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Search for budget cuts continues

Interim CAO Teresa Quinlin speaks before council on February 19. VOICE PHOTO

 

Councillors pare further $239K from capital budget recommendations

BY JOHN CHICK
Special to the VOICE

Pelham Town Council continued to try and pare the 2019 capital budget, targeting approximately $239,000 in likely cuts and deferments at its Feb. 19 meeting. That number represents about 1.8 percent of the capital budget, according to Interim CAO Teresa Quinlin, who added that the Town had already previously found about $3.9 million in savings and deferments.

Most of the deferred items last Tuesday were smaller ones, such as the Town’s ditching program alongside roadways that are not urbanized. That alone defers approximately $100,000 into 2020.

“I’ll hug you after this meeting,” Mayor Marvin Junkin joked to town Public Works Manager Ryan Cook after Cook told council the ongoing roadside ditching work could be pushed back without much worry.

Jokes aside, the tone of budget-cutting among council remained sombre as the Town continues to find austerity any way possible. Ward 3 councillor Lisa Haun prefaced the situation as “dire” in asking that $24,000 be cut in smaller line items. Ward 1 councillor Mike Ciolfi said that seven to 10 percent of the capital budget must be reduced.

“There is no money,” he added. “We can’t just increase these taxes.”

One item that councillors raised discussion over was the Town’s fleet of vehicles— outside of the essential ones such as snowplows.

Ward 3 councillor Bob Hildebrandt asked about the logic of leasing of those vehicles as opposed to having some Town staff drive their own cars, saying he “just thought it was a way when we don’t have cash, to save cash.”

However, Director of Public Works Jason Marr pushed back at the notion, saying that a study he was involved with in his previous job found that the cost of leasing or owning Town vehicles essentially breaks even with paying out mileage to employees who use their own vehicles for municipal business. He also added that Town vehicles—such as the SUVs painted in Pelham’s livery —provide both marketing and logic.

“You want that branding,” Marr said. “You don’t want to be driving personal vehicles onto a construction site.”

Ward 1 councillor Marianne Stewart suggested the branding issue could be resolved by placing removable signage on private cars when employees are on Town business.

“It’s not an easy thing to cut things out,” said Ward 2 councillor John Wink.

Still, the proposed vehicles budget includes more pressing needs, including an aforementioned snowplow. The Town’s oldest unit is 20 years old, about twice the average snowplow’s lifespan, according to Cook, and the second-oldest is currently out of commission with a starter problem.

“Our guys are working with a lot of equipment that’s outdated,” he said. “When we ask for vehicles…it’s for a real need.”

Additionally, the 4×4 vehicle currently used by building inspectors has about 300,000 kilometres on it and needs to be replaced, said Cook.

Marr wanted to be certain that any item that gets deferred in this budget will be included in the future. About $450,000 has been deferred from previous years on the aging snowplows.

“No one spent anything last year, and now we’re forced to do it and look like the bad guys,” Ward 2 councillor Ron Kore said.

Marr’s presentation of forecasted public works costs also included other urgent needs, such as addressing the complete failure, due to erosion, of a stretch of Sulphur Springs Road in Effingham. That piece of rural roadway is directly adjacent to a cold water stream and has been closed to automobile traffic since June 2016, because a sinkhole has made it completely unpassable. While that current closure does not cripple connections to the road network in the area, due to the high velocity of the watercourse, a second nearby stretch of Sulphur Springs Road could structurally fail in the future—which would cut off access to four homes.

That outcome would result in an emergency situation. With that in mind, Cambridge-based engineering firm Water’s Edge Ltd. was hired to consider solutions. Compounding matters is the area’s environmental sensitivity, with lands protected by the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority and the Niagara Escarpment Commission.

Marr’s recommendation, based on the work of Water’s Edge, is the construction of an armour-stone retaining wall between the road and the watercourse. That remains the most expensive option, with Marr asking for $250,000 to cover all work. On the upside, the Town is able to recoup $119,000 towards the project by way of the federal gas tax. A cheaper option would be convert the road to one-way, ceding the shoulder to abatement precautions.

The longtime issue of localized flooding in the Pelham Street/Hurricane Road vicinity was also on the docket, with a new storm sewer and roadside swales recommended.

Kore said the Town would be able to cover those costs — which have affected nearby homes at various times — by way of a provincial infrastructure funding grant. Quinlin said the status of that funding grant will be known imminently. Marr also pointed out that vehicular speeding is an issue at the T-intersection of Pelham and Hurricane, raising the question of converting the junction into a three-way stop.

Other smaller-item deferments included a $30,000 gym mat covering for the community centre, and dugout enclosures for the ball diamonds at Fenwick’s Centennial Park. Junkin did ask that a request for a new electronic sign at Centennial Park—home of the Fenwick Lions Club—be kept in the capital budget. “The Lions Club does so much for us,” he said.

Trash talk

As the Town continues to discuss Niagara Region’s proposed garbage collection changes, it seems clear that there is less rancour in Pelham over the idea of scaling back pickup from weekly to fortnightly as there has been in communities like Niagara Falls and Wainfleet.

However, Junkin did concede that he has received many questions over the proposed rule that all garbage bags under new pick-up regulations be clear-coloured. The Mayor recommended that those who have privacy concerns about what they are throwing out can simply place such potentially embarrassing objects in a shopping bag that in turn goes in the larger garbage bag.

Additionally, perhaps because of the “transparency” of the proposed rule, Junkin cited a statistic that showed clear garbage bags can increase one household’s recycling anywhere from six to 16 percent.

While garbage collection would be moved to every two weeks, recycling and organics pickup would remain weekly. As a result, garbage volume output per household would be doubled, leading Wink to ask about the possibility of rodent infestation around more accumulated trash. Marr said he was unaware of any concerns or complaints in other municipalities.

In terms of larger-item disposal, such as household appliances, the Region would still take calls for pickups on arranged days.

Junkin said that under the current format, scrappers and junk collectors frequently get to the items before the Region can remove them on a scheduled basis.

The Region’s deal with current garbage contractor Emterra ends in 2021.

Legion banners

Council also chose to get behind sponsoring a unique local tribute to Canada’s war heroes. The Town will partner with the Royal Canadian Legion Fonthill Branch 613 to place 13 double-sided banners that will honour local heroes with a photographic image on lampposts. Each banner will honour a total of 26 specific servicepeople with a connection to Pelham.

The banners will include the veterans’ names, eras served, branches of service, photographs and the name of sponsor. The Town would place these banners—along with an across-the-street banner —during Veteran’s Week in October, leading through Remembrance Day observations until conversion to the traditional Christmas lamppost decorations. The cost of each banner—which will have the weather durability to last three-to-five years —is about $140, the same amount as an identical tribute project in the Town of Mount Forest.

“The Legion views itself as the ‘Keepers of Remembrance,’ as our members ensure that our veterans are cared for and that our nation remembers what they accomplished during their lifetime so that future generations would enjoy their freedoms of expression and to make their own decisions,” Rick Hatt of the Fonthill Legion told council.

None on council had any objections to the partnership and tribute, recommending installation for this coming October.

“We can’t forget the people that sacrificed their lives for us,” Councillor Kore said.

The Legion also kicked off the meeting with a $5,000 donation to the community centre.

Council will convene next on March 4. A report on the ponding issue at Balfour Street and Welland Road is due at that meeting.

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