Monday, April 29, 2013

Hoping for a New Southern Hospital

You will recall that last May, Dr. Kevin Smith, the Provincially-appointed Supervisor of the Niagara Health System (NHS), presented an Interim Report regarding restructuring of the NHS. He recommended building a new Southern Hospital and asked the six Southern Mayors and the Regional Chair to recommend the site.

Based on an analysis of population densities, Emergency call volumes, drive times, municipal infrastructure, NHS referrals, and Emergency Room usage, the Mayors and Chair unanimously suggested two geographic areas (about 8 kilometers apart) for the new hospital.

In his September 2012 final report, Dr. Smith recommended that the NHS should construct a new general acute care hospital at the Lyons Creek / QEW location – as well as two free standing Urgent Care Centres.

By closing current facilities and building new, he estimated that this preferred option would cost $879 million in capital, but would save $9.5 million in annual operating expenses. The NHS needs the savings; Dr. Smith forecasts a consolidated deficit of $29 million by 2015.
He showed that a “revitalized status quo” – 3 acute care / ER sites (GNGH, St. Catharines, Welland), 3 complex care sites (NOTL, Fort Erie, Port Colborne) and 2 Urgent Care Centres (Fort & Port) – would cost $883 million in capital upgrades and save only $2 million in more efficient operations.

The hybrid option – 2 acute care / ER sites (GNGH, St. Catharines), 1 Ambulatory & Urgent Care Centre (Welland) and 2 Complex Care Sites (Fort & Port) – would cost $1,165 million in upgrades and save $2.8 million in operations.

Other options would cost substantially more, as well; for example, closing Niagara Falls site and redeveloping everything at the Welland Site would cost $1,433 million.

Providing local health care options and services in 2013 cannot mean “a hospital for every community” as it did in the 1930-50s when “Southern” communities constructed or relocated existing hospitals.

One can undergo day surgery for something today that would have kept you in the hospital for weeks in the 1950s. And, the hundreds of procedures that are routine today, weren’t even imagined two-and-a-half generations ago.

I do believe that communities need more local health care options and services –but that may not be in the form of a hospital; that's why the Town is working with doctors who are developing new facilities and family health teams in both Fonthill and Fenwick.

Our hospitals need to quickly evolve to the new realities of health care. I hope that each of us can embrace the position of the Niagara South Medical Society and the Greater Niagara Medical Society; these doctors recently supported Dr. Smith’s call for a new hospital and suggested speedy implementation.

Monday, April 15, 2013

What's in a Name?

Well, I know it was all in good fun but I cannot help but feeling a little hurt by a column last Tuesday (April 9) in the “Regional” section of the SunMedia’s Niagara newspapers.

You see, it was a column by Doug Herod that coincided with another story about how many of Niagara’s cities and towns are branding or rebranding themselves.

Entitled “Fun with municipal monikers,” Herod offered a tongue-and-cheek review of each municipality.

“Take, for instance, Pelham,” he wrote. “The possibilities were endless:  Leaf Blower Capital of Canada; A Town of Two-Car Garages; Underground Lawn Sprinklers R Us.”

“One, though, encapsulates all these elements.  Pelham: A Great Place to Sleep,” he wrote.

Then, Herod proceeded to skewer each of the unique communities of Niagara – from the Garden City, to the Rose City, to the Honeymoon Capital.

So, how do I react?

First, Herod missed a huge opportunity. He could have mentioned that we hired “Chimps” to oversee our rebranding. (In truth, we recently hired a well-respected Niagara firm called Chimpanzee to work together with the community to develop a Pelham brand.)

Second, Herod had to invent a brand for Pelham.

So, what was forgotten or missed?

He wrote nary a word about Pelham’s breathtaking vistas, babbling brooks, plentiful orchards or refreshingly rural character. He neglected our historic villages / hamlets and our distinctive, small-town feel. He offered no word about our diverse and creative businesses and nothing about the hundreds and hundreds of amazing and dedicated volunteers.

What about the Comfort Maple or the Bandshell or the Farmer’s Market? What about our parades or Summerfest, Biketoberfest, and other historic celebrations (like the June 1st commemoration of Fenwick’s 160th)? What about the Fenwick Flagpole or the Fonthill Arches? What about Old Town Hall or Veteran’s Park?  Each of these distinct elements were missed.

Through the years, Pelham has been known as “The Heart of Niagara”, “Five Villages, One Community”, and “The Most Vibrant, Creative, and Caring Community in Niagara.”

I think that the last time the Town involved the public in a type of branding was in the late 1970s / early 1980s while developing of the Town’s Official Coat of Arms. (Please note that our coat of arms and our motto “Floreat Pelham” (or “May Pelham Flourish”) will not change.)

That’s why it’s important for you and your neighbours and friends to work together with the Town over the next couple of months to develop and refine the right brand for Pelham. The first step is to take the online survey at

Then, at least next time, Herod can lambast Pelham’s correct moniker.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Reviewing Property Taxes

At our March 21 Regional Council meeting, we approved the 2013 Property Tax Rates and Tax Ratios. These rates and ratios apply to all property tax classes across the Region, including in Pelham.

What does it mean for Pelham?

Reassessment Year:
As I wrote about last November, this is a “reassessment” year. That means that MPAC – the Provincial body called the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation – has re-evaluated and assessed all properties in the Province as of January 1, 2012. We will use that new assessment value for your property when we calculate your property taxes.

Property Tax Calculation:
The amount of property tax you pay to the Town of Pelham, to the Region, and to the Province (for Education) is not only based on the Market Value Assessment of your property; we multiply your assessment by each of the tax rates.

Despite your tax rate being set by each entity for their services, the Town collects the taxes and distributes it appropriately.

2007 to 2013:
In February, I wrote that “…the net effect on the tax levy will be $265,955 or an increase of 2.92% on the Town of Pelham portion of your 2013 property tax bill.” From following the budget processes from other Niagara Towns and Cities, we anticipate that Pelham’s increase will again be the second lowest this year.

But, what about over a longer period of time?  Let’s compare this term of Council so far with the last term of Council, and with inflation.

The average increase of property taxes on your combined property tax bill for the last three years was 1.7%; for the previous four years – from 2007 to 2010 – it was 1.8%.

If you blend the entire seven years, the average is 1.72% and the total increase in your property taxes was 12.7% for that seven year period (from 2007 to 2013).

How do we measure whether that is “good” or not? One important comparator would be inflation. Inflation for that same entire seven-year period was 13.6% or an average of 1.84% per year.

I hope you too are pleased that our tax increases have been nearly a full percentage point below inflation for that period. Please see the chart for more information.

Pelham Council continues to direct staff to ensure that we ensure minimal impact on you and other property tax-payers without decreasing the current level and quality of services.