resident reviewing the Pnyx collection (from the former Pelham Continuation School / District High School) in the Historical Society Collection reference room. At the same time, many came in for a quick tour and admired the ceiling, the natural light, and the link between the old and new.

Council and the Library Board recognized years ago that the aged Maple Acre Library branch required renewal; we struck a joint committee in 2008 to make recommendations. Because that group didn’t make progress, the Town retained a consulting firm in early-2013 to conduct facilities and operational reviews. This review recommended that the Maple Acre branch simply become a kiosk-type operation. The Library Board and the community-at-large rejected this recommendation.

To break the impasse, Council initiated creative problem solving sessions in late-2013 to early-2014, which included Council, the Board, Friends of Maple Acre Library and the community. Work on the challenge – “How might we provide the most appropriate library services in Fenwick?” – led to an April 2014 resolution of Council to “continue library services at the Maple Acre Branch.”

That spring, Council struck a tripartite working group to recommend a “state of the art, ideal, and resilient library” in Fenwick. In September, the group proposed renovating and adding on to the original 1919 Maple Acre building with a “learning commons”-type library with “rentable, flexible, multi-purpose, open space” and an area for the community’s “significant historic records.” Council accepted the report and approved a $1 million for the design / build of the facility. The same group oversaw the Library’s design and construction began last June.

On December 28, Library staff and volunteers started setting up and getting ready for the branch’s opening. While a few items need final tweaks (like the area around the ceremonial front door), the Library is operational and staff plan an Official Grand Opening in February.

The Maple Acre Library has been a part of Fenwick’s history and downtown since 1919. I am thrilled that the Library’s redevelopment maintains that history and continues Council’s commitment for the ongoing revitalization of Downtown Fenwick. I encourage you visit the renewed Library and I hope that the community enjoys and cherishes it for generations to come.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

"Dual Duty": A Less Democratic, Out-of-Date Approach

Do you think we should elect more full-time politicians in Niagara?

Current: 18 part-time Councillors,  1 full-time Mayor
Should it be harder for people to represent the views of their neighbours? Or, should anyone be able to serve part-time on local Council and offer their experiences from a job or other activities?

People are asking these thoughtful questions about the "dual duty, ward Councillor" proposal for the City of St. Catharines and Niagara Regional Councils.

Currently, St. Catharines elects 12 part-time (PT) City Councillors (two in each of six wards), and six part-time Regional Councillors ("at-large" across the City). City residents also elect a full-time (FT) Mayor who serves on both Councils. That’s 19 people (12 PT + 6 PT +1 FT = 18 PT & 1 FT) representing citizens on the two Councils.

The change would see St. Catharines represented by 13 people: the Mayor and six full-time politicians would serve on both City and Regional Councils; the other six part-time Councillors would serve only on City Council (6 FT + 6 PT + 1 FT = 6 PT & 7 FT).

Proponents suggest that by reducing the number of local representatives "communication, cooperation, and accountability" would increase between the City and Region.

Opponents suggest that the change will create six more full-time politicians (who would want "full-time wages"), attract partisans, and make local government less accountable and more out-of-touch from average citizens. Others believe it would give more control to fewer people (like at the NPCA where 11 of the 12 Niagara reps were appointed by the same Regional Council on which they serve).

Proposed: 6 full-time dual duty Councillors,
6 part-time Councillors, 1 full-time Mayor
Interestingly, the majority from across Niagara – more than 58% according to a survey last Fall – do not want the change.

And while proponents say that the dual duty "modernizes" communication and coordination of local government, we know that other Regions made similar changes more than 25 years ago. That was before AOL email (21 years old), Google (18 years), and web browsers like Netscape (21 years). That was also before the widespread use of cell/smartphones and cheap long-distance calling. At that time, everything was paper-based and getting a fax felt like a novelty.

Now, we live stream and archive Committee and Council meetings, pre-publish complete electronic agenda packages, and use smartphones, cellular iPads, texts, social media, pictures, videos, and emails to communicate instantly with colleagues, staff, and citizens.

Further changes over the last decade include routine meetings between Regional and City / Town chief administrative officers, planners, economic development officers, treasurers, engineers, transit managers, clerks, and Mayors. In some Towns – like Pelham and Fort Erie – the Regional Councillor presents written updates to local Council and answers questions every three weeks.

Because we solved these communication and coordination issues long ago, and because it will concentrate power into the hands of fewer people and increase the number of full-time politicians, I voted against the dual duty proposal last Thursday at Regional Council.

Since it was approved by a 17 to 11 vote, each local Council will also consider the proposal; please let your City, Town or Township Councillor know your thoughts.

Monday, January 16, 2017

More 2017 Community Investments

Pelham Pool in Marlene Stewart Streit Park
Last week, I wrote about some roads, bridges and sidewalk improvements in Pelham’s nearly $11 million 2017 Capital Budget. Here are some other investments:

Fire Service: Each year we continue to invest in bunker gear and replacement pagers for our dedicated Firefighters. We also reserved funds in 2018 to replace the Town’s radio equipment; the Chief continues to work with other Fire Chiefs, EMS and the Police toward consolidating all Niagara emergency services onto a common communications system.

Pool Improvements: You will recall that we renovated and improved the pool house in Marlene Stewart Streit Park a couple of years ago. This year, with the help of a Federal Government grant, we will repair and replace the pool deck, sandblast the pool “bowl,” and replace the water lines to the mechanical room. The $162,500 investment should be a great upgrade to Pelham’s well-used and well-loved pool.

Centennial Park Concession: Last year the Fabulous Fenwick Lions asked the Town to erect a permanent canopy on the Food Booth so they could stop using tents in that area for their events. This year we budgeted $27,600 for canopy, including a potential grant to support their request.

Various Park Improvements: Council also approved several improvements to Town parks, including constructing bullpens at Centennial Park Baseball Diamond 3 and Harold Black Park Diamond 2, adding netting and an infield cutout to Centennial Diamond 2, repairing the pedestrian bridge behind Harold Black, and setting aside funds to work with the community to design a new neighbourhood park on Abbott Place (behind the Lazy Loon).

Planning & Development: Council also set aside $130,000 to undertake more detailed planning – called a Secondary Plan – in East Fenwick (between Balfour and Creams Streets along Canboro Road). We also earmarked funds to hold a community “charrette” – to bring neighbours, developers, user groups, Staff and Council together – to discuss and design redevelopment options of the existing Arena property on Haist Street.

Operations Centre Improvements: Staff suggested that Council approve $227,000 to repair the Town’s Operations Centre on Tice Road. Not only would the proposed works improve the physical working conditions at the facility, the plan will also temporary relocate some Staff in preparation for the transition from the existing Arena and to the new Community Centre. The funds will repair the central building roof, improve potable water treatment, renovate the office / lunchroom / locker room area, and add a “lean-to” for outside storage. Council wanted additional information about the proposal and “red-circled” the funds pending a report this week.

To review the entire 2017 Capital Budget, please check out the Town's website at www.pelham.ca.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

2017 Road, Bridges, Sidewalk Improvements

During our last meeting in December, Council approved the Town’s 2017 Capital Budget. The nearly $11 million budget includes many continued improvements to Town infrastructure.

Summersides Boulevard: Council re-approved the construction of a new street linking Downtown Fonthill (by extending Pelham Town Square) with Wellspring Way and Rice Road. The street will include a centre boulevard, trees, and wide multipurpose sidewalks/trails on both sides. Council will name it after Jim Summersides, a World War II veteran of the elite, joint Canadian-American "First Special Service Force," a dedicated member of the Royal Canadian Legion (Fonthill Branch 613), and a volunteer public speaker to school children about the travesties of war.
While much of the Eastern section was constructed as a base road last year, we have to complete the planning approvals to finalize the last, Western leg (closest to Station Street).
Council is committed to constructing this road to help better link Downtown Fonthill to other, newer developments. The road will also help open up opportunities for further residential and mixed-use development.

Station Street: As the Town continues to grow, Station Street between Regional Road 20 and Port Robinson is becoming a more important transportation link. At the same time, improving the storm sewers on Station (which are currently open ditches) will help with storm water issues in areas above Station Street. Finally, the aged watermain needs upgrading; each year we continue to remove and upgrade the old, cast iron pipes that are susceptible to leaks and cracks. Because of these challenges, the Town applied for funding from the Provincial Government to improve Station Street; we look forward to hearing funding news in early-2017.

Haist Street: While we have reconstructed most of Haist Street over the years, we are now to concentrate on the Southern section. Council approved funds to start reconstructing Haist from Welland Road to Beckett and include a bit of Welland Road (from Haist to Edward). While the road condition does need improving, the real impetuous for the works is to replace the old, cast-iron watermain.

Roland Road: The Town finally improved a deteriorated section of Roland Road (east of Sulphur Springs) last year. Now we included funds to rehabilitate Roland from the parking entrance for Shorthills Provincial Park eastward.

Maple Street: Another year, another "bridge." This one – on Maple Street just South of Sixteen Road – will be replaced with dual culverts in 2017.

Sidewalks & Road Base Repairs: The Town made several and much-needed repairs to existing sidewalks and road sections last year. Council approved increased funds – more than $275,000 – in 2017 to address and repair additional areas.

I will write more about our other planned capital improvements for 2017 next column.