Sunday, December 13, 2015

Great Christmas Spirit, Even Without Snow

Pelham Santa Claus Parade, 2015
What a joy to join the Pelham Senior Citizen’s group last Wednesday at Old Pelham Town Hall for a special holiday lunch and carols – including Irving Berlin’s “(I’m Dreaming of a) White Christmas!” Despite the lack of snow, it does feel like Christmas in Pelham!

The holiday spirit began early in Pelham on November 5 when several businesses hosted holiday open houses. Some store-owners even closed their shops for a couple of days and stunningly transformed them into Christmas wonders.

Over the following weeks, the Town began decorating much of Pelham – from Peace Park and the Bandshell in Fonthill, to Town Hall, to hydro poles in Pelham’s urbanized areas, to the flagpole and trees in Fenwick.

And, some very dedicated, community-minded elves took it upon themselves to “spruce-up” our Town. While the rest of us were sleeping or working, these elves decorated almost every utility pole and light standard in sight using evergreen boughs and red bows. So many of us appreciate their efforts!

Then, the Fenwick Firefighters Association took the lead for the turkey raffle tradition, followed closely by the Fonthill Lions (with a chili cook off to boot).

Thanks to “Christmas In Pelham” volunteers and Town staff for organizing the third Christmas Under the Arches / Outdoor Christmas Market in Fonthill on December 4. The hundreds participating and the venders, services clubs, and musicians helped make the event wonderful and vibrant.

Then, hundreds and hundreds shared the true spirit of generosity on December 5th for the 25th Annual Pelham Food Drive for Pelham Cares. Thank you to each of the donors and all the volunteers that went door-to-door to support those less fortunate in our Town. Thanks, as well, for those volunteers unpacking, sorting, and repacking non-perishable food. Finally, thanks to the businesses who donated food and funds so that volunteers were fed and the event was publicized.

This past weekend, the Fabulous Fenwick Lions and others in the community organized the annual Santa Claus Parade. Despite the abundance of candy for kids, all knew it was not another Halloween when “Buddy the Elf” drove Santa through the recently revitalized Downtown Fenwick and to Centennial Park.

Add to all this the Christmas concerts at our schools, the open houses at businesses and private homes, the work parties, and all the celebrations at Pelham’s churches, and we are doing well to prepare for Christmas.

I hope that you and your family experience the joy of the spirit of Christmas this holiday season. I also wish you all the best in 2016!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Municipal Finance: Deficits, Debt, Reserves

Since that’s a lot of talk and media coverage about things like debt, deficits, and government spending, I wanted to add a few observations here.

While the Provincial and Federal governments can run deficits, Towns and Cities cannot.

Deficits occur when a Federal or Provincial government spends more on their services and projects during their fiscal year than their revenue for that year. The new Federal government, for example, just announced that they expect to end their fiscal year with a $3.0 billion deficit. Adding up this overspending is called an accumulated deficit or Federal / Provincial debt. And, that Federal and Provincial debt includes both operating costs (program spending) and capital expenditures.

On the other hand, Towns and Cities must run balanced books each year. We cannot budget for a deficit nor a surplus, nor can we accumulate deficits.

So, how do we mitigate unexpected expenses or pay for large capital projects? With reserves and municipal debt (called debentures).

Sometimes we accumulate specific funds over a few years in a reserve to help pay for something in a future year. For example, we might put $100K aside for a few years so that we can buy a $400K fire truck in year four. Or, we established a snow clearing reserve to cover excess operating costs for winter control methods (if required).

For multi-million-dollar community assets, however, it might not make sense to save up for decades in advance.

For example, does it make sense to pre-charge folks for a number of years to save up for a multi-million-dollar water or waste water project, when the asset will be used over 50 to 70 years? Why should people who move or pass away prior to a project’s construction pre-pay for an entire project? Wouldn’t it be better to allow folks benefitting from the project pay as they use it?

One could make the same case for a 40 -50-year asset like a community centre or a 25-year asset like a downtown redevelopment. It’s often in these types of cases that “smart debt” – a debenture period of less than the life of the asset – makes sense.

And, that’s especially beneficial during periods of low interest rates and infrastructure grants from other Governments. For example, by the end of 2014 the Town’s total long-term debt was just under $5.9 million. Last year we added nearly $1.8 million of debt to pay our share of Downtown Fonthill’s revitalization and Fire Station #2 construction after taking advantage of more than $4.1 million of Federal and Provincial stimulus funding; we also repaid $914,070 in debt principal in 2014.

I will continue to keep you informed as Council and I work to improve our infrastructure and increase the quality of life in our Town.