Town Council News

Rental fees, facilities allocation, zombies

BY VOICE STAFF

In its shortest meeting for some time, Pelham Town Council had a light agenda last Monday evening. The lengthiest discussion held was on updated user fees and charges for Town facilities and services. Councillor Gary Accursi asked about the listed gym fees for the community centre.

“It seems extremely low to me,” he said. “Comparing it to the rental of the Kinsmen Room—it just seems excessively low to me for twenty dollars an hour.”

Director of Public Works, Andrea Clemencio, said that the fees for the community centre had been reviewed by Town staff, and that room rentals (such as the Kinsmen Room) were more expensive because they included a cost for setup and cleanup.

“These kinds of costs are incurred with gymnasium fees,” said Clemencio. “We have to honour fees in license agreements that are signed and agreed to.”

Accursi did not immediately relent.

“Twenty dollars would probably not cover the hydro and heat and running a mop over the floors,” he said. “Do we have an alternate cost for groups not part of those agreements? I think we’d lose money at twenty dollars and hour—it’s not even worth opening the gym for that amount.”

Director of Recreation, Culture, and Wellness, Vickie vanRavenswaay told Accursi that the Town was pricing the rental to be competitive. “Twenty dollars is comparable to the board of education,” she said. “When it comes to Pelham basketball, they’re paying less than twenty dollars right now, though they have signed for the twenty dollar fee. We can look at fees again in 2019.”

Mayor Dave Augustyn asked for a comparison between the rental cost of rooms at the community centre and Old Pelham Town Hall. In response, vanRavenswaay said that comparing the two was comparing apples to oranges.

“Old Pelham Town Hall is a self-serve,” she said. “You come here [to Town Hall] to pick up the key and leave your deposit, then you set up and clean up yourself at Old Town Hall. At the community centre, all of that will be done by staff.”

Council also spent time during the meeting discussing the facility allocation policy. Accursi asked for more explanation of a particular line.

“’Community youth organizations will be encouraged to utilize early morning and non-prime time hours as well as shared time wherever possible,’” read Accursi from the document, before turning to Clemencio.

“We’re softly encouraging them to take advantage of less-appealing or very early hours,” said Clemencio. “[We’re trying to get] even sharing of prime-time hours.”

Accursi also asked about a clause that read, “new special event or tournament requests received less than 12 months before the desired event date, will only be considered if there is an economic, social or cultural benefit to the Town.”

“This sounds harsh to me,” said Accursi. “We’re trying to rent our facilities. Sometimes events come up three months ahead of time. There needs to be a lot of flexibility here, I think. Someone could read that and say, ‘I’ve missed the twelve months, I need to run the gamut to be considered.’ That’s not the message we want. We want to send the message that we’re open for business, while giving due consideration to the groups already booked.”

Clemencio agreed that the wording of the policy could be changed so that such events “will be considered.”

Accursi asked about the process by which groups could appeal facilities allocation if they are unhappy with the arrangement.

“Is there a process of appeal to Council?” he asked. “Or is the word of the manager the end-all and be-all.”

Clemencio said that she was not aware of anyone having ever challenged an allocation, while vanRavenswaay said that staff will sit down and try to work things out with user groups.

“It’s good that you’re sitting down, but if it’s not incorporated in a policy then it could be unable to be done,” said Accursi.

CAO Darren Ottaway recommended against the formalization of Accursi’s point.

“I would not recommend that Council put that in there,” he said. “It opens the door for them to circumvent administration period. Second, when we deal with groups and they don’t like the answer of administration, we always say, you can go to Council. That’s a standard answer.”

At that, Accursi relented.

Council briefly discussed a report from the Human Resources Director, Paula Gilbert, on the end of a two-year pilot vacation program. In this pilot, employees were required to take the statutory minimum of two weeks vacation a year, and employees agreed to forfeit any claim to vacation payout. Gilbert included some apparent testimonials from staff in her report.

Pre-pilot opinions were summarized as “an unhealthy work/life balance. Strain on mental and physical health,” and worries from staff about an inability to unplug from work email over the weekend.

The post-pilot quotes were enthusiastic.

“I think it works great and the flexibility is amazing,” read one. “I think it’s a great benefit and something that sets us apart from other municipalities in the Region. I wouldn’t want it to change.”

Gilbert’s report also asserted that a staff member had said that the pilot “helps morale by empowering employees to feel trusted and accountable.”

Council heard one presentation during the meeting, on the Big Brothers Big Sisters 2018 Bowl for Kids Sake event.

According to its Executive Director, kids involved in the program are “forty-six percent less likely to start using alcohol or illegal drugs, thirty-three percent less likely to hit someone, and seventeen percent more likely to be employed.”

She relayed a challenge from Fort Erie’s town council, saying that the trophy for the most money raised was in their hands, but that they were challenging Pelham’s council to match the $4000 goal. The Bowl for Kids Sake will be on March 3 and March 7, and will have a zombie theme.

“Some people say that when I bowl the ball doesn’t go very far, so it’s like I’m dead already,” said Augustyn.

“I’m trying to make a joke here about the zombies.”

Council did not discuss the Regional Council motion supporting a resident petition to the province to investigate Town finances, nor did it follow-up on a discussion from the previous meeting, in which Councillors had mused about billing the Region for costs relating to “defending” itself.

When the meeting ended, after just an hour and ten minutes, Ottaway joked that something was off.

“Do we need to sit here for another hour?” he said. “It just doesn’t feel right.”

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