Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Average 2.47% for Pelham’s Property Tax Increase

As the first installment for our property taxes approaches (February 29), I offer you more information about the Town’s budget.

At our February 6 meeting, Pelham Council approved the operating budget and an average 2.47% increase on the Pelham portion of your 2012 residential property tax bill.

What does that mean for your pocket book?

Well, the average residential property value for 2012 is expected to be $284,566. If MPAC assessed your home and property at that value, you will pay an additional $31 or a total of approximately $1,289 on the Pelham portion of your property tax bill.

Why such a small increase when other Cities and Towns contemplate a 4%, 5%, or 9% rise?

Local media recently bestowed a “thorn” on some nearby communities for the way in which they announce a huge tax increase – like 9.75% – only to “whittle” it down later to 4% or 5%.

We don’t do that in Pelham; instead we give guidance to staff – maintain the base budget, work diligently and creatively to find efficiencies, review and trim all expenditures throughout the year – and they present that type of budget to Council.

What are some of the 2012 operating budget highlights?

The Town will further invest in better communications and the use of technology. Staff will continue to reduce the reliance on “snail mail” and offer billings by email, use web-based tools for procurement, and increase the use of electronic funds transfers for venders and residents.

The Town will also expand the success of Summerfest into a multi-day event (July 19 to 22), add camp and swimming services, refresh and improve staff’s customer service skills, and enhance some bylaw services.

Staff will review and monitor our grass cutting and snow clearing services; we hope to find the right mix between the level of service and whether Town staff or contractors should best provide these amenities.

We are also faced with a few uncontrollable increases. These include increased costs for employee benefits, WSIB Excess Indemnity Insurance costs, and annualized costs of last year’s new hires (planner, fixed asset accountant, and procurement coordinator).

To put the 2012 Budget into perspective, this is another low increase by a fiscally responsible Town and Council. And, from what I am hearing across the Niagara, Pelham will likely be the lowest or among the lowest increases again this year.

I will write more about your total property tax impact after Regional Council approves the 2012 rates and ratios later this spring.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Site Alteration Bylaw Update

I wanted to give you a bit of an update regarding the proposed Site Alteration Bylaw. I believe this especially important because misinformation continues to be circulated around Pelham and Niagara.

You will recall that following complaints and the suggestion from some rural residents, the Town began considering the introduction of a Site Alteration Bylaw.

Many other municipalities have enacted a bylaw of this nature because it allows a Cities or Towns to regulate activities with the potential for environmental degradation (dumping, erosion, sedimentation, etc...), drainage problems (blockages, impact on neighbouring properties, etc…) and public nuisance (tracking of mud on roads, dust, etc…).

The Town convened a public information session in August to give people an opportunity to ask questions and provide written comment.

Following that input, Council decided to hear directly from concerned residents about the matter. We convened a public meeting to receive feedback in late-September, 2011. Farmers, nursery operators, and sod growers asked to be exempt for "normal farm practices"; landscapers asked for exemptions for their business activities. Some of the neighbours of existing “berms” implored Council to act and to regulate that activity and the dumping of construction material on good farm lands. Others asked Council to stop consideration of any "infringement of property rights."

Based on that public meeting, Town Staff developed a draft bylaw and presented it to Council on December 19. The staff recommendation at the time was to advertise in local media and make the draft by-law available for public comment until early-February.

However, because Councillors had only a couple of days to review the draft, Council postponed the discussion on the matter to our January 16, 2012 meeting.

At that January meeting, Council debated a proposal to limit the bylaw to deal exclusively with the construction of “berms” and “the contamination of agricultural land with inappropriate fill.” That motion was lost.

The majority of Councillors wanted to not just limit the bylaw to those areas, but also deal with other issues raised by the public through letters and comment. Others wanted the bylaw to be clearer in language and meaning.

In the end, the draft was sent back to staff to rework the bylaw based on Council’s input. It is scheduled to return to General Committee in March.

Should Council find the new draft acceptable, I would assume that we will then provide the final draft to members of the public for comment and suggestions.