Monday, August 23, 2010

Meeting with Ministers at AMO Conference

Last week, Councillors Emmons and Durley, Town CAO Martin Yamich, and I attended the Association of Municipalities of Ontario Conference (AMO). The Annual Conference offers a range of learning sessions and networking opportunities for municipalities. More than 1400 delegates attended the three-day event in Windsor themed “Propelling Economic Prosperity.”

While at AMO, your Pelham reps also directly advanced your interests with the Provincial Government through meetings with four Ministers.

First, we met with the Honourable Jim Bradley, Minister of Municipal Affairs & Housing, to seek clarity about some Greenbelt issues. You see, while re-zoning the new Fire Station #2 property, we had hoped to include some overflow parking in the back portion of the 4.9 acre site. But, under a strict interpretation of the Greenbelt, that was not allowed. Rest assured, the Town did accommodate all the parking in the 2.3 acre “urban boundary” portion of the site. However, we are worried about a strict interpretation for the Centennial Park Master Plan, which calls for building a concession / washroom facility in the Greenbelt. Also, should the Town need to make changes at Fire Station #3 in the Shorthills, any other suitable properties would be Greenbelted. Provincial staff promised to work with Town staff to clarify these issues.

Next, we met with the Hon. Madeline Meilleur, Minister of Community & Social Services regarding the Province’s accessibility standards. You see, nearly six months after we approved our 2010 Capital Budget, the Province changed accessibility requirements for this fall’s Municipal Elections. While it’s good that voting stations now need to be fully accessible, we asked that the Minister consider Municipal budget schedules next time. We also suggested that any future Provincial grants include specific criteria for increasing accessibility. Finally, we informed the Minister about our nine new, fully accessible playgrounds; she was very impressed and may accept our invitation to tour them.

Then, Regional Chair Peter Partington and I met with Hon. Peter Fonseca, Minister of Labour, regarding public sector arbitration awards. We pointed out that while the Provincial Government called on Provincial ministries and municipalities to show fiscal restraint, recent arbitrations have disregarded tax-payer affordability. We referenced two recent three-year awards: 12% for Orangeville Police, and 10% for Niagara Regional Police. The Minister promised to continue to work with the Region on this issue.

Finally, Chair Partington joined Pelham’s representatives in a meeting with Mr. David Orazietti, MPP & Parliamentary Assistant for the Minister of Natural Resources. We asked again that the Ministry not reduce the Area of Natural & Scientific Interest (ANSI) on the Fonthill-Kame. We understand that the Ministry expects to complete its work this fall.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Playgrounds Better Than Freezies!

So, do you think our nine new, fully-accessible playgrounds are better than freezies?

Let me explain.

You see, we enjoyed a special visit from Dean Allison, MP Niagara-West Glanbrook, and Minister Jim Bradley, MPP St. Catharines, on July 30. Mr. Allison and Minister Bradley joined me, members of Town Council, and others to celebrate the extraordinary Federal and Provincial investments in Pelham.

All the infrastructure projects total $12.6 million, plus $1 million to bury utilities in Downtown Fonthill. The projects include Pelham Street Reconstruction ($2.5 million + $1 million to bury utilities); Haist Street Reconstruction ($5.7 million); Replacing Fire Station #2 ($2.9 million); Playground Replacements ($1.1 million); Town Hall expansion ($380,000).

These investments are nearly triple the Town’s normal annual capital budget. And, while other Cities and Towns have received millions of dollars through the decades, Pelham was always “shut-out;”until now, that is! Pelham now leads since these investments represent the second highest per capital funding in Niagara!

How did we achieve this?

Council, Staff and the Community worked together to ensure we were prepared for the stimulus funding. Staff and I worked with MPs and MPPs. Staff worked with Ministry staff to review and emulate other successful projects and used a team approach to develop our applications. I invited you and others to get involved and write letters of support. (Thanks to the many that did!). Working together, we achieved investments now that will change years of wait into months of action.

But, what about the Town-wide playground renewal? The nine playgrounds include Harold Black, Centennial, Cherry Ridge, Hurleston, North Pelham, Marlene Stewart Streit, Pelham Corners, and Rolling Meadows. Coloured brightly and fitted with artificial turf to prevent injury and allow wheelchair, walker, stroller access, we tailored each playground to its area. For example, Marlene Stewart Streit’s brown and green match the trees and leaves surrounding “the pit.” Centennial Park’s yellow and purple match the colours of the Fenwick Lions Club (who donated the park to the Town in 1967).

Pelham now stands at the only Niagara community (perhaps the only in Ontario) with fully accessible playgrounds! The equipment includes climbers, platforms, swings, and slides for kids and exercise equipment for parents.

So, what do some kids think about their new playground? At the ribbon cutting on July 30, we offered freezies to neighbourhood children. Despite the warm afternoon, they didn’t want any. Why? Because they didn’t want to stop playing on the equipment! I hope all the new equipment will enrich the lives of Pelham residents for many years to come.