Previous inaction becomes drain on Town finances

Budget recommends water and wastewater bills rise 42% over next five years

Special to the VOICE

Pelham has long enjoyed the lowest water and wastewater rates in the Niagara Region, but inaction to raise them relative to inflation is about to come flooding back.

The Town’s water rates are set to rise some 42% percent over the next five years, after Interim CAO Teresa Quinlin agreed with an outside firm’s conclusion that Pelham’s previous council allowed rates to remain unchanged, while not putting enough money into reserves to cover infrastructure replacement and growth.

The findings by BMA Management Consulting were presented before the March 4 meeting of Town Council, and recommended the billing increase through 2024.

Between now and then, it is forecast that Pelham will need to spend around $12.1 million on water infrastructure —either replacing things like aging pipes, or bringing new ones online to accommodate growth. The problem is that currently the Town only has $2.5 million in water reserves, and $2 million in wastewater reserves.

BMA’s Jim Bruzzese spoke before council, saying that the Town has been transferring just $200,000 a year into water reserves. “

There has traditionally been low contributions to reserves,” he said.

“That’s not sustainable on a go-forward basis. You want to build that reserve.”

Members of the Pelham Fire Department were celebrated at the regular meeting of Pelham Town Council on Monday, March 4, receiving medals for service milestones of 20, 30, and 35 years. Front row, from left, Lieutenant Yvon Audette (30 years), Firefighter Les Hildebrand (30 years), Firefighter Bruce Girard (35 years), Firefighter Brian Zanuttini (20 years), Captain Frank Lehmann (35 years), Firefighter George Popko (30 years), Retired District Chief Owen Simmonds, Fire Chief Bob Lymburner. Centre row, from left, Firefighter Mike Woods (20 years), Captain Phil Toffolo (20 years). Back row, from left, District Chief Ben Gutenberg, District Chief Adam Arbour. SUPPLIED PHOTO

The average Pelham household currently pays $748 per year for water and wastewater services. Based on this, and the presentation by BMA, Quinlin recommended an average annual household water rate hike of $62.76. This breaks down to a 7.5 percent increase in water, and 9.5 percent increase in wastewater.

The present rates have not changed in four years.

Compounding matters, however, will be the necessity for the Town to issue debentures—in other words, take on more debt—to the tune of $5.37 million dollars, in order to address the needs.

Ward 2 Councillor Ron Kore took aim at the previous council, asking Bruzzese whether, if that body had been more “wise,” there would now be any need to go into debt over the matter.

While Bruzzese didn’t think it would have resulted in an entirely debt-free scenario, he conceded that the amount the Town needs to borrow could have been “substantially reduced.”

Kore, still perplexed by the previous council’s actions, asked Quinlin why they wouldn’t incrementally raise rates or put more cash into reserves.

“I wasn’t here,” Quinlin said, pointing to the fact she’s in an interim role following the dismissal of former CAO Darren Ottaway.

The good news for Pelham is that even with the rate hikes, the community will still have some of the lowest water and wastewater bills in Niagara, where the average household pays $1,105 per year. Overall consumption in Pelham remains well below the regional and provincial average.

“You’d still be really competitive in terms of the other Niagara municipalities,” Bruzzese told council in spite of the proposed increases.

Arenas, old and new

Council had a proposal on the docket to immediately remove hydro, water and gas service to the old arena at 1120 Haist Street. However, because the adjacent racquet club, basketball courts, and parking lot are still in service, the proposal was amended to keep the hydro on. A minimum amount of security lighting for the old arena is also still required. As such, council passed a motion to immediately decommission gas and water to the 43-year-old structure. The property has been assessed at a value between $2.7 million and $3 million.

Meanwhile, Kore provided a notice of motion for the next council meeting on March 18 that asks to see full operational costs of the new community centre. Kore wants to see revenues from ice fees, rentals, concessions and more.

“We…need to understand what contracts we have with Junior B and minor hockey,” he said. “I’d like to see all salaries of employees working at facility. If we don’t understand what this building is costing us…this facility could drain us.”

Quinlin said all of the information is included in a report as part of the 2019 budget.

Frustration with Leviathan’s challenge to ICB

After the regular meeting, council met in Committee of the Whole to discuss Leviathan Cannabis’ application for an exemption to the Interim Control Bylaw putting a hold on the establishment of new cannabis farms until at least this coming October. Ward 1 Councillor Mike Ciolfi lamented the added work the cannabis company’s application has created for the Town as it prepares a report that council will then vote on.

“I think it’s cut and dry,” Ciolfi said. “We either give them an exemption or we don’t. Those concerns can be addressed when the new [cannabis producer] bylaw comes into effect in October … the ICB was put in place to allow the Town and staff at least year to see what kind of effects this would do to the community. We’re not even in this thing three or four months.”

While Mayor Marvin Junkin agreed with the spirit of Ciolfi’s thoughts, he said the Town is essentially hamstrung by bureaucratic process.

“In order to make an educated decision, it is appropriate that staff bring forth a well-rounded factual document from both sides,” Junkin said, adding that Leviathan has the right to challenge the ICB.

Town staff was scheduled to meet with Leviathan last Tuesday to hear the company’s potential solutions to concerns raised at the February 25 public meeting. Ward 3 councilor Lisa Haun asked Director of Community Planning and Development Barb Wiens if the Town’s legal counsel would be slated to attend the March 5 meeting. Wiens said no.

Hydro committee proposal

Council passed a motion put forward by councillors Kore and Ciolfi for a report on an ad-hoc utilities sustainability committee. The idea is to find efficiencies in reducing the Town’s hydro bill, which was $1.25 million in 2018. The ad-hoc group would be comprised of five or six technical professionals who would in turn provide advice to staff.

“I have a vision that we have a goal of reducing [the Town’s hydro] costs by a minimum of 10 percent from April 1, 2019, to April 1, 2020,” said Ward 3 Councillor Bob Hildebrandt. “If we can maintain that, that equates to approximately a one percent tax reduction.”

Town Public Works Director Jason Marr sees no problem with the idea, saying he would, “welcome any outside opinions that could help out.”

That report will be presented at the next council meeting on March 18.

Odds and ends

Prior to the council meeting, Chief Bob Lymburner presented medals to eight members of the Pelham Fire Department for a combined 220 years of service. That includes 35 years of service by Bruce Girard, who is retiring.

Junkin presented Ward 2 Councillor and Summerfest committee chair John Wink with a plaque from Festivals Ontario, a commercial trade organization that represents the interests of festival promoters and suppliers, in recognition of their including Summerfest in their list of the province’s top 100 festivals.


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