Thursday, March 30, 2017

Pelham Submission about Regional "Motion"

 The Town of Pelham is taking the opportunity to respond to Regional Councillor Barrick’s motion entitled “Regional Taxpayer Affordability Guidelines” and on the 30 March 2017 Agenda for Regional Council.

Pelham Council and the Town of Pelham take pride in being open and transparent; as such, we are always prepared to answer questions from colleagues and from the public. Therefore, we are pleased to provide this accurate information and firm response to the Motion.

With this memo and the many accompanying documents, we will correct or clarify each of the points expressed in the Motion’s preamble and body with information from source documents. These documents have been filed with the Regional Clerk for inclusion on the agenda tonight.

I am pleased to provide links to the document here. 

The entire document is very large – more than 330 pages and nearly 17mb. Thus, please use the following link for a PDF with bookmarks. 

(Please note: these was a glitch earlier, which has now been resolved. This link is for the entire document.)

Thanks for your interest! D


Thanks to Tim Denis and CKTB 610AM for inviting me to speak on March 30 about the motion and Pelham's submission to Regional Council. Please click here to hear the conversation.

Despite asking two-times to speak and address the concerns directly during the Regional Council meeting (and make reference to the Town's +330 page submission), I was not allowed to speak and the matter was referred to the June 12 meeting of the Audit Committee.

Here's a media story about that Regional Council meeting:

We have included the report on the agenda for Pelham Town Council on Monday, April 3. It's the same report as above, but you may find it by clicking here.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Another Small Step Toward Niagara Inter-Municipal Transit

Before I write about the long road toward inter-municipal transit in Niagara, I have a question for you…

How excited would you get when friends who own a house and have been living together for five-and-a-half years announce engagement and complete wedding three-months-hence? Are you delighted for the couple, but wonder “what took you so long?” and “what’s going to change in your relationship?”

Last Thursday when Regional Council took another small step toward inter-municipal transit, many asked “What took so long?” and “What’s going to change?”

Niagara Region's public works commissioner Ken Brothers,
Niagara Region's chair Gary Burroughs,
Port Colborne Mayor Vance Badawey,
Grimsby regional councillor Debbie Zimmerman
and St. Catharines regional councillor Tim Rigby
 cutting the ribbon for the official launch
 of Niagara Region Transit, September 2011.
(Photo: D. Draper.)
You may recall that after working on an inter-municipal transit system for a few years, Staff presented a plan in 2010 for the Region to begin operating transit. As a response, the Cities of St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Welland made a counter-proposal that the Region fund a system that the three services would operate. Regional Council approved this Niagara Region Transit for three years with the intent that if successful, the group could take further steps.

That’s why the first Niagara Regional Transit buses started rolling-along in September 2011 and began making connections between municipalities. The next steps discussion took some effort, and since it was growing and working, the Region extended the pilot for another year.

Then, in May 2015, Regional Council “endorsed in principal creating an inter-municipal transit system in Niagara,” extended the pilot to December 2016, and requested that the three Cities work together to provide options on how best to provide Inter-Municipal Transit. After Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, and Welland approved similar motions, the group began meeting in earnest in January 2016. They hired Dillon Consulting to develop a high-level plan and receive public input and the Region again extended the pilot. Since January 2017, Dillon presented their report – “Niagara Transit Service Delivery & Governance Strategy” – and each of the three City Councils approved it unanimously.

Last week, Regional Council approved the report’s recommendations: endorse (again) the principal of a consolidated transit system; direct staff to develop a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the three major transit providers by the end of 2017; form a Transit Working Group with representation from all 12 Niagara Cities and Towns. Finally, since the Region funded the pilot for five-and-a-half years beyond its “sphere of jurisdiction” in the Ontario Municipal Act, the report recommended a “triple-majority” process to sanction the funding.

So, what will happen in June if the majority of local Councils approve allowing the Region to operate conventional transit? To use an analogy, the transit marriage will become legitimate.

Although a small step, it’s an important one to keep Niagara’s inter-municipal transit path moving forward.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Committed to Urban Boundaries & Preserving Agricultural Lands

It doesn’t happen too often, but occasionally I am the only one to vote for or against something at Regional Council. A couple of weeks ago, for example, I was the only one who opposed promoting development outside existing urban boundaries.

Pelham Town Council remains committed to development inside the existing urban boundaries so that we can protect the environment and agricultural lands outside those areas. We also do this to ensure that existing urban services (like water, sewer, and storm water infrastructure) get used to capacity – instead of continuously adding additional and costly services outside urban areas.

This commitment led Pelham Council to encourage greater protection for the Fonthill Kame. Similarly, we have refused to endorse additional lot creation in the Greenbelt. Further, we continue to protect rural “lots of record” and impose agricultural-only stipulations on remnant parcels so that houses cannot be built on new severed farm lots.

And, while some might be upset with new development inside Pelham’s urban boundaries, Council remains committed to development only on lands in the boundaries that were approved in 2000 (for Fonthill) and 1990 (for Fenwick). We oppose expansions or extensions of the urban areas. (For more information about the "East Fenwick Secondary Plan" please click here. For more information about the "East Fonthill Secondary Plan" please click here.)

Yet, this belief by Pelham Council is not held universally across Niagara.

A perfect example was the March 2 vote over whether to endorse a Regional Staff submission to seek “special policy opportunities” in the rural and agricultural, non-serviced lands along the QEW between Niagara Falls and Fort Erie. (For a copy of the report, please click here.)

You see, after the Province designated a Gateway Zone from Niagara Falls to Fort Erie and a Gateway Centre in Welland / Port Colborne / Thorold, Regional Council developed special incentives to encourage industrial growth. It was these “Gateway Incentives” that helped convince GE Canada to build their new plant in Welland. Further, the incentives helped encourage the Federal Government to designate Niagara as a Foreign Trade Zone to support export related growth.

But, some large, rural property owners informally lobbied Regional Councillors and Staff so that those incentives and servicing might be broadened outside urban areas.

Ironically, those property owners bought cheaper, rural land but now want the benefits of more expensive lands inside urban boundaries. Eventually, they will demand new water, waste water and transportation infrastructure at a time when the Region has an accumulated infrastructure backlog of $545 million just to replace poor and very poor existing pipes and roads! (For a copy of the February 2017 asset presentation to Regional Council, please click here and see pages 26, 28-29.)

Why lobby the Province to add benefits to new areas when it will cost an extra $1,121 per household per year for the next decade just to fix the Region’s existing infrastructure?

Sadly, I was the only one to vote against trying to expand urban boundary development rights in that QEW / Niagara River rural area.

If you would like to view the discussion at Regional Council, please go to 3:45:00 at the video by clicking here.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Demand Exceeded for Pelham Community Centre!

Last week, Town Council signed 5-year agreements with six major community groups for their use of the new Pelham Community Centre. These binding agreements exceed the Town’s revenue goals for the Centre and confirm the demand for a second arena.
Back: Doug Thomson, Southern Tier Admirals AAA Hockey; Paws, Pelham Junior Hockey Club Mascot; Ben Chambers & Dan Treblay, Welland Raiders Minor Lacrosse Association; Tim Toffolo, Pelham Junior Hockey Club; Brian Bleich & Darren Williams, Pelham Panthers Basketball; Mario Battista  & Todd Major, Pelham Minor Hockey Association.
Front: Mayor Dave Augustyn; Melissa Drulia, Southern Tier Admirals AAA Hockey; Dawn Good & Mandy Engemann, Niagara Centre Skating Club.

Council was thrilled to enter into these partnerships with the Pelham Minor Hockey Association, the Pelham Panthers Basketball Association, the Pelham Jr. B. Hockey Club and the Southern Tier Admirals AAA Hockey. The Town is also excited to welcome the Welland Raiders Minor Lacrosse and the Niagara Centre Skating Club back to Pelham. Now that we have these agreements with major users in place, the Town will work to rent and program the rest of the available time at the facility.

You will recall that a consultant report suggested sustaining demand existed for two ice surfaces. This LeisurePlan report projected 100% prime-time usage of one arena and approximately 70% usage of a second arena and influenced Council’s June 2015 decision to include two arenas in the design of the new Pelham Community Centre. (As you know, the Centre will also feature two gymnasiums, a walking / running track and multi-purpose spaces).

The recently signed agreements with the Town mean that the 1,000-seat Accipiter Arena will have 100% prime-time usage and the Duliban Insurance Arena will have more than 90% prime-time usage. This exceeds estimates from the LeisurePlan report and confirms the need for two arenas.

Before the signing, Brian Bleich, President of Pelham Panthers Basketball Association, said that the facility “can’t happen soon enough” for their 425 athletes from more than 350 Pelham families. He said that “Our agreement with the Town of Pelham guarantees that we can support youth basketball for many years to come” and suggested that the double gymnasiums will be known as the “Home of Champions” and the “Panther’s Den.”

Todd Major, President of Pelham Minor Hockey, reminded Council that their more than 300 Pelham families (representing more than 420 members) have “faced challenges in past years finding ice space.” In the 50th year of Pelham Minor Hockey, Todd said that the new facility will “ensure our programs meet our members’ needs and our Association’s goals.”

The President of the Welland Raiders Minor Lacrosse, Ben Chambers, informed Council that the group also started in Pelham 50 years ago as a Canada Centennial project. He said they were “excited to bring the Raiders back to Pelham” and promised that the club would reinstate the Pelham Raiders name.

I am delighted that these 5-year, binding agreements demonstrate that the Pelham Community Centre will be the place for residents of all ages to gather and enjoy a wide-variety of recreational, social, health and community activities for many, many years!

(To watch the signing of the agreements via the Town's website, please click here.)

Sunday, March 5, 2017

4-Year Freeze Means Pelham Rates 20% Lower!

I am thrilled that Council is set to approve the fourth year for a freeze on our residential and commercial water and waste water rates. Because of ongoing efficiencies and innovations, the Town will absorb the Region’s 8.5% waste water increase.

How are we able to freeze rates for the fourth year in a row? And, how do we compare to others in Niagara?

RF Meters Paying Dividends:
Prior to 2010 the Town measured water usage and calculated waste water charges with old gallon and cubic meter odometer-type wheel meters – many from the 1960s and 1970s. Many of the aged-meters counted slowly or were failing/broken. It took two weeks to collect readings. If a system leaked, it could take months to detect.

In 2010, the Town worked with Neptune Technology to replace and upgrade all 4,200 our meters to electronic, RF (Radio Frequency) meters. In addition to leak, backflow, and tamper detection, it only takes 3-4 hours for staff to collect usage data every two months.

Not only does this cost less and give much more accurate billing, but we also automatically notify residents / businesses by phone if there is a leak or other issue with their water service. And, after replacing all the meters, we reduced our water loss from +20% to less than 10%!

Infrastructure Upgrades:
As you know, we have also upgraded significant Town infrastructure over the last number of years. As we reconstructed or improved roads like Haist Street, Pelham Street, and Canboro Road we also replaced old water and sewer pipes. Over the last nine years, we replaced more than 14 kilometers of cast iron water mains, which helped stop costly leaks and reduces the number of breaks and repairs.

Best in Niagara By Far:

I reviewed the most up-to-date rates and calculated the fixed charges and the rates for both water and waste water for Pelham and for the other local municipalities. At $161 for two months (for the average residential use of 50 cubic metres) Pelham leads the pack with the lowest combined water and waste water charges!

Four of our neighbours – Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, Thorold, and West Lincoln – are between 19% and 27% more expensive. The others – Fort Erie, Lincoln, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Port Colborne, and Welland – are 33% to 79% more expensive!

Council and I are pleased that our investments in innovation and infrastructure save you hundreds of dollars each year and allow us to freeze water and sewer rates for a fourth consecutive year!