Monday, December 22, 2014

Why the Need to Protect Privacy?

As your new Pelham Council completes “orientation,” I thought I would offer a refresher about Open and Closed meetings.

More Open than Ever:
Except for some very limited and well prescribed situations, all of Council’s business must be done in public and in the open.

To help facilitate this, we publish our agendas in advance of our meetings and publish our minutes on our website after each meeting. Over the last couple of years, we have taken additional steps to be even more open and transparent by posting video recordings of our meetings on the Town’s website. TV Cogeco also records and broadcasts our meetings. And, for the last year or so, we also publish and distribute “Council Highlights” – a roundup of key elements from our Council and Committee meetings.

Ontario Ombudsman: 
While Council and I are committed to being open and transparent, occasionally, portions of Council’s meetings need to be closed to the public; we call this “in camera” – which in Latin means “in private.”

Why is that?

The Ombudsman for Ontario publishes a guide entitled “The Sunshine Law Handbook: Open Municipal Meetings in Ontario.” In that book he writes:
“Why does the legislation permit closed meetings?“While transparency of municipal governance should be maximized as far as possible, the Municipal Act, 2001 recognizes that there may be certain situations in which the privacy of an individual should be respected, or where open meetings would not serve the public interest, or the interests of the municipality.”
Generally speaking, the Ontario Municipal Act allows for Councillors to meet “in camera” regarding three things: land, legal, and labour matters. That means that when we discuss the potential purchase or sale of a specific property, the hiring of a specific individual, or receive legal advice, we can hold the discussions in private. The legislation allows this to protect the privacy of individuals and the best interests of the Town.

The Facts:
During 2014, there have been 44 Council meetings. In addition, we met as Committee of the Whole 16 times and as Policy & Priorities Committee nine times. We have also convened 25 Special Meetings; these meetings include the creative problem solving sessions we held regarding the future of Maple Acre Library, strategic planning, and new Council orientation.

Most times we include an in camera session or meeting into a Council meeting. We have had 29 closed sessions in 2014 with 48 agenda items. (Compare this to the Township of West Lincoln with 70 closed session agenda items and the Niagara Region with more than 130 items for the same period.)

Land:
Seventeen agenda items in 2014 dealt with property or leasing issues. For example, we discussed the potential Memorandum of Understanding with Wellspring during three of those meetings – and then made the agreement public and eventually approved the agreement during a regular Council meeting on April 7.

Similarly, we discussed the potential lease of the arena to the Pelham Pirates during three closed sessions in mid-July; then, after it become available publicly on July 18 and we approved an agreement on July 21.

We purchased small bits of property to help with road construction – on Port Robinson Road (from the District School Board of Niagara, at the base of Mason Drive, and on Station Street to extend Pelham Town Square; those initial reports came to Council in closed session so we could discuss their parameters. Each were also approved publicly shortly thereafter.

We also met four times in 2014 to discuss the agreement to sell 7.7 acres of East Fonthill land to the Allen Group to build a new Medical Centre and retirement home; we had to work on those matters privately so that we could get the great results we achieved for the Town.

Labour:
We also discussed labour relations or employees negotiations 14 times in 2014. For example, three of those times dealt with the recruitment of a new Director of Planning. Seven of our sessions included establishing a new performance management system, a pay equity review, and the vacation policy; these too became publicly available after our discussions. During two of our sessions this past summer, we reviewed the performance of the Chief Administrative Officer.

Legal:
Eight sessions dealt with routine legal matters. These included matters like legal advice about the appeal of the Town’s Official Plan at the Ontario Municipal Board, the potential for an easement on properties, and status updates on other legal and insurance matters. One session was the orientation of the new Council with all legal matters.

Education:
Finally, the Municipal Act allows for “in camera” education sessions for Councillors; we convened three sessions in 2014. Two sessions were about the Town’s insurance coverage; the other, information months in advance about Exercise Stalwart Guardian – the 5,500 soldiers that came to Niagara in August for a military training exercise.

I hope that this information helps you appreciate why meeting “in camera” helps to respect and protect the privacy of individuals and, as the Ombudsman says, the “interests of the municipality.”

Monday, December 15, 2014

Refresher on Council & Committee Meetings

As your new Pelham Council goes through an “orientation,” I thought I would offer a refresher about Council and Committee meetings.

COUNCIL:
As a general rule, your Town Council meets at 6:30 PM on the first and third Mondays of each month in the Council Chambers in Town Hall. If one of our regular meetings falls on a holiday Monday (like Labour Day), we meet on the Tuesday.

Council is formal; it’s where we undertake the official business of the “Corporation of the Town of Pelham.” We advance the Town’s business through motions and a Procedural Bylaw provides order for our discussions. At Council, we make resolutions and enact bylaws – for budgeting, taxation, administration, and enforcement. We set policy, approve legal agreements, present awards, receive delegations, and act on official correspondence. We also receive minutes of the Town’s various committees and ratify the decisions of the Committee of the Whole and Policy & Priorities Committee.

COW and P&P:
Immediately following our Town Council meetings, we hold either a “Committee of the Whole” meeting (affectionately termed COW) or a “Policy & Priorities” Committee meeting (P&P).

The COW meetings are less formal and tend to be much more detailed oriented. We receive monthly updates from each of the Town’s departments – corporate services (including finance, IT, HR), public works (including roads, water/waste water, cemeteries, facilities), fire and bylaw services, planning and development services (including the building department), recreation, culture & wellness (including parks), and administration (including clerks and chief administrative officer). Councillors not only discuss the reports, but we also raise, discuss, and work on issues directly from the community or as recommended by staff.

The Ontario Municipal Act states that one of the roles of a local Council is to “to develop and evaluate the policies and programs of the municipality”; we specifically use the monthly Policy & Priorities meeting for this purpose. For example, over the last couple of years, Council has reviewed the Town’s human resources policies (including the establishment of a formal performance management system), financial policies (including a new procurement policy and bylaw), and are currently working our way through health and safety and public works policies. And, as other priorities arise, we can deal with them during this committee meeting.

VOTING:
Both Council and Committees require “quorum” – at least a majority (four) of seven members – to legally function and make decisions. Each member of Council, including the Mayor, gets one vote. If the majority of members at the meeting support a motion, it is “Approved” or “Carried.” If not, the motion is “Lost” or “Defeated.” In the case of a tie vote, the motion is defeated.

I hope that this information helps you to understand the workings of your Council. Next time I’ll write about Open and Closed meetings.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Ending the “Old Boys Club”

Courtesy: SunMedia
A couple of weeks ago I wrote here about the upcoming vote – on Thursday, December 11 – to appoint the Regional Chair for the 2014-18 term.

The Regional Chair holds an extremely important role in Niagara. Not only does she or he set the legislative and economic agenda and preside over Regional Council, the Chair also advocates for all of Niagara with Provincial, Federal, and other Governments.

Background:
I wrote then that Niagara Region continues to elect our Chair from the 30 recently elected members of Regional Council – Niagara’s 12 Mayors and the 18 directly elected Councillors.

We use a “run-off” style election – like used in some political leadership elections – where the candidates with the least votes keep “dropping” and balloting (voting) continues until one candidate receives a majority – more than 16 votes.

While the Municipal Act allows for the option of secret or open ballots, Niagara Regional Council stipulated that the vote for Regional Chair “shall” be a secret vote.

Following their election as Chair, the person must “give up” his or her seat – creating a vacancy on Regional Council. We then accept the advice of the local City or Town Council on who to appoint – like the next candidate or a member of that local Council – or whether to hold a by-election.

Recent Chamber of Commerce Debate:
Despite these policies and precedents that prevent a direct election for Regional Chair, I believe that the process should be as open and transparent as possible.

That’s why I applaud Niagara’s eight local Chambers of Commerce, the local Sun Media newspapers, and TV Cogeco for organizing a public debate of candidates for Chair on December 3. (To view the debate, please see: http://new.livestream.com/accounts/3172675/ChairDebate)

I commend the four candidates – Bruce Timms (St. Catharines), Henry D’Angela (Thorold), Bill Hodgson (Lincoln), and Gary Burroughs (Niagara-on-the-Lake) – for embracing the debate and providing their views on how they could serve in this very important leadership role.

By having the courage to answer questions from the business community and the media, they tried to end the “old boys club” approach and make the process more open and transparent.

Let’s Open-Up the Chair’s Election:
I am disappointed and concerned, however, that one or two Councillors who are actively working the “back room” chose to ignore the request of the business community and the media. In fact, I see this issue as a clear indication of the difference in leadership styles between the four open and transparent candidates and the other candidate(s).

I recently used some strong language to express this view – saying that those who chose not to debate were “acting cowardly.” While I apologized to those offended by my language, I will never apologize for promoting leadership that is open, transparent, and willing to work together with the business community and the media to advance the interests of all of Niagara.

Release of Donor Information:
In the continued spirit of opening up the process of choosing the Regional Chair, Gary Burroughs publicly released the list of individuals and business who donated to his election campaign. He also called on all Councillors seeking the Chair’s job to do the same.

Chair Burroughs wrote: “The release of donors is no longer uncommon in elections for a municipality’s highest office. In the most recent municipal election, mayoral candidates in London, Sudbury, Windsor and Toronto, all made public the names of those who donated to their campaigns before the election.

“While all this information will be made public [next March], that is far too late to help inform this decision, and I hope that all Councillors interested in the office of Regional Chair will also make public their financial supporters well ahead of the December 11th vote.”

I applaud Gary for taking a leadership role in further opening up the process!

I also believe it important that since all Councillors will be voting for candidates for Chair, we too need to publicly release our list of donors to our recent election campaigns. Not only will it make the process more transparent, it will also end the nasty rumours that some candidates for Chair and their potential supporters are connected by the same campaign donors.

I have released my donor list here. I encourage all other Regional Councillors to release their list of donors by Wednesday, December 10 and (therefore) in advance of the vote for Regional Chair.

Release the Ballots:
I wrote above that while the Municipal Act allows for the option of secret or open ballots, Niagara Regional Council stipulated that the vote for Regional Chair “shall” be a secret vote. This rule, however, can be overturned by a vote of two-thirds of the Councillors.

In a final effort to make the election of Chair as open and transparent as possible, I will make a motion immediately after the vote for the Chair to publicly release the ballots. I would hope this could be attained with unanimous support by all other Councillors.

Speak to Your Representatives:
If you agree that this vote and decision should be more open and transparent, I encourage you to contact your Mayor and Councillor(s) and ask them to release their campaign donor list and support my motion to publicly release the ballots.

If you watched the debate, and have thoughts about which of the four candidates should be elected Chair, please also contact your Mayor and Regional Councillor(s).

Let's work together now to open up the decision of who gets elected Niagara's next Regional Chair.

--------------------------------------
CORRECTION re: "Release the Ballots" -- December 10, 2014:
Following a question from another Regional Councillor, I realized that I made an error above regarding the "Releasing of the Ballots."

I assumed -- and I keep getting reminded of what happens when I assume -- that the ballots for the election of the Regional Chair would be marked with our names on them; I assumed that because when we have voted to appoint Council colleagues to committees or Boards or Commissions in the past, the ballots have had our names on them.  But, those votes must be public votes.

But, because of the rules of our procedural bylaw, this must be a "secret ballot." Even if Council were willing to change that vote to an open vote, unfortunately there is no mechanism to change it before the vote tomorrow.

I apologize for the incorrect information and for any inconvenience caused.

In the future, I will ask Council to consider reviewing this practice for any future occasions. I will also triple check my facts.

Thanks for your understanding. Yours, Dave

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Inaugural Address - 2014-18 Council Term


Mayor Dave Augustyn’s Inaugural Address
Old Pelham Town Hall
1 December 2014

Councillor Rybiak, Councillor King, Councillor Durley, Councillor Papp, Councillor Accursi, and Councillor Junkin;
Regional Councillor Baty;
Former Mayors and Members of Pelham Town Council and other Special Guests;
Members of Staff;
Ladies & Gentleman.


I am both humbled and honored to stand here, before you, again, and continue my service as your Mayor & Regional Councillor for our Town of Pelham.


First, I want to publicly congratulate each member of Council on declaring our official oath of office for our 2014-2018 term.

The community has placed considerable trust in each of us to govern our Town faithfully, impartially, and to the best of our knowledge and ability.

I look forward to serving with each of you, and to working together with you on your ideas, your passions, and your dreams for our community so that, together, we might continue to improve our Town.


Second, we gather this evening in the newly, revitalized Old Pelham Town Hall.

Constructed in the summer of 1888, she was officially opened December 15, and called “New Town Hall.” She has served the residents of our Township and our Town for 126 years.

With a breath of new life today, she stands as a living link to our forebears and as a symbol of their optimism for the future of (what was then termed) our “progressive” community. May Old Pelham Town Hall continue to serve as a community facility for public meetings, concerts, parties, and the like for many, many decades to come.


Ladies & gentlemen, our recent democratic election highlighted a huge interest in the future of our Town.

It is clear that you and your friends and neighbours are interested in workable solutions to the issues and challenges that face our community. It is also clear that you have an optimism for the future of our Town; and that you want your Council to work together with you to continue to improve our community.

As a result, your Council and I will concentrate on some key areas and will:


  • Work diligently to develop and build a new multi-faceted community centre, contingent on funding and tax-payer affordability.
    • Work with representatives from recreation user groups, youth, seniors, artists, service clubs, and the community-at-large to design a new community centre in the East Fonthill area;
    • Work to secure Federal and Provincial funding and private donations to help make the capital costs for a potential new community centre affordable for local, municipal tax-payers.
  • Work to ensure that new development fits well with the vision for a walkable community with vibrant downtowns and a small-town feel;
    • We acknowledge that many people are concerned about the potential for new growth in our Town and with the impact that that growth might have on our “Small-Town Feel”;
    • That’s why Council will work to approve design guidelines and transportation engineering standards for the East Fonthill Secondary Plan area;
    • We will also endeavor to approve such standards across all developable and re-developable areas in the Town;
    • Restart the East Fenwick Secondary Plan process to ensure that any new development integrates smoothly into existing community characteristics;
    • Develop an “active transportation” master plan – a framework for further walkable / cycle-able elements – so that bike and walking trails, and sidewalks can further link more parts of the Town.
  • Keep acting in partnership with businesses and residents to revitalize Pelham’s downtowns:
    • Work to improve events and festivals – like Summerfest, Winterfest, (Founder’s Day?) – that showcase Pelham’s downtowns;
    • Continue to promote and fund the “Community Improvement Plan” facade and residential incentives and review / improve as needed;
    • Continue to work with the Province and the Region to allow a renewal of Downtown Ridgeville.
  • Continue to facilitate the construction of new medical facilities and the recruitment and retention of family doctors;
  • Continue to ensure that our infrastructure and facilities are well managed and maintained; (Begins with completing road and other works in progress);
  • Work together with the Chamber of Commerce and the Pelham Business Association and others to better provide an environment for economic prosperity;
  • Work in partnership with the Pelham Library Board to ensure service at a renewed Maple Acre Library and that our libraries are resilient to societal and technological changes;
  • Work with Town Staff to ensure that the Town provides exceptional service to all residents and businesses;
  • Continue to work together with the hundreds of volunteers who make our community a richer, more vibrant place to live, work and grow;
  • Continue to manage your money wisely and keep you involved in how your taxes are being invested in the community.
  • Always listen to you, and work in collaboration with you and your friends and neighbours to improve our Town;
  • And, in general, we will serve you – as best we can – on each of the other issues both known and unknown that will affect you and your neighbours and friends.


Friends and neighbours, we realize this is a long list.

Rest assured, however, that Council and I are ready to act, ready to find workable solutions, and ready to serve in your best interests.

Council and I are ready to keep working together to build a better future for our Town – the Town that we each love and cherish.

We will work together to get closer to our common vision – that Pelham becomes the most vibrant, creative, and caring community in Niagara.


Thank you, Ladies & Gentleman, for your encouragement by being present here this evening and for showing your interest in the future of our Town.

Let’s get going and let’s keep working together!

Thank you.
________________________________________

May I now offer my thanks to:

  • James Carnegie, piper, for piping Council into the hall;
  • Branch 613 Army Cadets for acting as our colour guard;
  • Ann Mantini-Celima, for beautifully singing the National Anthem;
  • Rev. Dr. Diane Walker, for offering a wonderful and fitting Invocation;
  • David Braun, violinist, for sharing his gift of music;
  • Nancy Bozzato, Clerk, for officiating the meeting and ensuring a smooth agenda;
  • Kim Holland, Facilites Staff, for leading the beautiful renovation and revitalization of Old Pelham Town Hall;
  • Martha Toscher, EA to Mayor & CAO, for ensuring the Hall looked amazing and arranging all other aspects of the hospitality and the event!

On behalf of Council, I offer deep appreciation!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Opening Up the Regional Chair’s Election

Niagara Regional Chair's view in Council Chamber 
While Niagara Region Staff will host sessions to help orientate new (and returning) Councillors this week, the members of the newly elected Regional Council won’t officially convene until Thursday, December 11 at 10:00 AM.

After the Regional Clerk officially administers the “Declaration of Office” for our 30 members, the first “order of business” will be the election of a Chair.

Candidates from Council Only:
In the first phase of the election, the Regional Clerk will ask for nominations for candidates; only Regional Councillors can run as a candidate to become Chair. Following nominations, each candidate will have a chance to speak for five minutes.

While the Municipal Act does allow the election of any qualified elector from Niagara to be nominated and elected Chair, the precedent from the last seven elections and the policy from two resolutions from Regional Council (in 1991 and again in 2013) means that Council elects a Chair from the recently elected members of Council.

Run-Off Election & Secret Ballot:
If two or more candidates run for Chair, the Clerk will oversee the “run-off” election (like used in political leadership contests). For example, if after the first ballot, no candidate receives a majority of the votes – 16 – then the candidate with the fewest votes will be removed from consideration, and Councillors will vote on another ballot. The voting continues until one candidate receives a majority.

Interestingly, while the Municipal Act allows for the option of secret or open ballots, Niagara Regional Council stipulates that the vote for Regional Chair “shall” be a secret vote.

Filling the Vacancy:
Following their election as Chair, the person must “give up” his or her seat – creating a vacancy on Council. How is that seat filled? Regional Council follows the advice of the local City or Town Council: the options include a by-election, appointing the next candidate in the last general election, appointing another qualified elector. In the case of filling the Chair’s seat, precedent has been to appoint the next candidate.

Opening Up the Election:
The Regional Chair holds an extremely important role in Niagara. Not only does she or he set the legislative and economic agenda and preside over Regional Council, the Chair also advocates for all of Niagara with Provincial, Federal, and other Governments.

Despite policies and precedents that preclude a direct election for Regional Chair, the process should be as open and transparent as possible. I applaud Niagara’s eight local Chambers of Commerce, local newspapers, and TV Cogeco for organizing a public debate of candidates for Chair on December 3. I hope that this effort begins the discussion about who we should elect as Niagara’s Regional Chair for the 2014-18 term of Council.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Transitioning to a New Pelham Council

With our last meeting of the 2014-18 Council term on November 17, some have asked me about our transition to a new 2014-18 Council.

As a result of the municipal election on October 27, our new Council will be very similar to our current Council; myself and five Councillors – Gary Accursi, John Durley, Catherine King, Peter Papp, and Richard Rybiak – were re-elected and will return. Only one new person – Marvin Junkin – was newly elected, so it will be important to include his ideas and efforts into the new Council.

Since it helps to know each other socially as we work together closely on your behalf, we will gather together for a breakfast this week. Then, as is a tradition in Pelham, Council will meet socially with Department Heads at a dinner prior to Christmas as well as have a chance to participate in the Staff Christmas Party in mid-December.

But, predominately, the transition will include much work. Councillors-Elect will participate in an Orientation Session on November 24 to learn about the role of Council, meeting protocols, conflict of interest requirements, Council’s code of conduct, the Town’s accessibility standards, and our budget process and overview.

Your new Council will officially make our “Declaration of Office” at our Inaugural Meeting on Monday, December 1 from 6:30 PM at Old Pelham Town Hall, Ridgeville. Not only will this special meeting officially begin our public service of your Council, it will also be the first event in the newly revitalized facility. All are welcome, so please join us!

On December 3 your new Council will work together to develop a Strategic Plan for the Town. We will use this opportunity to not only focus Council on key strategic goals for the next four years (and beyond), but we will also include information, opinions, and ideas from the recent election.

On Monday, December 8 at 6:30 PM in the Council Chambers, your new Council wants to hear from you directly with ideas and suggestions about what we should include or not include in the 2015 Town Budget and future budgets. All are welcome to this Public Meeting. (You can also provide a written submission to ourbudget@pelham.ca or at Town Hall.)

So that your new Council better understands its fiduciary responsibilities, we will learn about the Town’s insurance coverage, and receive a legal briefing and a human resources overview on December 10.

We will hold our first full Council & Committee of the Whole (COW) meeting on December 15. Our Committee meeting will include presentations by department directors and a discussion of our 2015 Water & Waste Water budgets.

This is an exciting time! I look forward to working together with our new Council and our community to continue to improve our Town.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A “Glorious & Free” Remembrance

Voice of Pelham Photo, 2014
The weather on Sunday morning was glorious. The leaves on the ground and the chill in the air reminded us that Autumn was upon us. The sun shone beautifully through the trees and the air was clear and sweet.

It felt so peaceful and so serene. It felt like the perfect example of freedom, of promise, and of individual choice.

The weather made it feel so far from the ravages of war. It felt so far from oppression and from tyranny. The airplane we heard in the distance was for recreation, not a vehicle of war or destruction.

MyPelham.com Photo, 2014
And yet, Pelham residents took time to gather with members of the Royal Canadian Legion and the Ladies Auxiliary, the Royal Canadian Army Cadets, and others at the Cenotaphs at Centennial Park, Old Town Hall, and Peace Park to commemorate and remember the sacrifices of Pelham’s Veterans.

Each Remembrance Day it is right to remember those brave men and women who have served, and who continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict, and peace.

We honour them for their courage, their commitment, and their devotion to standing “on guard” for Canada.
Bruce MacKinnon, Halifax Chronicle Herald

The recent slayings of Warrant Officer Vincent (near Montreal) and of Corporal Cirillo (in Ottawa) also came to mind this week. And while those heinous acts were intended to intimidate us, to cause us to fear our safety, and to chip away at our freedoms, they did not.

Instead, we witnessed other acts of courage, of duty, of selflessness, of true patriot love, and of deep respect for the brave men and women serving in Canada’s Armed Forces.

Our Remembrance Day commemorations remind us of our freedoms – the freedom to express ourselves, to participate in cultural, religious, and political activities, to come and go as we please, and to pursue a safe and happy life. These freedoms are all due to the sacrifices of Veterans and of those who serve today.

They sacrificed their futures and continue to make those sacrifices so that our future might be free and might be one of peace and happiness.

Engraved on the cenotaphs throughout our Town and on the bricks at Veterans Park are the names of those from Pelham that were killed in service. May their memories also be engraved in our minds and on our hearts.

As we commemorate Remembrance Day 2014, let us be thankful. Let us never forget. And let the prayer in our National Anthem be fulfilled: “God keep our land glorious and free!”

Monday, October 27, 2014

Help Shape Our Future: Please Vote Today!

Today is an important time for you and I to help shape the future for our community.

Today you and I have the privilege and the responsibility of choosing who will serve and represent us at Pelham Town Council, Regional Council, and local school boards for the next four years.

Our freedoms and our democracy – including the ability for us to choose the future for our community – were hard won through sacrifice. Brave men and women served and continue to serve our country so that future generations might enjoy this freedom.

They sacrificed their futures so that our future might be one of peace and happiness.

They sacrificed and continue to sacrifice their future so that we might have the freedom to help shape our future and improve our community through local elections today.

If you have not yet voted, please vote today.

If you need more information about where to vote and about whether you are in the voter list, please check out the Town’s website at www.pelham.ca/2014-election or contact Pelham Town Hall at 905-892-2607.

If you need a ride to a poll, volunteers with my re-election campaign will be pleased to assist you; please call 905-708-5718.

Thank you for voting in our municipal election and for helping to shape the future of our Town!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The "Shoes" of Truth

As I reflect on the final week of the 2014 Election Campaign I am reminded of a famous saying by Mark Twain:

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes”

Why do I say that? Because there were claims and assertions about my record of service that were used as campaign fodder last week.

I am thankful to have received an email on Friday from a resident seeking greater clarity about three specific assertions.

She prefaced her questions with an astute statement: “I realize that just because someone writes something, it isn't necessarily true.”

The following is from the response that I provided to her:

Isaac Riehl Skatepark & Centennial Park Baseball Diamond:
The following are the costs for the skateboard park:

Total Cost: $458,055
Aviva Grant & Community Donations: $158,573
Net Cost (Total Cost Less Grants/Donations): $299,483

In addition to more than one-third of the Skatepark being donated by the community, the Net Cost was paid from “Development Charges.” Essentially, new development to the Town over the years (and not existing residents) paid for the new park.

The improvements to the baseball diamond were always planned for 2014 in our 5-year capital budget plan. Because of the opportunity of the Aviva funding ($115,000), we adapted the plan and moved construction of the baseball diamond ahead one year to 2013. It was an expedited project (not a new cost project).
The baseball diamond budget was $225,000; because of competitive pricing the costs were $190,605.

Architectural Design of Multi-Faceted Community Centre:
Request for Proposal (RFP) bids are treated very differently from Tender bids. Tender bids -- like for a bridge or a vehicle -- normally get awarded to the lowest price bid. The awarding of RFPs are not based exclusively on final price, but, rather, on total score and get awarded to the firm with the highest score.

The Architectural Design Committee, made up of a cross-section of the public, used the Ontario Association of Architects standard criteria to evaluate each Request For Proposal (RFP) Bid and recommend the award to the firm with the highest overall score.

The standard Ontario Association of Architects scoring criteria used: Company Profile 20%; Design Price 20%; Applied Design Philosophies & Methodologies 35%; Time to Complete 10%; Quality of Submission 15%: TOTAL 100%.

After reviewing and interviewing all four submissions (which took at more than 8 hours!), the volunteer Committee awarded an 89% aggregate score to Petroff Partnership Architects and recommended them to Council for approval.

The $1.05M architectural fee is actually less than the industry’s standard 5% of the facility’s anticipated total construction cost of $22M - $27M.

It is expected to take approximately 6-8 months to complete comprehensive schematic designs and working construction drawings.

Having this shovel-ready design will allow the Town to validate construction costs and to seek Federal and Provincial government investment.

I wrote about this in July with an update in September; please see: http://pelhammayordave.blogspot.ca/2014/07/potential-multi-faceted-community.html

Debt:
I reported on the Town’s debt in September and again last week: http://pelhammayordave.blogspot.ca/2014/10/complete-picture-of-fiscal.html

You will see that we are anticipating reducing our debt significantly when we sell the 7.7 acres of Town lands for $2.9M over coming months.

You asked about the possibility of additional debt from our 2014 Capital Budget.

First, something about municipal debt:
We use debt to help fund large projects and use it as a tool. As previous debt retires, we sometimes add additional debt in that budget “room.” It’s kind of like how our family funds cars; I bought my car in 2005 and paid roughly $400 per month for 4 years. When it was paid off, we bought a car for my wife in 2009 for roughly $400 per month for five years. Now that that is paid off, we are thinking of the right time for another car to replace my 2005 vehicle and use that $400 payment “room.” It works the same for Towns. We paid the last installment of the 10-year debenture for the 2003 Canboro Road reconstruction this year; it’s ~$250K per year “debt room” will be taken up by other debt payments.

Second, we do anticipate adding $1.6M of debt for Downtown Fenwick’s 2014 revitalization in 2015 (not 2014); this ~$192K payment per year for 10 years will take the “debt room” from the previous Canboro Road debt.

As I outlined above, $1.6M will be added in 2015 and I am left to presume that the remaining $5.4M that is being referred to might be a misrepresentation of how we notionally earmarked funds in our 2014 Capital Budget to build connecting streets in the East Fonthill development… but I am not sure.

If it is that, during our 2014 budget deliberations in November 2013, we anticipated that we would need to identify interconnecting roads to the East Fonthill development. We anticipate now that many of those roads can be funded by area-specific Development Charges and not by debt. And, since we are still working on the detailed design of the infrastructure, we have yet to finalize expected road construction costs.

Other Issues:
I continue to keep the community updated in my weekly column; I have also written special columns during the campaign. Please see the following with the facts on other issues:

Clearing the Recreational Log Jam:
http://augustynforpelham.ca/clearing-pelhams-recreational-log-jam/

Creative Problem Solving: Innovate to Stagnate
http://augustynforpelham.ca/innovate-or-stagnate-why-creative-problem-solving/

Protecting Privacy: Why the Need to Protect Privacy?
http://augustynforpelham.ca/why-the-need-to-protect-privacy/

Success on Town-Owned Lands: Making Lemonade
http://augustynforpelham.ca/lemonade-from-towns-lands/

The Facts:
These are the facts and the complete picture. 
Thanks, again, for asking for clarity. Please call me or email me if you have any other questions.
Dave


Final Word:
Claims and assertions can be damaging to a community. They can lead to distrust, to a politicization of community issues and challenges, and to inhibiting the development of solutions and action.

People have told me that want a leader who is open, accessible, and listens as well as communicates. They want a leader who uses facts, explains the complete picture, and gets them involved in the process.

Pelham needs a leader with a positive attitude, a leader who builds the community up and makes it better. We deserve a leader who proactively works together with all parts of the community and brings the community together. We need a leader who is fiscally responsible, yet at the same time, who gets things done.

Over the last eight years serving as your Mayor, I have demonstrated these leadership qualities.

During this municipal election campaign, I am asking for your support to continue my service as Mayor and working together with Council and the community to move our Town forward.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Realizing Our Town's Vision Together

Over the last eight years I have provided the leadership with Council and the community to achieve significant improvements for Pelham. With a positive attitude, I work to build the community up and make it better while demonstrating fiscal responsibility (below inflation tax increases), and openness and accountability (like +270 biweekly media columns).

From better roads and more sidewalks and trails, to new playgrounds and new and improved parks, to renewed Downtowns and improved community events, to huge investments by other levels of government, to better protections for agricultural lands and the Fonthill Kame, the future of Pelham is very positive indeed.

So, what’s next?

I have conversed and engaged with so many people both over the last eight years and during the last number of weeks (while going door-to-door) and a common vision for our Town has emerged.

Our Community’s Vision:
That common vision continues to include appropriate and affordable parks and recreational facilities, vibrant and livable downtowns, safe and walkable neighbourhoods, lively cultural and artistic activities, enhanced opportunities for small- and medium-sized businesses to thrive, improvements to our quality of life, prosperous agricultural enterprises that complement our refreshingly natural and rural character, becoming a more environmentally friendly and sustainable community through Regional transit links and renewable energy options, and maintaining Pelham’s friendly, small-town feel as we continue to grow and prosper.

Realizing the Vision:
I am committed to working together with Council and the community to achieve this community vision:

  • Working diligently to develop and build a new multi-faceted community centre (contingent on funding and tax-payer affordability) by:
    • Working with representatives from recreation user groups, youth, seniors, artists, service clubs, and the community-at-large to design a new community centre in the East Fonthill area;
    • Working to secure Federal and Provincial funding and private fundraising support to help make the capital costs for a potential new community centre affordable for local, municipal tax-payers.
  • Ensuring that new development enhances walkability and community vibrancy while maintaining our friendly, small-town feel;
    • Approving design guidelines and transportation engineering standards for the East Fonthill Secondary Plan area;
    • Restarting the East Fenwick Secondary Plan process to ensure that any new development smoothly integrates into existing community characteristics;
    • Developing an “active transportation” master plan so that bike and walking trails, and sidewalks can further link all parts of the Town.
  • Acting in partnership with businesses and residents to continue to revitalize Pelham’s downtowns:
    • Working to improve events and festivals that showcase Pelham’s downtowns;
    • Continuing to promote and fund the “Community Improvement Plan” façade and residential incentives and review / improve as needed;
    • Continuing to work with the Province and the Region to allow an expansion of the Shoppes of Ridgeville (in a “hamlet” along the North-side of Canboro Road).
  • Continuing to facilitate the construction of a new medical centre (with 5-10 family doctors and allied professionals) and the recruitment and retention of family doctors;
  • Continuing to ensure that our infrastructure and facilities are well managed and maintained;
  • Working together with the Chamber of Commerce, the Pelham Business Association, Brock University, Niagara College, and the Region, to better provide an environment for economic prosperity;
  • Continuing to work together with the hundreds of volunteers who make our community a richer, more vibrant place to live, work and grow;
  • Continuing to manage your money wisely and keep you involved in how your taxes are being invested in the community;
  • Always listening, working with you and keeping you informed about things that matter to you.


My record of positive, proven leadership shows that I have the vision, the commitment, and the experience to continue to work together with Council and the community to realize our community’s common vision.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why the Need to Protect Privacy?

Some folks have asked for more information about our Council meetings – especially when and why we meet publicly and privately.

More Open than Ever:
Except for some very limited and well prescribed situations, all of Council’s business must be done in public and in the open.

To help facilitate this, we publish our agendas in advance of our meetings and publish our minutes on our website after each meeting. Over the last couple of years, we have taken additional steps to be even more open and transparent by posting video recordings of our meetings on the Town’s website. TV Cogeco also records and broadcasts our meetings. And, for the last year or so, we also publish and distribute “Council Highlights” – a roundup of key elements from our Council and Committee meetings.

Ontario Ombudsman: 
But, occasionally, portions of Council’s meetings need to be closed to the public; we call this “in camera” – which in Latin means “in private.”

Why is that?

The Ombudsman for Ontario publishes a guide entitled “The Sunshine Law Handbook: Open Municipal Meetings in Ontario.” In that book he writes:
Why does the legislation permit closed meetings?
While transparency of municipal governance should be maximized as far as possible, the Municipal Act, 2001 recognizes that there may be certain situations in which the privacy of an individual should be respected, or where open meetings would not serve the public interest, or the interests of the municipality.

Generally speaking, the Ontario Municipal Act allows for Councillors to meet “in camera” regarding three things: land, legal, and labour matters. That means that when we discuss the potential purchase or sale of a specific property, the hiring of a specific individual, or receive legal advice, we can hold the discussions in private. The legislation allows this to protect the privacy of individuals and the best interests of the Town.

The Facts:
So far in 2014, there have been 35 Council meetings. In addition, we met as Committee of the Whole 15 times and as Policy & Priorities Committee eight times. We have also convened 16 Special Meetings; these meetings include the creative problem solving sessions we held regarding the future of Maple Acre Library.

Most times we include an in camera session or meeting into a Council meeting. We have had 22 closed sessions in 2014 with 38 agenda items. (Compare this to the Township of West Lincoln with 66 closed session agenda items, the Town of Lincoln with 29 items, and the Niagara Region with more than 120 items for the same period.)

Land:
Sixteen agenda items in 2014 dealt with property or leasing issues. For example, we discussed the potential Memorandum of Understanding with Wellspring during three of those meetings – and then made the agreement public and eventually approved the agreement during a regular Council meeting on April 7.

Similarly, we discussed the potential lease of the arena to the Pelham Pirates during three closed sessions in mid-July; then, after it become available publicly on July 18 and we approved an agreement on July 21.

We purchased small bits of property to help with road construction – on Port Robinson Road (from the District School Board of Niagara) and at the base of Mason Drive; those initial reports came to Council in closed session so we could discuss their parameters. Those were also approved publicly shortly thereafter.

We also met four times in 2014 to discuss the agreement to sell 7.7 acres of East Fonthill land to the Allen Group to build a new Medical Centre and retirement home; we had to work on those matters privately so that we could get the great results we achieved for the Town.

Labour:
We also discussed labour relations or employees negotiations 12 times in 2014. For example, three of those times dealt with the recruitment of a new Director of Planning. Six of our sessions included establishing a new performance management system, a pay equity review, and the vacation policy; these too became publicly available after our discussions. During two of our sessions this past summer, we reviewed the performance of the Chief Administrative Officer.

Legal:
Eight sessions dealt with routine legal matters. These included matters like legal advice about the appeal of the Town’s Official Plan at the Ontario Municipal Board, the potential for an easement on properties, and status updates on other legal and insurance matters.

Education:
Finally, the Municipal Act allows for “in camera” education sessions for Councillors; we convened two sessions thus far in 2014. One session was about the Town’s insurance coverage; the other, information months in advance about Exercise Stalwart Guardian – the 5,500 soldiers that came to Niagara in August for a military training exercise.

I hope that this information helps you appreciate why meeting “in camera” helps to respect and protect the privacy of individuals and, as the Ombudsman says, the “interests of the municipality.”

Monday, October 20, 2014

Maintaining Pelham’s Small-Town Feel

Council and I continue to work at maintaining Pelham’s neighbour-helping-neighbour, small-town feel as our community grows.

Focus on Downtowns:Since many people associate community with downtowns and since more than 50% of people surveyed in Pelham in 2007 said “fix up our downtowns”, Council and I revitalized Downtown Fonthill and Downtown Fenwick (currently being completed). We achieved this because of the deep involvement of community volunteers in finalizing the plans and design; we also received significant funding from the Federal and Provincial government to revitalize Downtown Fonthill.

Council also established design guidelines and incentive programs to encourage Downtown businesses to improve their façades to a common “look and feel.” So far, seven properties have used these programs to improve – and a few more applications are imminent.

Community Celebrations:
Maintaining a small-town feel also includes encouraging friends and neighbours to come together to celebrate, interact, and remember. That’s why the Town has increased the focus on developing and expanding community events like Pelham Summerfest, the Supper Market, Christmas in Pelham and Winterfest, while also assisting service clubs and community groups to host significant events like Fonthill Bandshell Concerts, Pelham Farmer’s Market, Biketoberfest, and various parades.

East Fonthill Development Area:
Council and I also worked diligently so that all parties approved the East Fonthill Secondary Plan. The Plan contains important features to help maintain our small-town feel as we grow, by:

  • Ensuring a well-designed and attractive development with a mixture of housing types;
  • Encouraging commercial and mixed-use development – medical centre, retirement home, Wellspring Niagara cancer support services, and potential recreational facility 
  • Imposing maximum and minimum square-footage size requirements that the Pelham Business Association asked for that will help protect existing Downtown Fonthill businesses;
  • Providing a “Greenlands System” that protects and enhances existing environmental features; and,
  • Developing a pedestrian / cyclist-friendly and transit-ready road network that fully integrates and complements existing roads and trails.

We are currently designing a new “public square” so that the community can better gather for special events while also working on improvements to Peace Park – like permanent washrooms, and smoothing the “bowl” in front of the Bandshell. We have also working on mandating design guidelines in the East Fonthill area to ensure that all new developments match a common look and feel for our community. Of course, we will work together with the community to finalize these plans.

Other Measures:
Finally, we are taking other measures to help maintain our small-town feel:

  • Providing welcome packages for new residents and businesses;
  • Continuing to celebrate dedicated volunteers at our Annual Volunteer Appreciation reception;
  • Continuing to provide community parks / parkettes instead of building a mega-park;
  • Continuing to add sidewalks and trails throughout the Town;
  • Continuing to engage members of the community in Council committees in design sessions to improve future development.

Council and I will continue to focus on building lively and viable downtowns, on promoting cultural and artistic activities, and on integrated and well-designed planning to help maintain Pelham’s distinctive, small-town feel.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Complete Picture of Fiscal Responsibility

As you know, through my regular columns, I keep you involved in and informed about property taxes and about how Council and I act responsibly with your money. Some have recently asked me to give another summary and to give a more complete picture of fiscal responsibility.

This Year and Last Four Years:
As I reported in April and June, both Pelham Town Council and Regional Council approved only slight tax increases for 2014. The combined property tax increase for an average property in Pelham for 2014 is 0.9% above the 2013 amount. Since I report this as a “out-of-pocket” value, that translates into an approximate $36 change from last year for the average residential property owner (2014 value of $298,000). This increase was the lowest or second lowest in Niagara Region again this year.

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

The average increase of property taxes on your combined residential property tax bill for the last four years was 1.5%; the cumulative increase was 6.0%. For the previous four years – from 2007 to 2010 – it was 1.8%; the cumulative increase was 7.3%.

Lower than Inflation:
How do we measure whether that is “good” or not? Another important comparator would be inflation. Inflation for the last four-year period was 7.4% or an average of 1.8% per year.

I hope you too are pleased that our residential tax increases have been 1.4% below inflation for the last four years. (Please see the chart for more information.)

Debt Reduction & Capital Improvements:
After writing about it in September, some folks have asked me for more information about the Town’s long-term debt.

You will be pleased to know that since the end of 2006 to the end of 2013 (the most up-to-date, audited data), we reduced our long-term debt by 20% – from $6.3M to $5.0M. Over the same period, our “debt to revenue ratio” – a private sector measure – reduced by 30% (from 53% for 2006 to 33% for 2013). (Please see the chart for more information.)


Taking Advantage of 66¢ Stimulus Dollars:
You will note from that chart that we did drop our long-term debt to a low of $4.2M in 2010 from a all-time high of $6.3M in 2006 (before I began serving as Mayor).

Why did it increase slightly since 2010? The main reason we increased our debt slightly was to take advantage of two-thirds funding dollars – what some call 66¢ dollars – from the Federal and Provincial governments. You will recall that we applied for and received unprecedented stimulus funding – $8.4M of investments which supported $13.6 M in projects and improvements in 2009 and 2010.

But, since we didn’t have all of our one-third share – our 33¢ share – on hand, we added some strategic debt in 2011 and 2012. The Town added this debt after completing the projects and to also take advantage of some of the lowest interest rates in generations. For example, instead of saying “no” to $3.7M of Federal and Provincial funding for Haist Street, we accepted the funds and added our $1.84M share.

Property Sale Soon:
Further, I anticipate that we can significantly reduce our debt levels when we complete the sale of property for public benefit. You will recall that the Allen Group agreed to purchase 7.7 acres of Town-owned lands in the East Fonthill area for $375,000 per acre to facilitate the construction of a Medical Centre (5-10 Family Doctors and Allied Professionals) and a Retirement Home (135 apartment-style units with 12 town-house units). Part of that $2.9M can be used to help reduce some of our debt over the next few months.

Development Charges – One-Quarter of Total Debt:
Finally, some of this long term debt is to help support new development and is, therefore, not funded by existing residents and businesses.

You may know that Development Charges are applied on new developments – from new homes to new commercial buildings – to help pay for the facilities and capital projects that are required to support that new development. For example, if a road needs to be widened, a new water line installed (like on Rice Road), new Fire Trucks purchased, or a new park needs to be built to serve specific new development, that new development needs to pay for those new items. Development Charges allows “growth to pay for growth.” And, that’s good news for current residents and businesses.

But, sometimes those facilities or improvements need to be built or installed ahead of the growth – like that new water or sewer line – to help serve and stimulate the growth. In those cases, the Town might build the project but add the debt to the Development Charges account; in this case both interest and principal are paid by Development Charges and the new developments occur.

In Pelham’s case, $1.2M (or nearly one-quarter) of our $5.0M total long term debt at the end of 2013 was actually for these Development-Charge-funded projects. To be clear: one-quarter of our long-term debt will not be paid back by existing residents and tax-payers, but, rather, by new development.

Improvements and Fiscal Responsibility:
During the same period that we reduced our long term debt and kept our property tax increase at a rate lower than inflation, we dramatically improved the Town’s infrastructure. These improvements included better roads and more sidewalks and trails, new playgrounds and new and improved parks, and renewed Downtowns.

As this complete picture shows, Pelham Council and I continue to ensure that we only minimally impact you and other property tax-payers while we continue to improve our infrastructure and increase the quality of services in the Town.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Lemonade from Town’s Lands

One of the prepared questions at the 2010 Mayoral debate asked about our greatest achievement and our biggest disappointment or failure.

Four years ago, I answered then that my greatest disappointment was “…that we couldn’t move ahead faster on issues with the Town property” that a previous Council had purchased in 2005 at the corner of Rice Road and Regional Road 20.

I said then that the 2006-2010 Council’s “…hands were tied because the developers were in control of the process.” You see, that previous Council also gave control of the East Fonthill Secondary Plan to a group of developers.

The Current Council:
So, what did this Council and I do to address this disappointment?

At the start of this term (January 2011), I called a meeting with the Town’s Staff / consulting team and representatives of the group of developers. We clarified what log jams existed and why the process failed to move forward. What became clear was that Staff thought that the developers were doing some things (and they were not), and the development group thought that Staff were doing other things (and they were not).

To move the issues forward, all parties agreed to recommend to Council that the Town take-back control of the planning process and complete the Secondary Plan; Council agreed.

Planning Approval:
Staff and our consulting team worked together with the Region to finalize the Secondary Plan and Town Council approved the Plan in April 2012. Then, I worked with Regional Staff to accelerate the process and Regional Council approved the Plan in October 2012.

While we did face delays because of some appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), we worked with all parties to settle the issues. The OMB finally approved the East Fonthill Secondary Plan on 30 January 2014.

Master Site Plan & Property Sale:
Following that OMB approval, we released a Draft Master Site Plan for the Town-owned lands and adjacent lands in February 2014. That Master Plan includes the Medical Centre, Retirement Home, retail development, Wellspring Niagara, and the potential of a multi-faceted community centre. It also shows extensive parks and natural areas and roads and trails linking the development with existing portions of the Town – especially with Downtown Fonthill via an extension of Pelham Town Square Blvd.

In April 2014, Council approved an agreement for 7.7 acres of Town-owned lands for the construction of the Medical Centre and the Retirement Home. Because we sold the lands with the planning approvals in place, we increased the property value more than threefold – from a $112,000 per acre purchase price to a $375,000 per acre plus the costs to service and develop.

Last month, Council approved the draft plan of subdivision for these lands; except for one condition (which was appealed to the OMB), we can proceed with development.

With hard work, vision, and determination we turned what once were “lemons” into “lemonade.”

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Innovate or Stagnate: Why “Creative Problem Solving”?

Some folks have asked about the Town’s use of the “Creative Problem Solving” process. Where did it start? Why do we use it? Has it been successful?

Why CPS?
In the summer of 2012, Council directed our new CAO to recommend strategies to make Pelham more innovative in our provision of services. After researching several options, the Town’s Senior Staff introduced Council to a “creative problem solving” (CPS) process taught by McMaster University professor Dr. Min Basadur.

To see if the process worked Council tested it on our hardest community problem – the infamous questions about recreational and cultural services in Pelham and what to “do” with the 32 acres of land the Town purchased in East Fonthill in 2005. It worked extremely well because the process allowed us to not only clarify our main challenges, but also helped us to start solving these community problems.

Since it worked once, Council used the process on our next most difficult problem – to help resolve the request to develop a highly contentious “site alteration” bylaw. Instead of adopting that very restrictive bylaw, we used the process to develop an Environmental Protection Bylaw which helps protect agricultural lands and stops the importation of construction waste.

Council has also used the creative problem solving process with the Library Board and the Friends of Maple Acre Library to confirm a long-term commitment to library services in Fenwick.

We “flexed” the CPS process to help establish the Thursday night Supper Market, to help make Pelham Street more walkable, to update our Strategic Plan, to develop an economic development framework, and to determine the final location for the skatepark.

Staff has used the process extensively to do big things – like developing a performance management system or following through on actions to deliver on the Town’s strategic plan – but also on smaller, important things – like developing a better way of thawing frozen water pipes, or of clearing snow.

Finally, I have also used the process at Niagara Region to help advance inter-municipal transit discussions and planning, to reevaluate Regional development charges, and to discuss strategies to help single-parent families receiving the Ontario Works benefit.

Innovate or Stagnate:
Council and I believe in the importance of ongoing training and education; if we don’t train or innovate, we stagnate.

Over the last three years the Town budgeted $266,324 for all types of professional development ($70,512 in 2012, $111,222 in 2013, and $84,590 in 2014). This budget is for everything from mandated accreditation and health and safety training, to more forward-thinking professional development like sessions at the Ontario Good Roads Association or the Parks & Recreation Ontario conferences.

What about the “creative problem solving” process? From 2012 to March 2014 the Town invested 38% of this training and development budget – or $100,222 – on the CPS process; this included training, facilitation, and strategic planning for all Staff and Council.


Implementing the Innovation:
When it comes to training, a big challenge is how one implements the innovation or “learnings” from the classroom / conference into one’s work processes.

That is, how do you actually make best use of the training to deliver positive results? This becomes even more problematic if you are the only one who’s been trained and you have try to introduce the change to your co-workers.

That’s one of the main reasons we trained all staff in the same process; so that once we all knew the process, we could focus on the innovations and implementing the solutions.


Based on Pelham Council’s and Staff’s many successes, the creative problem solving process has helped the Town to not only clearly define important problems, but, more importantly, to develop and implement innovative solutions.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Clearing Pelham’s Recreational “Log Jam”

As you know, the provision of recreational and cultural services in Pelham was at a “log-jam” for many, many years. There were numerous reports suggesting the need of and expressing the desire for new recreational facilities. Previous Councils and special committees argued about the issues – we need / don’t need a twin pad, an indoor pool, fitness facilities, a walking track, a rock-climbing wall, etc. – but we couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

So, how did the current Council break the “log jam” and actually move forward? How do we now know what the community wants and needs, and what we can afford?

In the summer of 2012, Council directed our new CAO to recommend strategies to make Pelham more innovate in our provision of services. After researching several options, the Town’s Senior Staff introduced Council to a “creative problem solving” process taught by McMaster University professor Dr. Min Basadur.

To see if the process worked Council tested it on our hardest community problems – the questions about recreational and cultural services in Pelham and what to “do” with lands the Town purchased in 2005.

The process helped Council clarify our thinking and agree on the main, interconnected challenges:
1. How might we best develop the Town-owned-lands in East Fonthill (32 acres at Regional Road 20 and Rice Road) and in conjunction with other property-owner groups?
2. How might we define the recreational and cultural services the Town needs now and into the future?
3. How might we stay focused on deciding what to do with Town facilities and those Town-owned-lands?

Once we agreed upon our challenges and clearly defined them, the process helped us to start solving these community problems.

For example, after hiring a firm to develop a market analysis and business case study, we now know what the community needs, wants, and what folks are willing to pay for recreational services (#2). (For the results and more information, please click here.)

And, by specifically working together with other property-owner groups (#1), we laid the groundwork to sell Town-owned lands for the new Medical Centre, new retirement home, and to the development of the new Wellspring Niagara cancer support centre, and other potential developments.

That’s how the “creative problem solving” process allowed Council to break the “log jam” on our most important community challenge – the provision of recreational and cultural services in Pelham.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Improved Quality of Life

Signing Wellspring Niagara Memorandum of
Understanding, 2014. Photo Credit: Voice of Pelham
Council and I have worked hard to ensure that the Town improved its traditional infrastructure — like roads and underground pipes – while also improving the quality of life for all residents.

We understand that community is about a sense of place, about our joint heritage and shared histories, and about community events.

Just like a home is about more than four walls and a roof, community is also about people – people coming together, interacting, celebrating, and remembering.

That’s why I collaborated with Council and the community to improve Pelham’s traditional infrastructure and quality of life.

Since people associate communities with Downtowns, we revitalized Downtown Fonthill and Downtown Fenwick (currently being completed). We also improved significant roads – including Haist Street, Effingham Road, Church Street, Port Robinson Road, Hwy 20, and Rice Road – making many of them more walkable and cycle-able.

We replaced all 4,200 water meters in the Town to ensure accurate service and to find and resolve leaks; we also replaced more than 12 km of cast iron water mains to stop costly leaks.

In addition to this traditional infrastructure, we have renewed and restored Old Pelham Town Hall (to be completed by the end of November), the Pool House (reopened in June), and the historic Fenwick flagpole (designated a heritage structure in 2013).

We also renewed all Town playgrounds – making them totally accessible. We created the Isaac Riehl Memorial Skatepark and worked with the Region to develop a new Centre Street Dog Park. We also expanded Centennial Park – adding a soccer field and revitalizing two baseball diamond – and North Pelham Park – by adding a t-ball field.

Walking and being active are important to our community. That’s why we have added 13 km of sidewalks, 9 km of bike lanes, 3 km of trails, and 5 crosswalks. That’s also why we started clearing snow from sidewalks throughout entire Town. For our efforts on improving cycling, Pelham received the Silver Bike Friendly designation – making us the only small Town to receive this award in Ontario!

We also focused on events to bring the community together and to celebrate. We expand Pelham Summerfest to four-day festival with art, music, and local food. We initiated a Supper Market to complement the Farmer’s Market and Fonthill Bandshell Concerts. (Council will receive a glowing report from the participants regarding the Suppermarket tonight!) We also brought together various Christmas in Pelham events and initiated Winterfest.

No doubt you will recall how we worked together with EL Crossley, Pelham’s Service Clubs and businesses to welcome Canada AM and their millions of viewers to showcase Pelham’s vibrant, creative, and caring community in January 2013. We used the announcement of those Aviva funds to build the Isaac Riehl Memorial Skatepark.

Environmental features are important to our community. That’s why I am so proud to have worked for nearly five years to secure the Provincial protection of the Fonthill Kame-Delta. I am also pleased to have brokered the deal with Abitibi and the Ministry of the Environment that saw the removal of the “sludge berm” in Fenwick. Council also approved a new environmental protection bylaw to stop the importation of construction waste to agricultural lands.

And, since health care is so important to people’s quality of life, Council and I secured the development of a new Fonthill Medical Centre, and new retirement home on Town lands. We also donated use of two acres of land for new Wellspring Niagara Cancer Support Centre to serve all families in Niagara Region ravaged by cancer.

Finally, we began the design of a potential multi-faceted community centre in the East Fonthill area to serve our diverse community. While market analysis has shown that people will provide the sustaining demand (ie: cover the operating costs), we are seeking financial support from the Federal and Provincial governments to build the potential facility.

I look forward to working together with you and your friends and neighbours and with Council to continue to improve our infrastructure and the quality of life in Pelham for all.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Planned & Improved Community Facilities

Reopening of Renewed Pool House, June 2014
Facilities are important to communities. They are buildings and amenities where friends and neighbours come together to celebrate, to compete, to gather, to discuss, and to provide service.

That’s why Council and I continue to focus on improving community facilities or other public amenities.

For example, the Town recently built a new Fire Station #2 (in Fenwick) with the funding assistance of the Federal and Provincial Governments. We are currently completing the construction of a new Fire Station #3 (in North Pelham) to provide better service from an appropriately-sized facility; expect information about the Official Opening in mid-October.

But, we haven’t always built new. We recognize important heritage assets like Old Pelham Town Hall; its restoration should be complete by December 1 and I can’t wait for folks to use it again! We also improved and restored the Pelham Pool House in Marlene Stewart-Streit Park – keeping the original structure but improving the change rooms, adding outdoor showers and a public washroom for other park users.

Parks & Recreation Ontario Design Award for
Isaac Riehl Memorial Skatepark, 2014
Parks & Recreation Ontario (PRO) recognized Pelham’s design of recently constructed public amenities. In 2011 we received PRO’s design award for our nine, new and fully accessible playgrounds and last September the Lieutenant-Governor for Ontario, His Hon. David Onley, visited one of the playgrounds. Then, this spring, Pelham won the 2014 PRO design award for the new Isaac Riehl Memorial Skatepark; thanks again to the dedicated members of the design committee.

Council also recently committed to the continued service of the Maple Acre Library. A working group report should present their report to Council and the Library Board soon with recommendations on how best to achieve this.

Finally, I am very pleased that Council worked together with LeisurePlan International and the community to develop a market analysis, business case study, and facilities review regarding arena and community centre desires. Based on a resident survey, detailed analysis and a comparison to industry standards, Council:
Confirmed demand for single-pad arena now, and potential for demand for twin-pad after 2023-24;
Confirmed sustaining demand for fitness activities (working with YMCA), walking / running indoor track, multi-purpose space, gymnasium sports;
Confirmed that the operating costs are affordable for new multi-faceted community center;
Confirmed the dire condition of existing arena and determined an alternative location for a potential new community centre – as part of the other imminent East Fonthill developments (Medical Centre, Retirement Home, Wellspring Centre, retail);

In essence, Council agreed with the recommendations that the community would provide sustaining demand for a multi-faceted community centre; if we can afford to construct a new multi-faceted community centre, we could afford to operate it.

So, to try to make the capital costs for a potential new community centre affordable for local, municipal tax-payers Council recognized that we need to attain financial support from the Federal and Provincial governments and to fundraise locally.

To do both of these steps, we will need more detailed plans (investment-ready plans), and tighter cost estimates.

That’s why Council appointed a community design committee members in July – with representatives from recreation user groups, youth, seniors, artists, service clubs and the community-at-large.

A couple of weeks ago, Council recently approved the Architectural Design Committee’s recommendation to retain Petroff Architects to develop construction-ready documents for a potential multi-purpose community centre.

Council agreed to fund the maximum $1,050,000 architectural costs – which is a lot of money but is actually less than the standard 5% architectural fee of the total potential project – from already budgeted funds and our facilities reserve.

Now, after clearly determining the recreational facility need and feasibility, Council and I are committed to working to secure Federal and Provincial funding and significant donations so that a potential new facility can be affordable to local tax-payers.


Facilities form an important part of our community. I will continue to work with Council and you to improve Pelham’s community facilities and other public amenities.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fiscally Responsible Leadership

Since the final installment of 2014 Pelham Property Taxes are due next week (on September 30), I thought I would give you a recap of our 2014 Property Taxes and the results of this term of Council.

Property Tax Calculation:
You will recall that 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 (as assigned by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation) by each of the tax rates and add them up for your total bill.

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

This Year and Four Years:
As I reported in April, both Pelham Town Council and Regional Council approved only slight tax increases this year. The combined property tax increase for an average property in Pelham for 2014 is 0.9% above the 2013 amount. I report this as a “out-of-pocket” value, so that translates into an approximate $36 change from last year for the average residential property owner (value of $298,000). This increase was the lowest or second lowest in Niagara Region again this year.

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

The average increase of property taxes on your combined residential property tax bill for the last four years was 1.5% (a cumulative increase of 6.0%); for the previous four years – from 2007 to 2010 – it was 1.8% (a cumulative increase of 7.3%).

Lower than Inflation:
How do we measure whether that is “good” or not? Another important comparator would be inflation. Inflation for the last four-year period was 7.4% or an average of 1.8% per year.

I hope you too are pleased that our residential tax increases have been 1.4% below inflation for the last four years. Please see the chart for more information.

Debt Reduction & Capital Improvements:
Some folks have asked me about the Town’s long-term debt and capital improvements.

You will be pleased to know that since the end of 2006 to the end of 2013 (the most up-to-date, audited data), we reduced our long-term debt by 20% – from $6.3M to $5.0M. Over the same period, our “debt to revenue ratio” – a private sector measure – reduced by 30% (from 53% for 2006 to 33% for 2013). (Source: Audited Financial Statements, Town Pelham, 2006-2013.)

Further, I anticipate that we can significantly reduce our debt levels over the next few months when we complete the sale of property for public benefit. You will recall that the Allen Group agreed to purchase 7.7 acres of Town-owned lands in the East Fonthill area for $375,000 per acre to facilitate the construction of a Medical Centre (5-10 Family Doctors and Allied Professionals) and a Retirement Home (135 apartment-style units with 12 town-house units).

Finally, at the same time that we reduced our term debt and increased property taxes at a rate lower than inflation, we dramatically improved the Town’s infrastructure. From better roads and more sidewalks and trails, to new playgrounds and new and improved parks, to renewed Downtowns, and thanks to our success in achieving significant investments by other levels of government, our four-year capital budget totaled $32.5M – an average of $8.1M per year.


Pelham Council and I continue to ensure that we only minimally impact you and other property tax-payers while we continue to improve our infrastructure and increase the quality of services in the Town.