Monday, June 30, 2014

Happy Canada Day in Pelham!

As we take this opportunity to gather and to proudly celebrate all it means to be Canadian, let’s also celebrate all the wonderful features about our Town!

From breathtaking vistas, to babbling brooks, to plentiful orchards and rich agricultural soil, Pelham enjoys a refreshingly natural and rural character. This natural character especially stands out during the spring and summer.

From the historic settlements of Effingham, Fenwick, Fonthill, Ridgeville, and North Pelham, the Town of Pelham remains grounded with a distinctive, small-town feel.

Home to diverse and creative businesses, Pelham also offers unique goods and services to residents and visitors. Their continued success depends on our patronage.

You and I are also blessed to have so many of our neighbours working to make our Town a prosperous, vibrant and caring community. I continue to marvel at the work and dedication of so many generous volunteers who form the foundation of our vibrant community. From the Fenwick Lions Carnival, to the weekly Farmer’s Market, to the Fonthill Bandshell Concert Series, to Pelham Summerfest, to the Canada Day Parade, volunteers organize and run our Town’s significant public events.  From Communities in Bloom, to the Horticultural Society, to those that have “adopted a road”, volunteers work to beautify our Town. In every sport from baseball and hockey, to soccer and tennis, volunteers – like the coaches, convenors, and score keepers – ensure that our children enjoy the fun-of-the-game.

We also live in a peaceful, safe community with great schools, and many recreation opportunities. We enjoy clean water, wonderful libraries, and a great mix of fully-accessible neighbourhood and community parks.

A dedicated police service, devoted volunteer firefighters, and expert emergency personnel protect you and I from harm. We have fair access to good and affordable healthcare.

We enjoy freedoms of conscience and religion, of thought, belief, opinion and expression, of assembly, and of association. We are free from persecution and from tyranny.

And, while we may have some work in a few of these areas, when compared on a global scale, we fare very well and should be very thankful.

Council and I are committed to working together with you to preserve our Town’s unique urban and rural blend and to ensuring that Pelham maintains our distinctive, small-town feel as we grow. We are also committed to Pelham becoming the most vibrant, creative, and caring community in all of Niagara.

As you and your family and friends commemorate our country’s 147th Birthday, I hope you will join me in celebrating and in giving thanks for our Pelham and our Canada.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A “Thank You” Call about Pelham’s Property Taxes

I wasn't surprised when Elaine (the Town’s long-serving and extremely dedicated taxation clerk) told me that “John” [not his real name] had called about his residential property taxes. But, I was pleased to learn that he was calling to thank the Town because his property tax bill decreased.

You see, John makes a point of calling the Town every time we send out a tax notice; that means every six months he calls Elaine or me to complain about his taxes.

I understand that John has generally been pleased with Pelham’s modest property tax increases over the years.

For example, the average increase of property taxes on your combined residential property tax bill for each of the last four years was 1.5% (for a four-year total increase of 6.0%). (For the previous four years – from 2007 to 2010 – it was 1.8% (total increase 7.3%).)

At the same time, inflation for the last four-year period was 7.35% or an average of 1.79% per year.

That means that Pelham’s residential taxes increased 1.35% below inflation over the last four years. (Please click here to review the Town of Pelham Residential Tax Increases, 2004 to 2014.)

So what has been John’s complaint?

John called in the past because his property taxes increased greater than the amount we publish each year. For example, in 2011, the average property tax bill decreased by 0.1%, while John’s increased. That meant a hit on his pocket book while others got a break.

How is it possible that he got a break this year, when the average residential property taxes increased by 0.9% in 2014?

Well, the answer is because the 0.9% average increase is only for an average residential property assessed at $298,000 and that increased an average of 2.2% (the average increase of all increases in residential assessment).

But, if your assessed value increases more than the average increase you will pay more than average.

For example, if the assessed value of your home increased by 4% from 2013 to 2014, that’s higher than the 2.2% average, and you would pay more than the 0.9% average property tax increase.

By the same token, if your home is like John’s property and your assessed value increased less than the average – say by only 1% (instead of the 2.2% average) – you will likely pay less property tax this year too!

I want to thank “John” for calling Elaine! Maybe it’s human nature…but most people call to complain, to report something, or to ask for an improvement. Only a generous few thank Town staff and express their appreciation for a program or service. Thanks, “John”!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Multi-Faceted Community Centre Update

Over the last few months, Town Council has received much information regarding recreational and community centre-type needs, wants, and costs.

You will recall that the Town hired LeisurePlan International last summer to develop a market analysis and business case study. After a resident survey, detailed analysis and a comparison to industry standards, LeisurePlan recommended in January that the Town:
• replace the existing single-pad with a new arena facility within the next five years;
• design a new twin-pad facility and phase the construction – build one ice pad first (contingent on capital financing) and construct the second pad after 2023/24 (should the sustaining demand develop);
• provide a multi-purpose facility to accommodate demand for participation in fitness activities, walking/running on an indoor track, and gymnasium sports;
• provide multi-purpose program space;
• not provide an indoor pool due to lack of demand and associated costs;
(For a copy of this LeisurePlan report, please click here. For a copy of their presentation to Council, please click here.)

In April, LeisurePlan presented various options and recommended that the Town build “integrated facilities” – a multi-purpose community complex – for $22 to $27 million. (They estimated that an integrated facility would cost up to $1.1 million less in capital costs than two, stand-alone facilities.) (For a copy of this LeisurePlan report, please click here; for a copy of the LeisurePlan presentation to Council, please click here.)

In May, LeisurePlan projected net operating costs for an integrated facility at $63,715 in the first year, and declining slightly each year for the next four years. (Please click here to review a copy of the LeisurePlan report.) As a comparison, the existing Arena cost $64,366 (net) in 2011; $75,477 in 2012; and $92,486 in 2013 to operate. (Please click here for a copy of the Staff report.)

Since the estimated costs to operate a multi-faceted community centre is less than the existing arena’s operating loss, Town Staff recommended that the Town could fund the costs to operate a new integrated facility.

In essence, the recommendations say that the sustaining demand is here and if we can afford to construct a new multi-faceted community centre, we could afford to operate it.

So, how do we try to make the capital costs for a potential new community centre more “affordable” for local, municipal tax-payers? We need to fundraise and attain financial support from the Federal and Provincial governments.

To do that we will need more detailed plans (design drawings), and tighter cost estimates. We also need to decide on a location for the new facility – ie: whether we should retrofit / significantly renovate our existing arena (if there is room on that property) or whether a multi-faceted community centre should be constructed on our East Fonthill lands.

That’s why Council recently approved establishing community design committee – with representatives from potential recreation user groups, youth, seniors, artists, and service clubs. (To review the Terms of Reference for the Design Committee, please click here.) We have also short-listed four potential architectural design firms.

In July, we will consider options for a potential location(s) and will appoint design committee members. We look forward to your involvement in these decisions.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Embracing & Celebrating the Isaac Riehl Memorial Skatepark

Photo Credit: Dr. Louis Albanese
What an amazing celebration on Saturday, May 31 for the Official Grand Opening of the Isaac Riehl Memorial Skatepark! The event marked the culmination of a year-and-a-half of community support that Mariah Bunz, Nicholas Loscavo, Reese Ashbee, and Cooper McIntee – members of the design committee and event Emcees – said “…has been nothing less than inspiring and motivating for everyone involved.”

As you know, the skatepark was built in memory of Isaac Riehl, a 14-year-old, Grade 9, E.L. Crossley Student, who tragically lost his life in October 2012 after being struck by a car while longboarding with his close friend Reese.

In honour of Isaac, the idea for a local skatepark was submitted to the Aviva Insurance Community Fund by fellow student Mariah and with the assistance of Isaac’s friend Nick.

The overwhelming community support for a skatepark in Isaac’s honour – including thousands of Facebook votes and Pelham Council’s commitment to not only build the skatepark but to match all donations – resulted in Aviva awarding the Town $115,000 toward the project. (This was announced at a special national broadcast on Canada AM on January 29, 2013 at E.L. Crossley High School.)

A design committee – which included Bonita, Ted, and Jacob Riehl (Isaac’s immediate family), a cross-section of Pelham youth, and Town staff – worked with various park users to choose the best location for the new skatepark. The also recommended a design and construction firm – New Line Skateparks – and worked diligently to oversee the park’s design and construction. Not only does the design include Pelham-specific and personalized features – like the “Comfort Maple” Volcano, the “Overholt Hill” Bank, and the “Message to Isaac” Flat Ledge – but it garnered a highly-coveted Parks & Recreation Ontario (PRO) Award of Excellence in Design for 2014!

During the park’s soft opening in December 2013 – coined the “Riehl Reveal” – the Town thanked donors, sponsors, and volunteers. I again acknowledged the community’s tremendous support of the skatepark as I spoke during the Grand Opening on Saturday; deep appreciation again to Bill & Stephanie McWilliams, Tim Hortons Fonthill; Barb & Scott Christopher, Young Sod Farms; Rotary Club of Fonthill; 2013 Pelham Mayor’s Gala; Sam Reynolds, “Be Riehl, Be You” Campaign; E.L. Crossley Secondary School community; Niagara Catholic District School Board Technology program, and the hundreds of other donors.

Since the community overwhelmingly embraced the Isaac Riehl Memorial Skatepark, we achieved an amazing transformation together; together we turned an idea into reality, we revitalized an aging baseball diamond into a new skatepark, and we transformed our grief into a lasting memorial and a fitting celebration.

TVCogeco just posted a fabulous video about the Grand Opening of the Isaac Riehl Memorial Skatepark. Check it out out: TVCogeco. Thanks, Cogeco, for continuing to cover important community events!