Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Due Diligence in Purchasing Fire Station Property

We are one major step closer in the development of a Fire Station to replace Pelham Station #2.

You will remember me writing here in December about the start of the process to rezone the 4.9 acre property at 766 Welland Road for the development of a Fire Station.

The initial design envisioned the northern portion of the site, which is in the “Urban Boundary”, accommodating the ±10,000 square foot Fire Station, most of the parking, and the driveway. It was hoped that the remaining 2.6 acres – which is in the Greenbelt – could accommodate limited parking and emergency access to Centennial Park.

Well, that’s where we ran into problems with the Province’s Greenbelt. You see, the Greenbelt allows for neither the construction of a Fire Station nor for supporting infrastructure (like parking).

So, we reworked the plan and fit all parking inside the “Urban Boundary.”

The result? We officially completed the property’s zoning last week when the “appeal period” – the time during which anyone can appeal the zoning to the Ontario Municipal Board – ended.

Next, all structures and any environmental concerns on the property will be removed. That process should begin this week and be complete by the end of April

I am extremely pleased with this Council’s obvious due diligence before the completion of the property’s purchase. Here’s the process we followed:
‐ received a consultant report clearly stating that Fire Station #2 needed replacing;
‐ established a working committee to deal issues in consultant’s report;
‐ determined firefighting needs for Fire District #2 based on future growth projections;
‐ determined that required improvements could not occur at current site;
‐ developed “site criteria matrix” to help establish best location / property;
‐ invited the public to submit proposals for a new site;
‐ evaluated all sites and established a preferred site;
‐ completed a functional analysis – space requirements and building configuration;
‐ initiated discussions with landowner and performed an environmental assessment of site;
‐ developed business case to apply for funding;
‐ received $2.0 million joint investment by Federal and Provincial governments;
‐ agreed on property purchase conditional upon price, site clean‐up, and appropriate zoning;
‐ rezoned the site, and currently in process of cleaning it up;
‐ issued “request for proposals” for an architect

Next, Council will consider the architect’s RFPs on April 6 and construction should begin in the summer!

I hope you too are pleased with our due diligence in improving our Town together.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Konnecting Kids in Pelham

While I watched a great Pelham team play hockey on the weekend, I reflected not only about the kids that were playing, but about those that couldn’t afford to play.

You see, on Sunday afternoon my son and I cheered for the Pelham Panthers Bantam A/E Team in their second game for the Ontario Minor Hockey Association Finals. These talented and hardworking players have stickhandled their way through a succession of playoffs to advance to the Provincial Finals!

They won their Sunday game against the Elmvale Coyotes by three-to-two and currently lead the best three-of-five series by two games.

The game was fast and their play was tremendous. The Panthers showed exceptional skill. Clearly, not only have they worked very hard individually and as a team, but they also have received great coaching this year and in previous years. (Congratulations to the Bantam A/E coaching team: Coach Dino Germano, Trainer Bill Rizzo, Assistant Coach Jason Young, and Manager John Piccolo!)

You could see everyone playing to the best of their ability. The only things that mattered on the ice were their skills, their training, and their cunning. (And, I wish them all the best in their Friday game in Elmvale! Go Panthers Go!)

But, what if you had a similar talent and drive but your parents couldn’t afford for you to play hockey or soccer or the sport you really love? Or, what if you were skilled and passionate about playing piano or dancing and your mom just lost her job? What if your family couldn’t afford that art class that you are desperate to take?

Seeing Pelham’s Bantam Team play reminded me that it’s important to connect kids to the recreational, cultural, or artistic activity of which they dream. And, during these difficult economic times, it’s even more important to ensure that kids in need have the opportunity to use their talents – for art, for sport, for music – to their fullest potential.

That’s why this year’s Mayor’s Gala will be raising funds to support “Konnecting Kids.” A special partnership fund established in 2001 by the Town and Pelham Cares, “Konnecting Kids” allows a Pelham youth whose family has limited financial resources to participate in recreational, cultural, and educational programs.

The Mayor’s Gala will be on Saturday, May 8 at Peninsula Lakes Golf Club. For more information, tickets or to sponsor the event, please call 905-892-2607 ext. 337. Please consider giving Pelham’s youth the chance to reach their goals!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Firefighters Training for You

I recently stopped in at Fire Station #1 in Fonthill during the Fire Fighter’s regular training night. I was impressed yet again with their dedication, commitment, and hard work.

You see, at the Annual “Installation Dinner” for the Executive of the Fonthill Fire Fighter’s Association, President Les Hildebrand invited me to “stop by some time to see what goes on during a training night.” I was pleased to accept his offer last week.

The forty Firefighters were organized into three Companies.

The first Company concentrated on the Rescue Truck. They cleaned it until it sparkled and checked it out from top to bottom. They removed all the tools and supplies, double-checked them, and repackaged them into the vehicle. They ensured that everything was in good working order for the next call and for their “hand-off” to another Company. You see, their Team has been assigned to the Rescue Truck for the last three months; soon a different Company will take over and they will be assigned to another vehicle.

The second Company concentrated on the Pumper Truck. They reviewed the proper technique for pulling out the fire hoses as quickly as possible; within a blink of an eye they backed toward the vehicle, loaded the hose on their shoulder, and advanced in the direction they wanted to go. They worked to ensure that the hose wouldn’t snag or kink thereby reducing the water pressure. Then, after they pulled all the hoses out, they practiced repacking them properly. Later, a member of this Company took the Tanker truck out for a test drive; I was told that it’s one thing driving a fire truck, it’s another thing driving one in an emergency.

The third Company trained in the hall. One firefighter led a discussion on the use of the Arial Truck and on different types of ladders. He displayed pictures of other firefighters using ladders during a training exercise to discuss proper techniques and to point out errors. The Company then developed plans to test the techniques this week at a home in Pelham; they planned to get hands-on by setting-up the Arial Truck and surrounding the home with portable ladders and fire hoses.

I am pleased to have witnessed this snap-shot of their extensive training. On your behalf, I express my deep appreciation for the dedication, commitment, and hard work of each of the more than 100 part-time, professional firefighters in Pelham.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Region & Police Working Together

You will recall that in October I wrote about how the Niagara Region and the Niagara Regional Police are now working together for the benefit of all residents, visitors and taxpayers.

I wrote then about how a joint Police / Regional plan was being developed. The Plan was intended to provide the Police with the appropriate and best facilities that they need for effective and efficient policing. The Plan also needed to allow for better managed financing – more respectful of your Regional property tax investment. Finally, the Plan called for planning issues to be solved and potential partnerships to be solidified.

Well, another step in the Plan began last week as Regional Council and the Niagara Regional Police Board met jointly to discuss sites for the proposed new Police Headquarters and new District HQs for St. Catharines and Niagara Falls.

Cooperation was evident from the meeting’s outset. Members of the Police Board sat among Regional Councillors. The Police Board Chair, Larry Iggulden, sat next to Regional Chair Peter Partington. Chief Wendy Southall sat next to the Region’s Chief Administrative Officer, Mike Trojan. And Police and Regional staff on the Joint Committee offered the same recommendations to both Council and the Police Board.

But, why did we meet “in camera” (which in Latin means “in private”)?

Generally, the Ontario Municipal Act allows for Councillors to meet in camera for three major items: land, legal, and labour. That means, when we discuss the purchase or sale of a specific property, or labour / union matters, or any specific legal matters, we can hold the discussions in private so that the decisions of Council are not jeopardized.

In this specific case, for instance, we discussed the +25 sites across the Region that have the potential to be purchased for new Police facilities. We met “in camera” so that the owners of those properties would not increase their prices.

Like with a home purchase, if you know that someone really, really wants to buy your property, you might be tempted to increase the price or add conditions to the sale. Discussing the matter confidentially helps to protect the tax-payer and to keep specific property prices in check.

It was a lengthy but positive discussion and staff were directed to research additional information over the next couple of months and report back to Council.

Rest assured that I remain committed to securing the best locations that balance Police operational needs, good Planning principles and taxpayer affordability.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Why a 2.6% property tax increase?

At our February 16th Regular Meeting, Council approved the Town’s 2010 Operating Budget.

What does that mean for your pocket book?

Well, the average residential property value for 2010 is expected to be $260,000. If your home and property were assessed at that value, you would be paying an additional $31 or a total of $1,247 on the Pelham portion of your property bill. This accounts for an increase of 2.6% for the average residential property in Pelham.

What are the reasons for this increase?

Well, first there are a number of uncontrollable cost escalations facing the Town’s operations. For example, while insurance premiums were stable last year, this year they will increase by 7%. Similarly, the cost of employee benefits did not increase at all last year; this year the same benefits package will increase by 7%.

In addition, last year Council made staffing changes. We made the fire prevention officer full time, and hired a full-time bylaw officer and an assistant recreation manager. These employees were budgeted to start part way through the year; we now have to annualize their wages. And, effective March 2010, we hired an IT person – to integrate our systems with technology and to help find more efficiencies.

Council also accepted the Treasurer’s suggested decreases in some of the Town’s revenues. For instance, over the last number of years, the Town has consistently over-budgeted on revenues from new developments; the 2010 budget fixes that assumption.

And, you might find it interesting that nearly half (or 1.2%) of the 2.6% increase this year is to take care of unfunded capital expenses from 2004. You see, in 2004 the Town spent 411,230 on fire fighting equipment; but, it wasn’t actually debentured (mortgaged) as was planned. Instead, the debt appeared on subsequent financial statements as to be paid by “future revenue.” Last year, Council decided to deal with the debt, and established a five year repayment plan. As a result, the 2010 operating budget includes an additional $103,000 to deal with this debt. Interestingly, if we didn’t have pay for this unfunded debt, the budget would have increased at the projected rate of inflation for 2010 (or 1.4%).

To put the 2010 increase into perspective, the previous Council increased the Pelham portion of your property taxes by 14.8% in 2004, 16.1% in 2005, and 5.6% in 2006. This Council increased your property taxes by 4.7% in 2007, 4.8% in 2008, 1.8% in 2009, and now 2.6% in 2010.

Rest assured that this Council acts prudently with your money.

If you would like additional information about the 2010 operating budget, please visit the Town’s website at