BY JOHN CHICK
Special to the VOICE
Pelham Town Council passed its operating, capital, water and wastewater budgets for 2020 at the November 18 meeting—the first Niagara municipality to do so, according to Town Treasurer Teresa Quinlin—but they didn’t come without rate hikes. Water rates for next year will increase by 7.5 percent, and wastewater by 9.5 percent. Those numbers are not new, however. The same percentage hikes were instituted in 2019, part of a staff-recommended requirement to meet the future operating and upgrading of infrastructure. In its report last year on the heels of a consultant’s study, the annual 7.5 and 9.5 percent hikes were recommended in part to make up for the fact there were no increases in rates between 2014 and 2017.
Broken down, the operating budget is $18,424,526, water is $2,948,982, and wastewater is $2,161,293.
The total effect is an increase of 6.05% to the tax levy, or $108 a year to the average household, according to Quinlin.
Still, the Mayor sounded optimistic about the budget as he said the Town is trying to correct previous inaction and irresponsibility.
“The 2020 budget contains many ‘good news’ items,” Mayor Junkin said. “We managed to increase transfers to reserves to $400,000, so that is a start to rebuilding them —which is the Town’s major financial problem. The budget supports the hiring of more bylaw staff, in anticipation of increased enforcement.”
A staff request for another bylaw inspector had been on the books for at least the past year, with actionable enforcement required for coming regulations around cannabis production and short-term rentals. (CAO David Cribbs discusses the topic this week, in an interview starting on page 3.)
“It is also a budget where Council is replacing a Town truck and getting a much-needed new snowplow, both which had been previously deferred,” Junkin said. “The new budget represents a good balance of addressing present service needs, and repairing financial problems, instilled from the past.”
The overall estimated increase of the budget is 6.05%, after accounting for growth. More details will be made available in the coming weeks.
Effingham speed limit dropping
After an amendment to include flashing stop signs and other signage, Council unanimously voted to accept a consultancy recommendation to lower Effingham Street’s speed limit to a uniform 50 kilometres per hour between Highway 20 and Regional Road 69, at Pelham’s northern boundary with St. Catharines.
Sitting as Committee of the Whole, members appeared opposed to the idea at first.
“In short, this will not be well-received by the traveling public,” Councillor Lisa Haun said. “I believe the current speed limits are appropriate.”
Speed limits now vary on the winding, scenic route through North Pelham. There are two stretches of 60-km/h straightaways and two stretches of 50 km/h zones, interwoven with slower, yellow-signed curves where the speed limit drops as low as 30. Rather than lower the speed limit, Junkin agreed with Haun that more police enforcement would be the ideal approach. “People will drive what they want to drive,” he said.
However, council’s tone started to change when Fire Chief Bob Lymburner spoke. Lymburner said that it is easier from both a driving and law enforcement perspective when there is one uniform speed limit on a particular road, and he added that the immutable laws of physics also play a role in who generally survives a car crash.
“When two cars collide at 50, which we get a lot of, there’s very little damage to people … [maybe] minor injuries. When we get into 70s and 80s, that’s when there are fatalities,” he said, pointing out that Effingham is a hotspot for speeding.
“Well, Chief, I hate listening to common sense,” Junkin replied to laughter.
With that, unlike in other quadrants of recent global politics, empirical data and expertise won out, and council voted to accept the recommendation.
MCC fitness for folks 55-plus
The Committee of the Whole also approved a health and well-being partnership between the Town and Brock University, with a focus on fitness programming for residents aged 55-plus.
A six-month pilot project will run from January to June at the community centre, overseen by a Brock staffer who will recruit, train and supervise Kinesiology students in instructing the program.
“I think it’s a great program,” said Haun. “However, I think that if taxpayers are going to spend $7,000 [on equipment], they should be able to use it when this program isn’t running.”
Director of Recreation, Culture, and Wellness Vickie vanRavenswaay indicated that the program is likely to grow, and that availability during daytime hours would accommodate the Councillor’s vision.
Summerfest attendance down
Summerfest Committee chair Bill Gibson presented to council his 2019 event report, and noted a downtick in attendance. This past July, Summerfest saw 31,951 people attend over its four days, down almost exactly 7,000 from the year before. However, the extreme heat and humidity gripping the Golden Horseshoe that weekend —and subsequent thunderstorms — are believed to have contributed to the lower number. Gibson reported that Summerfest received just over $17,000 in donated materials and 1,200 volunteer hours. He said the Committee gave back $4,834 from the event to local service clubs.
Next year marks the 10th anniversary of Summerfest, and despite some Pelham Street businesses opposing the disruption it causes, the Town appears gung-ho about it going ahead.
“It’s so easy to see that it is indeed a community festival,” Junkin said to Gibson. “The community embraces this — one of the reasons you’re here and going into your 10th year is because you’re always evolving, you’re always seeing how you can make it better.”
Frontages may keep shrinking
Council sent a request by developer Mountainview Homes to remove the requirement for a masonry wall separating detached garage blocks on new properties on Summersides Boulevard, as well as reducing various setbacks, to the Committee of Adjustment for consideration. The committee will later make its recommendation to council as to whether to approve the requested changes.
CCC talks to NOTL
Cannabis Control Committee chair Tim Nohara gave his first update to council since it unanimously voted to extend the municipal Interim Control Bylaw on cannabis in September.
He said the committee has been in contact with officials in Niagara-on-the-Lake regarding their own regulatory battle with the cannabis industry. That community went further than Pelham’s nine-month extension, lengthening its Interim Control Bylaw for one year last July. Its expiry, however, now lines up with the end of Pelham’s, in mid-July 2020.
NOTE: Corrects erroneous information in this week’s print edition, regarding council’s vote on Mountainview Homes’ request pertaining to its Summersides Boulevard development.