2020 YEAR IN REVIEW | David Cribbs, Pelham Chief Administrative Officer

All things considered, Town in good shape

As for everyone, the events of 2020 took Town staff by surprise. Fortunately, several members of the Town’s senior leadership team have advanced accreditation in “incident management,” which is civil-service speak for leading during emergencies. Our skills, knowledge and aptitude were certainly tested during those first few months of the pandemic, and in short spurts since that time. I am pleased to report that both as a community and as a municipal corporation, Pelham endured well.

Pelham was the first municipality in Niagara to re-open an arena, the second to open the pool, one of only two that offered kids camps, the first to open Town Hall, albeit by appointment only. The community in turn responded well: the tennis club picked itself up very early on, Pelham Cares partnered with Town staff to deliver groceries to the house-bound, the library was a regional leader in commencing pick-up-only service, and the Town’s trail system has never seen more use. In sum, the community looked after its own and kept moving, safely.

The Town finishes the year with millions more in cash than it had at the start

On the economic front, there have of course been challenges, financial losses, and more than enough stress and anxiety for virtually everyone. I want to clearly acknowledge the reality of financial pain and suffering present in both the community and the region. Good moves authorized by council included expanding restaurant patios (without additional fee or charge) and deferring payment of taxes and water bills for the early months of the pandemic. Council’s decision to open the second ice pad at the community centre produced over $170,000 in additional revenue for the Town, which helped offset COVID-related losses. The temporary layoff of 32 Town staff and 11 library staff was difficult and unpleasant, but it also dramatically reduced the losses incurred by both organizations. Even with a dip in construction and a six-week period during which the Town was not issuing building permits, Pelham’s assessment growth in 2020 is an impressive 2.82 percent. That number deserves some greater analysis: the Town continued to grow at a pace well above inflation, even in the face of a pandemic. It’s proof positive that our community is and remains a highly desirable place to live.

The other notable economic improvement is in the size of the Town’s cash position. In mid-December, the sale of the old arena lands closed. A reputable developer has paid a significant price and will ultimately be building a community that is very much in keeping with the neighborhood around it. The province has just announced the Phase II COVID-19 funding, wherein the Town and Pelham Library have jointly been awarded almost $1.3 million. The Town finishes the year with millions more in cash than it had at the start, and has transformed unproductive assets (land slated for sale) into future tax-paying revenue streams. The municipal corporation is now much healthier than it was 18 months ago and will have a much easier time meeting its financial obligations.

So what’s on for the horizon known as 2021?

In September council updated the action items contained within the Town’s strategic plan. This session allowed for a good debate about priorities and where efforts (and results) need to be focused. Arising from that, top priorities include updating the Town’s 1987 zoning bylaw, putting the final touches on the Town’s regulatory approach to industrial-scale cannabis growth, reviewing the operational model for library services, succession planning, an upgrade to the electronic complaint system, municipal tree policy and operations review, a delegation of authority bylaw and an exploration of the potential for one or more “business improvement areas” to assist with economic recovery. There are several other things being worked on as well.

When I step back and reflect, I can truthfully say that council and staff fully appreciate that residents want a high quality of service from the Town. While 2020 involved a deviation from course to address the existential health threat, the Town has pulled through and in fact there are have been many accomplishments at Town Hall. Heading into next year, please know that Town Council has an ambitious agenda of action items which both staff and elected officials intend to deliver upon. Pelham deserves no less.

On a personal note it is both an honour and a privilege to serve this community. I feel considerable pride on a daily basis to be working with this team of talented and committed staff. The move to the Niagara Region has been a great one and I very much enjoy living, working and playing here.

Be well, stay safe, wear a mask, wash your hands, and get the vaccine when it becomes available!