Residents look for Bandshell, baseball upgrades; construction salesman wants speedier permit approvals
BY VOICE STAFF
Pelham Town Council had its 2018 budget open house last Monday, in an event that was advertised as an “effective and innovative forum to continue engagement amongst Pelham residents and hear more about what they would like to see in 2018.”
The evening began with a presentation from Town Treasurer Teresa Quinlin, who briefly explained the budget process and from where the Town draws its revenue. Quinlin said that the night’s consultation was one of the early steps in considerations, and that a draft is scheduled to come before Council on December 4, with final budget approval coming two weeks later.
Before a crowd of eight, Quinlin pointed out that the Town’s funds come from three primary areas: property taxes, which everyone must pay; use charges, such as those for water lines, which are assigned on the basis of use; and development charges, which are drawn from developers in the Town.
It is important to acknowledge, Quinlin said, that not all property tax revenue stays in Pelham. The average home price in Town is $316,400, meaning that the average annual property tax is $4108. Of that figure, $1981 is funnelled to the Niagara Region, $566 to the province—for the funding of schools—with $1560 left over for the Town.
Once Quinlin had finished, Council opened the floor to presentations from members of the public.
Annie Holtby, representing the Fonthill Bandshell Committee, was the first to speak.
“We have four main requests,” Holtby said. “The biggest one being the grading and tiering of Peace Park.”
According to the committee, manipulating the dirt to allow for two rows of chairs to be placed on each tier would make the park considerably more accessible—and safer—for less-mobile attendees.
“The chalked rows start out well. But the seats always end up like a labyrinth,” Holtby said.
The Bandshell Committee’s requests also included permanent washroom facilities, as well as improved lighting in the park. Holtby held up a planner’s conception of Peace Park that the Town had commissioned several years ago, a sketch that showed most of the things for which Holtby was asking.
“I don’t know who did the drawings for you,” she said to Council, “but it’s certainly a beautiful concept.”
Councillor Richard Rybiak was the first to question Holtby.
“Is the association interested in participating in the costs?” he asked. “Or is the expectation that the Town covers everything? Do you have some sort of capital campaign planned?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” said Holtby.
Mayor Augustyn thanked Holtby for her presentation.
“It’s good to hear what the committee is looking for, since last time it wasn’t clear to me whether others were all-in on tiering,” he said. “Presumably this work could be done in stages—we don’t need to do it all in the same year.” Holtby returned to the gallery.
Next up was John Abbott, speaking on behalf of residents of Pickwick Place in Fonthill.
“The issue is principally about the median in Pickwick Place,” he said. “The discussion has been ongoing since 2016, and the light replacement was postponed from the 2017 budget.”
According to Abbott, residents of the street, which he called a “charming cul-de-sac” with extremely low traffic, were greatly alarmed by the prospect that the 11-foot lamp posts there now could be replaced by ones of 25 feet or taller.
“We looked at that proposal and said, ‘My God. Isn’t this unnecessary?’ Posts like that would certainly change the ambience of the street,” said Abbott.
The 25-foot post to which Abbott referred is the “traffic standard” that residents were initially told was required, a figure substantially taller than the “pedestrian standard” ones that are there now.
“The proposal as I saw it cost around $130,000,” said Abbott. “I find that astounding. If the Town is moving ahead with installation, I can’t overstate the importance of the height issue. Residents will be happy going the way of the status quo, perhaps with some medium of tree replacement and shrubbery on the median. You are used to people asking for money—here I think that there is an opportunity to save money.”
Council appeared to be sympathetic to Abbott’s points, and Councillor Gary Accursi asked Town Director of Public Works Andrea Clemencio what steps would be required to override the 25-foot height requirement. Clemencio asserted that she’d requested a design from the firm that included shorter posts, but hasn’t received the amended design back yet. Abbott returned to his seat.
David Tucker, in sales for Tucker Homes, the construction company founded by his father, and also the incoming president of the Pelham Business Association, asked Council to take more seriously its economic development plan.
“As I understand, in the 2017 budget it was listed seventh down the line on priorities,” Tucker said.
“And I’d like to see a specific focus on economic incentives for small businesses in the town. These could be in the form of multiple programs—they don’t necessarily have to be financial incentives. Examples that already exist in other towns are tax increment programs, which defer increases in taxes to later years…there could be a development charge reduction program, or a planning fee reduction program. Another item could be declaring economic development zones or strategic investment zones, which could reduce red tape and have a streamlined regulation process for expedited approvals, something that would minimize the reporting and studying and planning that would be needed for small businesses to grow.”
Tucker said that incentives to bring big businesses into a location, such as those used by Welland to attract General Electric, have a considerable amount of risk.
“But focussing on small to medium-sized businesses has less risk,” he said.
Rybiak was again first with a question. “You said that these incentives need not necessarily be financial,” he said. “And yet, as it turns out, most of them were. Which of your suggestions are ones designed to attract new businesses, and which are to keep current ones here?”
“That’s up to the Town to decide,” answered Tucker. “They could be entirely directed towards existing businesses, or split eighty-twenty, or however you like.”
Augustyn said that the Town already has two special economic development areas, in downtown Fonthill and Fenwick, but that Tucker’s suggestions would be part of a future conversation.
“Perhaps we can find ways to lighten the red tape,” he said, concluding debate on the matter. “Maybe we can make it pink in spots.”
Nancy Brzozowski introduced herself as a mother who had only recently returned to work after a maternity leave, and said that she hadn’t prepared a presentation in the same way as the others. “I really enjoy spending time in Pelham’s parks with my son,” Brzozowski said. “But one thing we don’t have is a splash-pad. It would be wonderful if we could set a gold standard here, like the one in Caledonia, where the splash-pad has something that appeals to little kids and to older ones, who like to splash and have jets spurting out.”
Brzozowski said that she was interested in doing anything she could to help bring about the splash-pad, and added that she has spoken to a lot of other young mothers also supportive of the idea.
“Thank you for you very comprehensive presentation—you were very well-prepared. And we certainly appreciate your offer to help out,” said Augustyn.
Councillor John Durley pointed out that there was discussion of the splash-pad at each of the public workshops for the future of the Pelham Arena site. Council agreed to keep a splash-pad in mind.
Melissa Wells of Pelham Minor Baseball was the final presenter of the evening. Wells requested that Council look into upgrades of Harold Black Park, where a lack of lighting and enclosed dugouts has inhibited PMB from hosting larger events.
“Baseball registration grew by thirty-six percent this year,” Wells said. “We have a lot of teams coming in, eating in local restaurants—and if we can host the bigger events, staying in local hotels, too.”
Wells said that some of the fields at Harold Black were in need of other repairs, too. “Baseballs are six dollars each, and one game we lost ten balls into the sheep pen,” she said. “And there are puddles in some spots where we’ve had to use couch cushions just to make the field playable.”
Rybiak spoke once Wells had finished. “My point is just one of process,” he said. “These ideas will come back to us from staff fully fleshed out with cost, right?”
The Mayor nodded, and then Rybiak nodded and said he had nothing to add on the Harold Black matter for the time being.
Once Wells had sat down, and the agenda turned to open discussion for councillors, Rybiak raised his hand to speak on the subject of roads.
“Both Sulphur Springs and Poth demonstrate the need that the Town has to respond with effective, safe, and perhaps fast and necessary ways with serious issues. The ultimate solutions will be extensive and expensive, but in the meantime, they’re closed…People have been building roads for a long time, and presumably there’s some temporary measure that could be taken.”
Durley took the floor immediately after Rybiak, but said that he had no comment on the issues Rybiak had raised. “There are engineering things we need to follow,” he said. “But I do get a call every second day about speed. We tried a chicane, we tried humps, we tried poles. There needs to be something that’s going to slow people down…Maybe painting will help. Where I live, on Line Avenue, half is painted, and half is not. I don’t know if they ran out of paint or what—”
“—I don’t know why there isn’t a line on Line Ave,” said Augustyn.
Durley laughed. “That’s right,” he said.
Durley added that communication should be a concern in the upcoming budget. “We need to throw some money at the communication problem,” he said. “So that things can’t be twisted as they have been in the past. We need to make sure things are understood as they are.”
Accursi said that he was taking a global view of the budget, saying that the Town ought to finish its work development plans, including East Fenwick and the Haist Street arena site.
After Accusi’s points, the Mayor made brief comments on other projects, including the “Love Your Hood” neighbourhood program, and the potential planning of the Ridgeville Hamlet, which would exempt Ridgeville’s downtown from Greenbelt restrictions and allow for greater growth.
The draft budget is scheduled to be made publicly available on December 1.