Monday, February 29, 2016

Provincial Budget Good News for Niagara & Pelham

Finance Minister Sousa presenting the
2016 Provincial Budget, February 25.
There was a lot of excitement across Niagara and in Pelham last week following the release of the 2016 Provincial Budget.

First, in their Budget, released last Thursday, the Provincial Government committed to extending GO Rail service to Niagara. After submitting our formal business case last spring, all are thrilled to have this commitment in a significant Provincial document.

The budget states: "Subject to agreement with freight rail partners, two-way, all-day rail services on the. Kitchener and Milton GO corridors, and extension of GO rail service to Niagara and Bowmanville."

It’s as if the oft-repeated phrase of my colleague, Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati, came true: “It’s not a question of ‘if’ GO rail comes to Niagara, it’s a question of ‘when’!”

And, while we don’t yet know when, Minister Jim Bradley, MPP St. Catharines and huge GO Rail Niagara advocate, explained last week that Transportation Minister Del Duca will provide more information before the end of June.

As we wait for that, we should keep in mind that it will take some time to get the Niagara GO business plan up-and-running. At best, the Province and Metrolinx could take some interim steps as early as next year; however, property acquisition, station construction, and track refurbishment for a run all-the-way to the Falls will take a couple of years. And, I wonder whether the opening of the Stoney Creek GO Station in 2019 will impact the plan for Niagara.

So, while we must keep pushing for GO Rail, I believe this announcement allows us now to concentrate on developing an integrated regional transit service. With our spring 2017 deadline approaching, I was pleased that the Region, in partnership with Welland, St. Catharines, and Niagara Falls, issued a request for proposals last week to help develop an integrated service.

Second, small municipalities like Pelham (with populations under 100,000) also heard great news in the Budget.

The Province announced it would triple – from $100 million to $300 million – the Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund (OCIF) by 2018-19. This fund will provide predictable funds for critical infrastructure projects. And, importantly for Pelham, we also heard that the Province will no longer penalize growing municipalities with good fiscal records. You will recall that Pelham lobbied the Province for this change since they denied us funding last year because of our community’s high property values and high-quality infrastructure compared to other Towns.

The Province also committed to match the Federal government’s $272 million commitment for the jointly administered “Small Community’s Fund” to “help address local priorities and support economic growth.”

On behalf of Council, I thank the Province for the commitment to Niagara GO Rail and support of small communities like Pelham.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Pelham's 2016 Operating Budget Approved

Council recently approved the Town’s 2016 Operating Budget. The new budget translates into an increase of approximately 7.86% (or $107.44) on the Pelham portion of your property tax bill for the average residential property (assessed at $309,200).

Since Pelham’s portion of your property taxes represents roughly 37% of your overall residential tax, we anticipate the average “blended” increase – including the Regional and Provincial portions – to be around 2.9%.

In preparing for the operating budget, Council directed Staff to review all expenditures against customer service needs and the Town’s strategic plan.

The overall budget increased by $792,873 (net). The major increases over 2015 include:
A $269,830 transfer to the capital reserves to help enhance and maintain our excellent infrastructure and build on the $175,979 that we added to capital reserves last year;
$79,629 for increased maintenance and $49,731 for increased utility costs for Town facilities;
$11,007 to increase the Pelham Public Library grant to fund the Library’s cost-of-living-adjustments (COLA) and to double the hours of the renewed Maple Acre Library branch – from 14 to 28 hours per week – starting in November.
$250,786 for Staff wage and benefit increases. This includes a 1.3% COLA increase, performance management compensation, and required benefits increases (of approximately 10%).
And $416,984 for additional principal and interest payments. (See below for more details.)
These net to an increase of $792,873 because of the benefits of new assessment growth ($184,469) and of other expected revenue increases ($100,625).

As I wrote about a few weeks ago, Council earmarked $37 million in the Town’s 2016 Capital Budget toward constructing a potential Community Centre. We did this because we are getting close to a final draft design and so that we might be “shovel ready” for potential investments from upper-levels of government.

So that we might be further ready, Council now earmarked operating funds for principal and interest payments that would allow the Town to purchase at least a $5 million, “re-payable,” 30-year debenture from Infrastructure Ontario (at an estimated rate of 3.48%). Council would only approve this debt if we proceed with a proposed Community Centre; if we do not proceed in 2016, the funds will accumulate in a special reserve.

Draft Designs Soon: On a final note, the Architect and Construction Manager anticipate that they can present draft designs, including elevations and more accurate construction cost estimates, by March 21. Council wants to understand your thoughts and feelings on the proposed design and financing of a potential Community Centre in late-March and early-April before we make further determinations. We look forward to that informed discussion!

For more information about Pelham’s Operating Budget, please click here.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

More Pelham Projects for 2016

Over the last couple weeks, I have written here about some of the new facilities and roads, sidewalks and bridges that the Town will complete or work toward this year. Now, here’s more information about other 2016 capital projects:

WWI Mortar Restoration: Thanks to some concerned veterans and members of the public, Council approved funds to restore the WWI German Trench Mortar, including lighting, a pathway, and an interpretive plaque. This will complement the wonderful restoration of the lead-lettered cenotaph at Old Pelham Town Hall last year. We hope to receive in Federal funds again to help share this important restoration.

Peace Park Improvements: At the request of the Fonthill Bandshell volunteers, Council approved installing additional lighting to Peace Park for special events. We will also install a partially underground waste collection system (like Molok) to make garbage and recycling easier and look nicer. At the same time, Staff hope to use the excavated dirt to help “round-out” the bumps in the “bowl” around the Bandshell.

Rail Trail: Over the last couple of years the Town has built a walking / jogging / cycling trail on the abandoned Toronto-Hamilton-Buffalo rail line from Centennial Park to Murdock Street. Since motorized vehicles also travel the trail and have disturbed the gravel, Council approved installing and signs to discourage that behaviour.

Concession Buildings: Council approved repairs to the concession buildings at Harold Black Park (roller doors, siding, washrooms) and at Centennial Park (soffit and facia, eavestroughs). Staff will also work with the Fenwick Lions on attracting grants to add a pavilion to the front of the concession building for special events.

Pelham Arches: You will recall that dedicated volunteers built the “Arches” in Downtown Fonthill for the 2012 Pelham Summerfest. Since then the Town protected the structure and added lighting. This year, Council approved funds to re-protect the wood and directed Staff to recommend a long-term plan to protect and/or replace this key Town feature.

Fonthill Library Branch: While I wrote about the Maple Acre renovation a couple of weeks ago, Council also ratified a decision by the Pelham Public Library Board to renovate the circulation desk area and add basement offices to the Fonthill Branch.

Fire Service Improvements: Four local fire services share a machine that does a facemask “fit-test” for breathing apparatus; since the machine needs replacing, Pelham will cover one-quarter of the cost of a new machine. We also approved an annual allocation to replace and upgrade firefighter bunker gear.

Planning Work: Council approved funds to help restart the East Fonthill Secondary Plan and to finalize a comprehensive Zoning Bylaw update in 2016.

Council and I look forward to another busy year of investments and improvements in Pelham.