John Wink says Town needs a new council, better communication, and a solid business plan
BY JOHN SWART
John Wink, council candidate for Ward 2, has a lengthy list of volunteer contributions to Pelham, including Chair of Pelham Summerfest, President of the Pelham Business Association, President Pelham Panthers Basketball Association, and many more, which surely helped the Kinsmen choose him as Pelham Citizen of the Year in 2015.
Wink is one of eight candidates in Ward 2, all new. Wink believes that a new candidate’s volunteer record is a strong indication of how they will serve residents of Pelham if elected to council.
When asked about the relevancy of volunteer work to political office, Wink replies, “I’m retiring after the end of this year. I will have the time to deal with Town issues. I look at the opportunity to be on council as a further extension of the volunteer work I’m doing for the community. This community is extremely important to me, I constantly look for opportunities to give back.”
A top priority for Wink is transparency, a buzzword he knows is used by many candidates. He explains how it relates to the Town’s finances.
“One thing I think that I bring to council is business acumen. Working for 41 years in financial institutions, I have a good understanding of financial statements, budgeting, human resources, etc. Someone made a comment in one of their articles that ‘the Town is not a business.’ It is a business, it has to be run like a business.”
If elected, Wink would immediately work to understand Pelham’s debt, what the reserves are, if any, and what’s the plan to retire that debt.
“I hear the plan is development charges, expanding the tax base. Well, what’s Plan B when there’s a recession? There’s nothing to say that we’ll continue to develop at this rate. The people I speak to are very concerned there’s going to be large increases in taxes. That’s something that’s not palatable by the individuals at the door.”
Wink concludes that, “In order to pay the debt, this next four years is going to require a lot of belt tightening.”
When asked how this squares with the possibility of spending money to clad the deteriorating arches, Wink says the Summerfest Committee has the ability to pay a large portion of the cost from their reserves without endangering the future of the event. He points out nothing has happened yet, other than a request to explore costs. Any decision will rest with the next council, and he believes there is an allocation in the 2020 budget for fixing the arches.
“Part of transparency is also communication,” says Wink. “A lot of people in this town feel that they’re not getting the full story. People are saying to me, ‘John, we know there’s debt there, don’t hide it, let us know what it is, and then maybe we can have an understanding when Council does something, we know why.’ We don’t have that understanding at this point.”
Wink also hears of council and staff not returning calls, which he feels is not right. Town Hall-style meetings, with residents, senior staff and councillors, where questions are answered, would help address the problem of people feeling they are not being heard.
Airbnbs and short-term rentals are a hotspot issue with Ward 2 residents and Wink recognizes the problems. In his opinion, the Town appears to be following Ontario government guidelines, but he feels more can be done.
“My point is, if Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Falls, and the Town of Blue Mountain can all have policies and bylaws, and restrictions, why don’t we do it?”
Wink questions why a report to council on the issue, originally said to take four to five months, was pushed back to June 2019 at the last council meeting.
“No one on council questioned why the timeline was so long when we’ve been dealing with this issue since July of this year. This needs to move along, things that are happening in that [Lookout] subdivision are ridiculous.”
Wink adds this is also happening in East Fonthill, where speculators have bought multiple homes and are caught in a flattening market. The homes are now being leased or offered on Airbnb because they can’t be sold at a profit. “There has to be restrictions on this,” he says.
In commercial zones and rural areas with sufficient space between properties, Wink is okay with Airbnbs and short-term rentals. He believes bylaws, licensing and enforcement are needed, and suggests punitive fines could pay for the extra enforcement costs.
When asked about the apparent divisions within the community, Wink responds, “As I go to the door, I would say that the majority of the people want a fresh council. There’s a feeling that they haven’t been communicated to properly. Whether it’s the finances around the community centre, the sale of land, the audit that was done.”
Wink zeros in on the special meeting of council held at E. L. Crossley last November, at which residents weren’t permitted to ask questions about a report given to council by the financial services firm KPMG, as the beginning of a rift between the residents and Town.
When asked about rescinding non-disclosure agreements former Town employees have signed, and support for a genuinely independent, third-party audit going back to 2014, Wink brings his business experience to each answer.
He would not rescind the NDAs, and adds that if there is staff discontent, there are ways through outside, professional services to discover the areas of concern, and then take a positive, team-oriented approach to solving them.
“There are a lot of good people there,” he says.
Wink does not favour another independent audit of past financials.
“Every year the Town has to get an independent audit done. If we’re worried about how much money we spend, we’ve got to stop somewhere. You can go on-and-on. Here’s an audit, it didn’t pick up the dirt that we wanted, so let’s get another audit. No, let’s stop. This year we’re going to have another audit, let’s start looking forward, stop looking in the rear-view mirror.”
A traffic calming strategy that makes sense is important to Wink. He’s witnessed the chicane on Haist Street just north of Highway 20 while campaigning in Ward 2, and thinks it should go. He views speed humps, electronic speed monitoring, and enforcement as possibilities, and questions why Pelham’s approach appears so piecemeal.
Wink sees a need for more medical doctors in Pelham.
“We’re touting the fact that we’re opening a new clinic with nine doctors. My sense is that the nine doctors going in are just relocating from another address in the area. They’re coming in with their own practices. We’re getting a lot of people moving into the area from outside of Niagara, and they’re having a difficult time finding doctors.”
Wink was made aware of this by a neighbour who is a retired doctor, and has been involved in recruitment. Wink segues this into discussing the talented pool of retired professionals within Pelham that the Town could tap as volunteers. He cites the work of Bill Gibson and Bill Sheldon on the community centre advisory committee, and says there are many more in the community who would respond generously if asked—something he would do if elected.
The need for affordable housing is important to Wink, and his perspective is not limited to seniors. He believes there is employment for young people in Niagara, but that living in Pelham is now beyond the means of most.
“Our kids couldn’t buy here because it was too expensive. There wasn’t that type of affordable housing. The other thing I’m hearing is that our seniors are living in larger homes, they want to downsize, but downsizing is cost-prohibitive too,” says Wink. He understands the developers’ perspective, that higher-end homes are more profitable, but says, “It’s hard to hear that seniors may have to move out of Pelham to get affordable housing.”
Wink also favours expanding housing options for the disabled and wheelchair-bound, especially youth seeking to live independently. He believes more dialogue with developers and builders is necessary.
Wink “still doesn’t understand how we got to 10-story affordable housing in Fonthill—hopefully the new council can bring it back to something more palatable.”
Wink holds a degree in Recreation and Leisure Studies with a Business Option, so green space is important to him.
“I know we’re in a big hurry, and I’ll have to look at the debt situation and what the plan was to retire it, but I still hear from a lot of residents that they don’t want the old arena property converted into housing. And there’s a couple pieces of land in Lookout that were dedicated to parkland and nothing has happened to them.”
Wink says the fate of the old arena property should not be decided until after the election, and is not opposed to re-opening the discussion.
“It’s part and parcel of head and heart. The heart says let’s keep it as a park, the head has to say, okay, what’s the plan. If we do this, maybe we’re not going to be paying down the debt. Are the people willing to accept that trade off, as a result it may be an increase in taxes?”
Wink also suggests the Town should perhaps sit on the land around the community centre to see what develops with parking needs. He does not expect Summerfest to locate there in the future. Wink says the committee is concerned with the growing size of the crowds, but moving it isn’t easy. The community centre parking lot is too small, and doesn’t have the electrical power capacity that is required. Another option, Glynn A. Green school, is not Town property. Harold Black Park doesn’t have the hard street surface in case of rain, which could result in the Festival losing the whole weekend.
During the recent mayoral debate, Wink was struck by a candidate’s comment about the need for consensus on council. Wink feels that the majority of time the current council is “all singing from the same hymnbook.” He emphasizes, “I’m not afraid to give my opinion. I’m not here to provide consensus. I will debate, but if I don’t agree with something, I’ll stand my ground. I don’t think we all have to come to the same conclusion.” ♦
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