Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Assessment Only Half the Picture

Starting next week, MPAC – the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation – will mail you and every other property owner in Niagara a new property assessment notice.

Updated for the first time since 2005, your notice will outline MPAC’s determination of the market value of your property as of January 1, 2008.

MPAC considers many factors when assessing property values, such as the sale prices of comparable properties in your neighbourhood, and the age, location, and size of your property and home. In essence, MPAC bases the value on the amount your property could have sold for on the open market.

Because of changes the Province made last year, your assessment will remain the same for the next four years. However, if the value of your property increases, that increase will be phased in over the four years; if the value goes down, you will immediately see a reduction.

For example, if the value of your home increased by $20,000 over its current assessment, the value for determining your property tax will increase by $5,000 per year over the next four years.

If the value of your home goes up, does that mean that your property taxes will also go up?

No, not necessarily. Market Value Assessment is only one half of the property tax equation. The amount you pay to the Town of Pelham, to the Region, and for Education is based on the Market Value Assessment of your home multiplied by the three tax rates and added together.

Say the Town budgeted for $10 million from property taxes in 2009. If all assessments double, the Town would cut the tax rate in half to collect that $10 million. If everyone’s assessments went down, we would increase the rate to collect the same $10 million.

But, what if your assessed value increases more than the average?

The property tax system is a bit of a blunt instrument. Municipalities set the tax rate based on the average assessment for each of the tax classes – residential, multi-residential, commercial, industrial, farm/managed forest, pipelines.

If your assessed value increases more than the average you will likely pay more than average. By the same token, if your assessed value increases less than the average, you will likely pay less tax.

The Town will be organizing open house sessions with MPAC so you and your neighbours can ask any and all questions after you receive your new Market Value Assessment notice.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

You Deserve Better from Police Brass

Did you hear about how Regional Council turned away the contingent of Niagara Regional Police senior staff and Board members who appeared at Regional headquarters intending to speak to Council about their new facilities?

You see, the Chief of Police, the Chair of the NRPS Board’s Facilities Committee, the Chief Administrative Officer, and several others came to the Regional Council Chambers last Thursday. They were there because they wanted to make a presentation about the NRPS Board’s facilities recommendations.

It was to be dealt with behind closed doors for two main reasons: first, because the Police requested it be confidential under the Police Act; and, second, because was to deal with the "proposed acquisition or disposition of land" by the Region. (These are some of the legal reasons for a Council to go "in camera" – or behind closed doors: to uphold confidentially requirements under another act; and to stop land speculation if specific properties are to be discussed.)

But, instead of hearing Police representatives and debating the recommendations in their letter, I made the motion to refer the entire matter to a special committee. My motion passed quickly.

Why, you ask?

You may recall that in my June 4th column I wrote about the joint committee and the "soap opera" that was developing because of its formation.

You see, the Police Board contended that they alone must safeguard and oversee all elements of "policing standards" throughout the Region.

But, that’s not all there is to constructing new and better digs for our Police Service. Regional Council must ensure that any facilities are both financially sustainable and properly planned and located.

Well, as you may know, since the spring the Region and the Police have taken great pains resolve the dispute and to establish a special joint committee. Called the Police Long Term Accommodation Committee, this working group is charged with overseeing all processes related to Police facilities including financing, planning, design and construction.

Then, last week, the Police Board tried to come directly to Regional Council and bypass the joint committee process.

So, Regional Council sent the Police brass and board members to the joint committee where they should have gone in the first place.

Quite frankly, I believe you and all Niagara’s citizens deserve better from the Police Services Top Brass.

As I wrote in my June 4 column, "Sadly, this dispute keeps us from the real task at hand – service and protection."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

How should we spend your money?

Do you have a suggestion on how the Town should spend your money?

You and your friends and neighbours are invited to give Council your suggestions at a public meeting on Monday, October 27, 2008 at 7:00 PM in the Council Chambers at Pelham Town Hall, Pelham Town Square, Fonthill.

This Council first started a pre-budget consultation for the 2007 Budget. For your 2008 Budget, we got a jump on it early and had a special meeting in late-October of 2007.

Following Council deliberations, I am pleased that we were able to follow-through on most of the suggestions by your friends and neighbours during these sessions.

I am very excited that we are undertaking this consultation process again. It is so important to hear directly from you about your needs, wants, and ideas. Our Town improves when more and more people become involved in its success!

Council recently adopted this budget schedule:
- Draft Capital Budget Available to the Public – November 21;
- Draft Capital Budget Presented to Committee – November 24;
- Council Approve Capital Budget – December 1;
- Draft Operating, Water & Sewer Budgets to Committee – February 9, 2009;
- Council Approve Operating, Water & Sewer Budgets – February 17.

We are beginning the process early again this year. Why? Not only to allow staff to better plan the works and work their plans, but also so that we can get better pricing on projects we tender ahead of other Towns and Cities. Last year’s early tenders saved us hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars and we want to do the same again this year!

So, now it is your chance to offer suggestions in any of our Town’s many service areas: Fire Protection & Prevention, Building & By-law Enforcement, Animal Control, Roads & Sidewalks, Water & Sewers, Winter Control, Planning Services, Library Services, and Parks & Community Services.

For background budget information, please call the Clerk at 905-892-2607 or go to If you would like to make a presentation at the meeting, you are encouraged to provide a copy to the Clerk and to keep your time to a maximum of 10 minutes so that we can hear from as many as possible. You can also provide written comments c/o Town Clerk, 20 Pelham Town Square, P.O. Box 400, Fonthill, ON L0S 1E0 or by email to

I hope to hear from you and I look forward to discussing your ideas so that we can build a better future for our Town together.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bumps in the Highway #20 Reconstruction

So, if you’ve been travelling Highway #20 lately, you know that it’s in rough shape. When will it be fixed, you ask?

Well, this has been a topic of discussion during the last few Pelham Council meetings. Since the Region owns and maintains the former Provincial highway, I too have been trying to get answers during recent Regional committee meetings.

You see, the work on the road will actually be considerable. Not only does the road need to be reconstructed because of wear and tear by the 20,000 vehicles that travel it daily, it also needs realignment and widening in some places. The realignment will help at intersections like Cataract Road (in Thorold) to make them safer; they are also planning to install a traffic light at that intersection.

This work has been budgeted for a few years. During the fall of 2007, the Region had hoped to start Phase One – from Rice Road to Cataract Road – in spring 2008. Obviously that didn’t happen.

This past spring, we heard they were hoping to start in the fall.

Then, on September 18th Pelham staff were notified that construction would not begin until next spring. That would delay Phase Two – from Cataract Road to Highway 406 to the fall of 2009 at the earliest. The final piece – Phase Three from Station Street to Rice Road – wouldn’t be started until 2010.

As soon at I heard the news, I sent a letter to the Regional Chair, demanding action.

In addition to outlining safety concerns and the terrible state of the road, I also informed him that several Regional Road #20 businesses are holding up improvements in landscaping or building renovations until after the reconstruction. I also let him know that the Town is delaying its significant upgrades and improvements to Port Robinson Road and Station Street because it would be foolish to start before (or during) the reconstruction of the Regional Road.

Chair Partington responded immediately.

The hold-up? Difficulties in “acquiring several parcels of land which are required before actual construction can commence.” The Region has been successful in attaining settlements with most owners, however “a couple of property negotiations have been particularly frustrating and time consuming.” I understand that the Region may have to resort to expropriation to acquire the last few properties.

Chair Partington assured me that the Region will do “everything it can to expedite the completion of these critical road improvements.”

Rest assured that I will keep pressuring the Region for timely action along this bumpy road.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Increasing Prosperity in Niagara

You may remember that last year I wrote about poverty in Niagara and in Pelham. I bring it up again because of action that was approved at Regional Council last week.

As background, you may recall that in August 2007, the Region estimated that 54,300 of the 427,400 people that call Niagara home live in poverty because they earn below the “low-income cut-off.” That’s more than the entire population of the City of Welland (at 50,331).

By the way, Niagara’s low income cut-off was estimated at $17,900 for one-person, $22,500 for two, $27,000 for three, and $33,000 for a family of four.

The Regional report estimated that 5.1% of Pelham’s population – or approximately 825 people – lives below this cut-off. According to the report, Pelham has proportionally more low-income people than Niagara-on-the-Lake (4.2%), Lincoln (4.7%), and Wainfleet (4.8%).

What are the municipalities with the highest? The report lists St. Catharines with 15.5%, both Welland and Port Colborne with 14.9%, and Niagara Falls with 14.4% living below the cut-off.

You may remember that I also wrote about the success of Ireland’s precedent-setting National Anti-Poverty Strategy which placed poverty issues at the heart of government decision-making. Using a “10-Year Plan”, Ireland slashed its poverty rate from 15% in 1997 to 6.8% in 2007.

Irelands success was based on obtaining broad support and participation from all parts of society – public, private, and non-profit sectors – and developing concrete, specific strategies and action plans. The approach was not to find one “magic bullet” but, rather, to develop detailed, small-scale solutions.

Well, now, I am pleased to tell you that Niagara has begun a similar process.

At last week’s Regional Council meeting, we decided to establish a broad-based Advisory Committee to oversee the implementation of seven specific prosperity strategies and to develop future strategies. Recognizing their solid track record of addressing poverty issues and of involving community leaders, the actual implementation will be accomplished by Opportunities Niagara and the Business Education Council over the next two years.

I am hoping that with involvement from across the community – from representatives of the Federal, Provincial, Regional governments, the Niagara Regional Police, faith-based organizations, the Niagara Health System, the business community and Chambers of Commerce, social service agencies and the United Way, and school boards – the Advisory Committee will quickly develop and implement appropriate action plans.

Poverty is a complex issue. Its solution – increasing prosperity – requires complex solutions that I and many other will continue to move forward on your behalf.