Sunday, March 29, 2015

“Open for Business” or “Out to Lunch”?

Last Wednesday, Niagara Regional Chair Alan Caslin presented his first “State of the Region” address at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Niagara Falls.

Local media reported the Chair as saying: "For far too long, we've had a sign in the window saying, ‘out for lunch, back in an hour.’ We must do better. Niagara must be ‘open for business.’ Under my leadership and the leadership of my council colleagues — Niagara is open for business.”

Last Thursday, I tested his statement at Regional Council; unfortunately Council came up short.

Industrial Power Users Group:
First, Tim Clutterbuck, President of the Industrial Power Users of Niagara (IPUN), asked Council to support their Provincial lobbying efforts to reduce the cost of electricity for Niagara’s largest industries. They find it exceedingly difficult to compete with the $0.02 per kilowatt-hour automatic reduction for Northern Ontario industries and with the cheap industrial power rates in Western New York.

Since the Region supported IPUN’s similar proposal last year (as part of 2014 Niagara Week), I thought it would be a no-brainer to support their initiative now.

Instead, the majority of Council voted to refer the matter to Staff for a report sometime in May.

Tax Rates & Ratios:
Later, Council considered setting the 2015 Tax Rates and Ratios.

When approving the 2015 Budget in February, Council accepted the premise that this year’s tax increase would be $27.50 (or 1.92%) for the average residential property (valued at $236,134).

But now, because of new assessment growth in commercial and industrial tax classes, Staff calculated the final residential increase at $22.42 (or 1.62%).

Half to Residential, Half to Industrial:
Councillors discussed this $5.08 “benefit” two weeks ago and asked for options. Could we deliver half the benefit to residential property class owners – for a $24.66 or 1.77% increase – and use the other half to help commercial or industrial businesses?

When I saw that one of these options would reduce the industrial tax burden by 1.34%, I proposed it to Regional Council. Since this type of reduction was exactly what the Chamber of Commerce suggested a few years ago and given the Chair’s “open for business” catchphrase the day before, I expected Council to jump at this opportunity!

Instead, only Councillors Heit, Petrowski and I supported the idea. Perhaps the majority of Council wanted to keep the “out-to-lunch” sign on the door and voted to study the option for 2016.

Results Not Slogans:
Some have used the “open for business” slogan at the Region before. Maybe it’s time to concentrate less on slogans and more on delivering results.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Yet More Capital Improvements in 2015

Last week I wrote here about some of the major projects in the Town’s 2015 Capital Budget. Here’s some more information about other planned improvements.

Roads, Bridges, Sidewalks, & Trails:
Pelham continues to invest in our roads, bridges, sidewalks, trails, and other infrastructure:
Highland Avenue: Council approved the final phase of reconstruction of Highland (from Elizabeth to Canboro), including a new waterline, sewer laterals (as needed), and an improved storm-water sewer system.
Effingham Street: After starting at Pelham Road a few years ago, we will reconstruct the next section of Effingham – from Metler Road to about 500 meters south.
Sawmill “Bridge”: The Town continues to evaluate all bridges throughout Pelham. In this case we will replace the corrugated steel “bridge” on Sawmill (just east of Centre Street) with a new concrete structure.
Church Street Sidewalk: Council approved funds to construct the missing section of sidewalk on the west-side of Church from where it ends (near 1010 Church) to the railway track.
Rail Trail: Council approved building the next section of the popular trail along the former TH&B rail line – from Centre Street to Murdock Street.

More Park & Recreation Improvements:
After recently reconstructing new playgrounds and sports fields and baseball diamonds, we continue to invest in Pelham’s recreational and cultural facilities:
Cenotaph & Mortar Restoration: We will continue to work with the Royal Canadian Legion, Veterans Affairs, restoration professionals, and interested residents to develop the best plan to restore the World War One cenotaph and German mortar at Old Pelham Town Hall.
Tennis Courts: In collaboration with the Pelham Tennis Association, Council approved funding to help resurface the well-used tennis courts at Centennial Park.
Kunda Park: To keep the decades-old-promise on the sign, Council approved funds to design and build this new neighbourhood park. The Town will invite participation of local residents in the design process.
More Power: To help it easier to organize events and festivals, Council approved the installation of a new power supply on Pelham Street.

New Pumper & Other Improvements:
We continue to invest in the Pelham Fire Service and in other areas:
New Pumper: Since Fire Station #2’s 23-year-old Pumper is ready to become a secondary service vehicle, Council approved the purchase of a new Pumper. Members of the Fire Service will help customize the new vehicle. The Town will sell the existing secondary pumper.
Other Improvements: Council also approved funding for new Fire Fighter bunker gear; an evaluation of the Disher Drain watershed; fixing up the Service Club signs on major entrances to Town; and replacing some furniture and equipment at Old Pelham Town Hall.

I look forward to working together with you on these and other improvements in 2015.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Capital Budget Means More Improvements in 2015

Maple Acre Library Design/Build to Start in 2015
Since Town Council approved a $6.5 million Capital Budget a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to inform you about some major improvements planned for Pelham this year.

Finish 2014 Projects:
First, of course, the Town’s and Region’s contractors will finish three major projects from 2014:
“Uptown Fonthill”: The reconstruction of Regional Road 20 from Peachtree Park to Lookout Street, and of Haist Street from Canboro Road to Regional Road 20 still needs the top coat of asphalt, sidewalk completion, and landscaping.
Downtown Fenwick: The contractor must still finish the brickwork (and install 195 engraved bricks), construct some sidewalks and curbs, install lampposts, remove the hydro poles, sod and landscape, and add a top coat of asphalt.
Port Robinson Road: More sidewalks, sodding and landscaping, a top coat of asphalt and other features will complete this project.

Pelham Street North:
Council acted on requests from area residents and approved the reconstruction of Pelham Street North and part of Hurricane to mitigate potential ditch overflowing and property flooding. Not only do we intend to rebuild the road and upgrade water and sewer lines (as needed), but we will add storm sewers to control water from Pelham Street and Hurricane. Staff hope to design in the Spring and tender the works for late-Summer.

Finally Roland Road:
The folks who travel Roland Road can attest that the section from Sulphur Spring Drive to the Thorold boundary (just before Hollow Road) desperately needs fixing. Council and I appreciate your patience after spring floods made it the worst road in Pelham! You will be pleased that we approved funds to reconstruct that section of Roland this year.

Maple Acre Design-Build:
Thanks to the work of a special Friends of Maple Acre / Library Board / Town Council subcommittee, Town Council agreed to maintain the heritage portion of the Maple Acre Library (approximately 500 square feet), demolish the former fire station portion, and add-on another 3,500 square feet to continue to provide library and other public services in Downtown Fenwick. Council set aside $1 million for a design/build of this type of renewed Maple Acre Library; the design process should start by the Fall 2015.

Active Transportation Master Plan:
Pelham’s recent Bicycle Friendly Community Silver and Walk Friendly Ontario Bronze awards highlight our significant progress in making our Town more walkable and cycle-able and helping residents become more active. Now, Council approved funds to develop an “active transportation” master plan to help guide future infrastructure planning and decision-making and to further encourage more human-powered transport like walking, running, and bicycling.

I look forward to working together with you on these and other improvements in 2015.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

1.92% Tax Increase for Average Pelham Residential Property

We approved the 2015 Operating Budget during our Town Council meeting on February 17. It translates to an increase of 1.92% for the average residential Pelham property (assessed at $302,815).

While Council approved a minimal impact to you and other property tax-payers, we did increase the Town’s level of service and support the ongoing sustainability of our infrastructure.

First, the budget again required Town departments – including the Library – to hold at a zero budget increase while continuing to develop efficiencies and cost savings.

Second, we allowed only “uncontrollable” increases – like for WSIB (Workplace Safety & Insurance Board) coverage, Canada Pension Plan, or insurance premium – and a cost of living adjustment (COLA) equivalent for Staff. (I use the word “equivalent” because over the last 18 months the Town developed a Staff Performance Management system to foster innovation and exceptional service and to discourage mediocre work.)

Third, based on increased service requests from the community, Council approved adding two Equipment Operators to the Public Works department. These new, front-line staff will help the Town maintain our infrastructure and better serve the public. (Applications close March 13 at

Finally, because of our ongoing commitment to improve Town infrastructure – like roads, sidewalks, and parks – we again added a 5% increase on the transfer to our 2015 capital budget.

As a result of these and other initiatives, Council approved a net budget increase of $336,887 (on a $10,085,969 net budget) or 3.46% BEFORE adjusting for real assessment growth.

Real assessment growth – from new businesses, new homes, or improvements to existing properties – was valued at $98,478 or 1.01%. (This growth has nothing to do with MPAC’s changes in market value assessment of existing properties.)

After accounting for that growth, the net effect on the tax levy will be $238,409 or an overall 2015 Operating Budget increase of 2.45%.

What does that mean for your pocket book, you ask?

Well, the average residential property value for 2015 is expected to be $302,815. If your home and property were assessed at that value, you would be paying an additional $26 – or 1.92% – for a total of $1,381 for the Pelham portion on your property tax bill.

From what we are seeing, Pelham will likely be the lowest or second lowest increase in Niagara again this year.

I will write more about your total property tax impact after Regional Council approves the 2015 rates and ratios later this spring.

For more information about Pelham’s Operating Budget, please check out