2020 YEAR IN REVIEW | Mayor Marvin Junkin

Despite challenges, Town rose to the occasion of 2020

Congratulations! If you are reading this, then you have survived one crazy year!

I can remember, like most Canadians, reading in January about some obscure virus happening in China that some alarmists were forecasting could conceivably go worldwide. Yeah, right!

Three months later all of our lives were greatly altered. In the following, I will attempt to focus on Town business as it unfolded throughout the year, in spite of the virus causing everyone to keep adapting their plans.

In January, council heard from the Bandshell Committee, telling us that the upgrades to Peace Park were completed, except for the new light standards, which had to be installed along the newly poured concrete path. The park had been re-graded, re-sodded, some trees removed, and electrical infrastructure installed. The new light standards were installed in the spring. Wow, are they nice! If you haven’t seen it already, please take a walk in the early evening, and enjoy the effect. Hopefully, sometime in 2021, the park can be rocking!

Also in January, I had a somewhat memorable meeting with the Library Board, with a sold-out, standing-room-only audience in attendance. I really enjoyed this meeting and I believe it was invaluable in opening up long-needed communication between the Library Board and council. We actually had plans to meet in a roundtable discussion to find more common ground and continue to communicate, but COVID-19 dashed these plans. However, the Town CAO and I have had two very productive meetings with the Library Acting CEO, Amy Guilmette, and the Board Chair, Nicole Nolan. These talks are ongoing and I believe that sometime in the new year the Library Board will have an announcement to make.

In April, all of Pelham residents were saddened to learn of the passing of first-term Councillor Mike Ciolfi. He was a great councillor and an even better person. His presence is sadly missed at council.

Like all businesses and local governments, Pelham was headed into a two-week lockdown, forcing management to have a hard look at laying off staff. Altogether, senior management laid off 32 workers for varying amounts of time. Thankfully, by summer they were all back on the job.

Even with the lockdown, Planning staff continued to process building applications so that area builders were ready to go when restrictions were lifted. The housing market has remained strong in Pelham throughout the summer, and by the end of December the Town will be on track to have issued a comparable number of building permits this year as last. This strong growth in house construction is projected to continue through 2021.

Altogether, senior management laid off 32 workers for varying amounts of time. Thankfully, by summer they were all back on the job.

In the spring, Town staff and the new union representing the Town’s outside workers signed a first-time collective bargaining agreement. It was a tribute to both sides that an agreement was made satisfactory to both parties while remaining on amicable terms.

Land sales in East Fonthill continued throughout the year, totalling some $5.3 million dollars. This money all went to pay back the bridge loan that the Town had taken out to cover the construction cost of the community centre. Also sold in the fall was the old arena site for $2.5 million dollars.

Having both ice rinks open for the summer was both financially rewarding and again a sign of the diligence of Town staff to get the Town assets open for our citizens both quickly and safely. Many municipalities that usually had summer ice in years gone by did not open their facilities this summer. Pelham also ran day camps for children, offering the kids a token bit of normalcy and no doubt giving stressed-out parents a badly needed break.

In September, Ward 1 residents went to the polls to to fill the vacancy on council that was created by the passing of Mr. Ciolfi. When it was all said and done, the Clerk’s department won many accolades for running such a safe election in a pandemic, and was indeed featured in a provincial magazine for its efforts. A Mr. Wayne Olson, a relative unknown in the community, ran a strong campaign based on fiscal responsibility for the Town, and the retired CPA won the seat, defeating five other worthy candidates.

In early fall, Pelham, like all other municipalities, received a COVID-19 compensation payment, part of a $4 billion dollar fund provided by the federal government. This payment was to compensate the municipalities for the extra cost of COVID-19, such as cleaning and sanitizing expenses, along with any revenue that had been lost to date. A second payment, to be made before Christmas is pending.

In the fall, council awarded the tender to fix Sulphur Spring Drive to a local contractor. At the urging of council, this contract was a design build, meaning that the contractor will be responsible for not only the construction of this project, but also for the design. Bill Duffin, the contractor who was awarded the contract, is also the contractor that designed and built the wall that has successfully held back the hill on the old number 8 highway, between Jordan and Vineland. According to Bill, “That hill hasn’t moved an inch since I put the retaining wall up in 1991.” I believe the project of Sulphur Spring Drive is in good hands. This project is slated to be completed by the autumn of 2021.

When fall arrived this year, that was when the Town’s finance department started to put the finishing touches on the budget for next year. I had stated back in late spring that I would not be happy with a budget that had a property tax increase greater than 2%. The proposed Town budget, if passed in January by council, allows for an increase of 4.7%. However, the virus and its effects are responsible for 2.8% of the increase.

Next year, if we can eliminate many of the costs associated with COVID-19— plus hopefully gypsy moths will be on a downward cycle—I am confident that we can bring in a 2% or less increase. One other step council has taken is the hiring of a Town Solicitor. Jennifer Stirton will be shared among the municipalities of Fort Erie and Wainfleet. We as a Town simply cannot afford to continue to pay $750/hour for legal advice on the cannabis issue, or any other issue for that matter.

The Region is aiming to bring in a 2% tax increase, and by deferring some capital projects this goal appears to be achievable.

Restaurants in the Town, like restaurants across the Region, are feeling the financial crunch of COVID-19. Please give them as much business as you can, be it take-out, or dining in with family members.

I can assure all residents that you have a group of highly motivated professionals working for you inside Town Hall. In two years as your Mayor, I continue to find this job very interesting and very rewarding. It’s an honour to be your representative at Regional Council and at all official functions that I attend. That being said, they are days that I long for yesteryear when a stubborn Holstein was my biggest problem.

Merry Christmas to all, and may the New Year bring you and yours much happiness.