Monday, March 28, 2011

Opposed to Provincial Changes to the Kame

I want to give you an update about the “Area of Natural and Scientific Interest” (ANSI) on the Fonthill Kame and a recent unanimous decision by Pelham Council.

What is the Fonthill-Kame? In simple terms, think about it as the “hill” in both Fonthill and Shorthills and even the “ridge” in Ridgeville.

Scientifically, the Fonthill Kame-Delta is our rare, 75-metre-tall landmark that that was formed by retreating glaciers 13,000 years ago. It’s 6 km long and 3 km wide – nearly 1000 hectares – and boasts the highest point in the Niagara Region and the headwaters of the Twelve Mile Creek.

Microclimatic and soil conditions create an ideal atmosphere for tender fruit production on “the Kame” including peaches, sweet and sour cherries, apples and pears.

The Fonthill Kame was originally identified in 1980 as a provincially significant area and became an “Area of Natural and Scientific Interest” (ANSI) in 1983. This ANSI designation restricts development for reasons of heritage, science or education.

In May 2009, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) recommended making changes to the ANSI, significantly reducing its area.

At that time, the Town of Pelham Council, Niagara Regional Council, the Niagara Escarpment Commission, the Niagara Peninsular Conservation, scientific experts, more than a dozen Pelham citizens, and Tim Hudak, MPP, have publicly recommended that the current ANSI be maintained and enhanced. (Minister Jim Bradley also indicated to me that was supportive of maintaining the ANSI boundaries.) In early 2010, Pelham received a letter from the Natural Resources Minister in which she stated “Please let me assure you that it is our intention to maintain and, where feasible, enhance the current ANSI boundary.”

Now, the MNR has put forward another proposal to redefine the ANSI boundaries. (Please clikc here to see their cover letter, the map, the fact sheet, and the summary documents.) And, while it makes small improvement over the 2009 proposal, it fails to protect large portions of the feature. In fact, last year in his annual report, Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner warned the MNR about using this type of “swiss-cheese” approach. (Please see section 3.3 in that report.)

It’s also clear that the MNR’s proposal will open up some of the most significant areas of the Kame to development pressures, like aggregate resource extraction.

At our March 21 meeting, Pelham Council unanimously opposed the ANSI boundary changes. The Region will also consider MNR’s proposal at an April 6 committee meeting. (For a copy of the Region's report, please click here.)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Should We Appoint or Hold A By-Election?

As you know, Debbie Urbanowicz resigned from Council on February 28 for personal and health reasons. She served the Town since 2003 and won re-election in both 2006 and 2010. She will be missed and Council accepted her resignation “with regret.”

During our March 7 Council meeting, we declared her Ward One seat vacant. Later in the evening and during our General Committee meeting, Councillors debated a report outlining the options to fill this seat. (For a copy of the report, please click here.)

The Municipal Act provides two options:

First, Council may appoint an “eligible” person within 60 days of declaring a seat vacant (before May 6). An eligible person includes someone who consents to the appointment, and is a Canadian citizen who is at least 18 years old and resides in the Town.

Second, Council may hold a by-election. An eligible candidate would have to fulfill the same criteria as above. Staff estimates that the financial cost to conduct a by-election in Ward One would be approximately $8,000.

Vacancies like this have occurred twice in Pelham’s history. The first was in 1972 when a Councillor died while in office. Since the death was within 90 days before the next election, Council followed the Municipal Act and did not fill the vacancy.

The second time was in 2008, when Malcolm Allen was elected to the House of Commons. With two-years remaining in the term, Council appointed the municipal candidate who placed next in Ward One the 2006 Municipal Election – James Lane.

As you may know, General Committee recommended that the Town advertise the vacant seat for three weeks and call for “applications from the public.” The March 7th recommendation further stated that “…Council will meet in closed session to review applicant’s applications and to determine by vote which applicant, if any, will be appointed to Council for the remainder of the term.”

A recorded vote was taken in which Councillors Gary Accursi, Larry Clark, and John Durley voted in favour and Councillor Catherine King and I opposed the recommendation. (Councillor Peter Papp declared a perceived conflict of interest because a potential appointee – James Lane – is his brother-in-law.)

On March 21 the Committee’s recommendation will be presented to Council. Council may then debate the matter again and will take a final vote to decide the course of action.

Before that vote, I am very interested in hearing your views on the matter. You may also want to contact your Councillors directly; for their contact information, please click here or call Town Hall at 905-892-2607.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Less than 1% Increase

At Monday’s Regular Meeting, Council approved the Town’s 2011 Operating Budget.

What does that mean for your pocket book?

Well, the average residential property value for 2011 is expected to be $272,000. If your home and property were assessed at that value, you would be paying an additional $11 or a total of $1,258 on the Pelham portion of your property tax bill. This accounts for an increase of 0.88% for the average residential property in Pelham.

Why such a small increase when other Cities and Towns contemplate a 5%, 6%, or 12% rise?

Town Staff reviewed the budget line by line and ensured it was tight as possible while fulfilling Council’s policies and goals. During the transition period for a new Council, for example, Staff compared previous budgets to actual spending and found more ways to trim the 2011 Budget.

What are some of the highlights for 2011?

The Town will invest in better communication with you and your neighbours. Staff will reduce the reliance on “snail mail” by offering billings by email, by increasing the use of electronic funds transfers, and by using a phone notification system. In addition, the Town will continue with the new procurement system following a highly successful six-month purchase order pilot project.

To help manage the Community Improvement Plan grants and loans, the new Heritage Committee responsibilities, and the completion of the East Fonthill Secondary Plan and Official Plan, and to provide better customer / resident service, the Town will be hiring an additional planner.

Recreation & Community Services will expand services and programs including new fitness programs in camp and swimming for children 9-13 and additional programs for adults.

Based on a service review and cost analysis, instead of contracting-out mowing, Town Staff will cut the grass again in Town parks and other key areas.

In partnership with the Region and to become a more environmentally friendly community, the Town will offer recycling in all parks and recreational facilities – like the arena. It is expected that this new service will begin by Canada Day.

To put the 2011 Budget into perspective, this is by far the lowest increase in the last eight years – the period for which I have reliable data. And, from what I am hearing across the Niagara, Pelham will likely be the lowest increase again this year.

If you would like additional information about the 2011 operating budget, please visit the Town’s website at

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Working on Your Budgets

Much of my time lately has been spent working on budgets both for Pelham and for the Region.

In mid-January, I was honoured to have been elected Chair of the Region’s Budget Review Committee. The Committee has since met four times to examine the Region’s Capital and Operating budgets and the Water and Waste Water budgets. Councillors also deliberated over budgets of the Region’s five departments and five outside Boards & Agencies in greater detail at special committee meetings. The Region also hosted a public consultation forum in early February.

Despite that work, the Region’s budget is still a work in progress; we are scheduled, however, to approve most of the Region’s budgets on Thursday, March 3 at Regional Council.

Most of Pelham’s budgets are also a work in progress. For example, we examined the Town’s Operating Budget during a special committee meeting on February 28; we will debate the Town’s Water and Waste Water budgets on March 7.

However, Pelham Council did approve the 2011 Capital Budget on February 22.

You will recall that a capital budget plans for the acquisition or rehabilitation of major infrastructure and equipment that have a long life. Such capital assets include municipal buildings, arenas, trucks and vehicles, roads and sidewalks, and water/sewerage pipes.

(In contrast, the operating budget provides for the “day-to-day” expenditures such as salaries, wages, benefits, heat, hydro, and routine maintenance of buildings and infrastructure.)

Your Town’s $4.6 million Capital Budget will fund many improvements, such as:
• A new pumper truck to replace a 1994 smaller pumper at Fire Station #3 and to provide better rural service;
• $1.2 million of road reconstruction including Effingham Road from Sixteen to Kilman; Foss Road from Effingham to Poth; Chantler Road from Balfour to Poth; and Sumbler west of Church Street;
• $525,000 of road resurfacing including Lorimer Street from Hurricane to Station; Brookbank Crescent; Quaker Road from Welland to Haist; River Road from Cream to Farr and east of Effingham;
• Parks and Recreation investments like ball diamond grooming equipment, new soccer shelters for Harold Black Park, court resurfacing at the Arena and North Pelham Parks, renovations to Old Town Hall, and a master plan for landscaping Peace Park;
• Replacing old vehicles including a 1993 5-tonne truck, a 1999 half-ton pick-up truck, and a 1998 mower;
• Completing the East Fonthill Secondary Plan and Town Official Plan; and
• Rebalancing capital reserves from the unprecedented work over the last couple of years.

I will continue to keep you informed of progress on these 2011 Budgets in future columns.