Pelham’s three candidates for regional councillor faced a typical problem at a debate Friday.
Anthony Annunziata, Brian Baty and Jim Inman were asked by the residents of Lookout Ridge Retirement Community if they favoured completing sidewalks in front and beside the complex.
It fell to incumbent Brian Baty to explain that sidewalks are not a regional responsibility.
While Regional Road 20 is a regional road sidewalks fall under the Town of Pelham’s jurisdiction.
The town and region do co-ordinate the town’s sidewalk work with regional road construction as was done with recent work along the Regional Road 20, he said.
Baty saluted the town’s active transportation advisory committee “as being the most influence committee” for issues such as sidewalks.
Inman said good sidewalks are a safety issue and proper maintenance ought to concern all elected members.
Annunziata pointed to what he called “the thickness of government” for what appears to be confusion between regional and local governments.
The three candidates during the hour long debate came back to a lack of understanding by residents of regional government.
“I don’t know which level of government does what,” said a woman from the audience.
Baty tried to explained the difference. The region deals with matters that affect the whole of Niagara Region such as major roads, bridges, water treatment, policing, paramedics and social housing. Local governments handle local roads, parks, recreation, planning and other immediate areas.
Annunziata said there is a lot of confusion with 12 municipalities and 12 planning departments, “things have got to change.”
Inman pointed to the way property taxes are collected for misunderstandings. The local municipality does the collecting but the region draws off the biggest part. The region does not have direct contact with the taxpayer.
“We need more accountability,” he said suggesting direct election of the regional chair.
Other questions by the 75 residents at the debate concerned economic development and transportation.
Baty said transportation was critical both within the region for seniors, students and employees, and externally for connections to Toronto through GO train.
The coming of the Pan-Am Games will help to improve links, he said.
Annunziata said local transportation is suffering from parochialism.
“We need a transportation strategy,” he said and asked where was an airport strategy to link Niagara centres such as Boston, New York and Philadelphia.
Inman said transportation was critical to meet medical needs such as health services at the different hospitals and centres.
Dependable transit is also needed to get people to work.
He pointed to a Job Bus program that took workers to jobs in Niagara Falls for a tourist season. It helped 40 permanently get off social assistance just by giving them a reliable way to get to work.
After the debate, the three candidates said it was difficult to deal with complex regional issues in a short format.
Inman said the debate did give the candidates more exposure.
Annunziata said Pelham needs a stronger voice at the region.
Baty said with more than half of Pelham taxes going to the region, there should be more formats for discussion of regional issues during a municipal election campaign.