Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Acting to Improve Our Environment

Last week I wrote about two appeals to Niagara’s municipalities to help the environment. Adam Shoalts offered a challenge as he accepted the Region’s 2008 Environmental Volunteer Award and Dr. Homer-Dixon gave a challenge during the Smarter Niagara Summit in May.

Well, this week, I want to let you know about how your Town Council has taken some concrete action to help the environment.

First, your Council encourages water conservation by promoting rain barrels and low-flush toilets.

In March, Council approved a rain barrel program with a goal to distribute 200 315L and 50 500L rain barrels to Pelham residents at a rate subsidized by both the Town and the Region. The response was amazing since not only did we sell-out, but there are 150 people on the waiting list! (Staff recently suggested that if the waiting list reaches 200 units, they will recommend that we subsidize another allotment this year.)

Council also approved a Toilet Replacement Program by offering a $25 incentive to the first 100 households to submit receipts for purchasing a toilet that uses 6 litres per flush or less. Since most toilets use 13 LPF, and some even use 25 LPF, your water savings can be substantial.

Second, your Council encourages electrical conservation through initiatives like “Earth Hour” and through a retrofit of Town Hall.

“Earth Hour” called on individuals around the world to turn off their lights for one hour on March 29. The campaign intended to show that “individual action on a mass scale can help change our planet for the better.”

In addition, the Town recently replaced all old fluorescent light ballasts and bulbs at Town Hall with energy efficient ballasts and “T-8” fluorescent bulbs. Along with energy efficiency and cost savings, staff now enjoys the additional benefits of better lighting.

Third, your Council discourages our reliance on cars through initiatives like “Bike-to-Work-Week” and through an Active Transportation Committee.

The special Bike-to-Work-Week from May 26 to June 1 encouraged the use of bicycles as not only a healthy lifestyle choice but to decrease gas emissions and help the environment.

Similarly, the Active Transportation committee encourages walking, cycling and running through design. That is, they will make suggestions on retrofits or improvements to make Pelham a more active / walkable community.

I acknowledge that much more can be done at the municipal level to mitigate global warming through planning, infrastructure, public facilities, and emergency preparedness. However, these concrete examples show how your Council is encouraging environmental stewardship now.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Challenge of Improving Our Environment

Last Thursday, I had the honour of co-presenting one of the 2008 Environmental Awards with Regional Chair Partington and John Lundrigan, Chair of the Region’s Ecological & Environmental Advisory Committee, to Pelham’s Adam Shoalts. Mr. Shoalts received the 2008 Volunteer Award for actively raising environmental awareness across Niagara.

Perhaps you have read some of Mr. Shoalts columns about environmental, nature, and conservation issues in the Tribune and the Voice of Pelham. I always find them poignant and thought-provoking.

Mr. Shoalts also sits on the Tribune’s Youth Editorial Board, ensuring that the paper has a “green” voice, and speaks about environmental issues across Niagara. As a student of Brock University, he is active on campus as a member of the Brock Environmental Club.

In addition, Mr. Shoalts is the founder and chair of the Friends of Coyle Creek – a volunteer community group dedicated to cleaning up and preserving a tributary of the Welland River that flows south through Pelham and Welland.

Upon receiving the award, Mr. Shoalts thanked the Region, but also eloquently urged municipal leaders to push the “green” envelope.

“There's a great deal of work yet to be done ... before we can really celebrate anything. Saving the environment won't happen without the support of municipal and regional governments,” said Mr. Shoalts.

This challenge by Mr. Shoalts reminded me of a similar challenge by Thomas Homer-Dixon, a professor at the University of Toronto, during the Smarter Niagara Summit in May.

Homer-Dixon also challenged municipal leaders to play a significant role in shaping humanity’s response to global warming. In fact, he suggested that half of the changes needed to deal with global warming must be made at the local level. He suggested that municipalities need to link global warming with planning, infrastructure, public facilities, and emergency preparedness.

Homer-Dixon suggested that all public buildings make use of renewable energy sources. He also suggested that municipalities increase the requirements of future storm water collection systems so they can handle more frequent and extreme weather. He encouraged transit and municipal planning that makes more efficient use of land.

Because of the high price for fuel, Homer-Dixon suggested that production should be closer to consumers and that employees should be closer to work – to “buy local” and “work local.”

I want to assure you that members of Pelham’s Council have been discussing these issues. Next week, I will outline what actions we have already taken and some of our considerations for future action.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Moving Forward on Town Facilities

As you may have read in the papers, members of Council took significant steps regarding Town facilities last week.

The Corporate Services Committee (which includes all Councillors) approved the creation of three special facilities committees – one for Maple Acres Library branch, one for Pelham Fire Station #2, and one for Recreation Facilities. We also approved the development of a conceptual plan for a new Town complex, which would include a new Administration / Library facility in Town Square. Finally, we forwarded all other identified deficiencies in Town facilities to the 2009 budget considerations. With some small refinements, these recommendations were forwarded to next Monday’s Council meeting.

So, what does this mean for the current arena, you ask? The Recreational Facilities Committee will review all arena options – including twinning the current rink, partnering with Welland or Niagara College on a new twin-pad, fixing-up the current rink and partnering with Welland for ice time, or only revitalizing the current single-pad arena. – and report back by mid-2009. Because some of these decisions may impact on the soccer fields, general purpose sport courts, and platform tennis currently at the arena property, this committee will also suggest improvements to other recreational facilities. Regardless of the final option, I believe we will be moving forward to improve arena facilities and services.

The two other special committees will address the construction of a new Maple Acres Library branch and a new Pelham Fire Station #2. Councillors agreed that the library and fire station committees should report back before the end of 2008 with conceptual plans so that we can take advantage of any federal or provincial grants in 2009.

Finally, since the Town Hall and Fonthill Library Branch complement the downtown, the band shell, and other amenities, staff will report in September 2010 with plans for a new Town complex in the area. I believe that this will help to maintain the walkable, campus-like feel that we currently possess in downtown Fonthill.

How are we going to pay for all this, you ask? The report includes realistic construction budgets and funding estimates – with 10% community fundraising for both the library and arena projects and shows costs with and without government support. In addition, the three special committees will have to determine how to pay for any extra operating costs.

So, pending Council approval on Monday, Councillors will be working together over the next few months to plan the fiscally-responsible construction of facilities to better serve you and everyone in our Town.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Stop the Police Facilities “Soap-Opera”

Have you been following the “soap-opera” between the Niagara Regional Police Board and Regional Council regarding police “accommodations”?

Most recently, Larry Iggulden, Chair of the Police Board, stated that the Board had “lost all confidence” in the Niagara Region’s ability to oversee new police facilities.

You see, the Board is nearing the end of a process to decide the location and composition for new Police buildings. The Board called for proposals for the site of a suggested new Police Headquarters in March. You may recall that Pelham Council voted unanimously to offer to sell 12 acres of Town-owned property at the corner of Highway 20 and Rice Road. The Police are still reviewing the +30 proposals they received.

On May 1, Regional Council released all documents about the renovation of the current HQ at 110 James Street, St. Catharines. And, to ensure that tax-payer affordability and planning issues were also considered in any proposed facilities, Regional Council also formed a joint Region-Police committee to “review, analyze, oversee, and manage” the project.

This move prompted a May 23 letter from Police Board Chair Iggulden to Peter Partington, Regional Chair. The letter asserts that the Police Board holds the responsibility to determine and maintain “adequacy” of Niagara’s police service – including police accommodations. They also submit operating and capital budgets that reflect those needs to Regional Council.

At the same time, the Police Services Acts states that the Regional Council “shall establish an overall budget for the board.” And, while Regional Council cannot “approve or disapprove specific items,” the Council is “not bound to adopt the estimates submitted by the board.”

If the Police Board isn’t happy with the decisions of Council, they can appeal to the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services.

As you may recall, my February 6 column was about how some political leaders had turned the issue into a parochial debate. At that time, I feared that the parochialism was far from over.

Now, as a result of that Khrushchev-like shoe-banging and parochialism, this power-struggle has developed between the Police Board and Regional Council.

Sadly, this dispute keeps us from the real task at hand – service and protection.

Let us keep our “eye on the ball” and work together with the Police Board to find efficiencies across Niagara’s Police Service – including in facilities – and reduce costs while providing outstanding police service and protection to you and all the residents of Niagara.