Cost of COVID coming into focus

Pelham Town Council heard the Town’s COVID-19 financial impact forecast during its May 19 meeting, and it’s not good.

Pelham is forecasting a tax levy operating deficit of $408,666 by the end of June, and $849,820 by the end of the year if the present situation remains unchanged.

“If we don’t receive any relief money from [higher levels of government] by the end of June, then we don’t have a stabilization reserve to cover that, so this would be added to the 2021 tax levy,” Treasurer Teresa Quinlin told council, again meeting via video conference.

For the fourth straight meeting, Ward 2 Councillor Ron Kore did not participate.

The Town has already taken some steps, such as deferring substantial public works projects until 2021, and increasing its line of credit to $11 million.

Delaying two of the works projects alone — road and sewer upgrades on Foss and rehabilitating Sulphur Spring Drive — will save $1.5 million. However, Director of Community Planning and Development Barb Wiens said that the sewer upgrades for Foss Road cannot wait forever, with new developments set to come online in the future.

“It’s not going to be impacted immediately,” Wiens said, but adding, “we cannot delay it more than a year.”

Another issue comes with the absence of development charges. No building permits were issued in April due to the pandemic, resulting in a loss of revenue from fees. That money is usually earmarked to pay down debt on the community centre.

“If we don’t receive that money through the in-year revenues, then we’re going to have to draw on our reserves,” Quinlin said. She said those reserves total $1.7 million.

Niagara Regional Council has supported all local municipalities going to higher levels of government as one voice in an effort to get relief. The most common relief measures for ratepayers currently being implemented by municipalities, including Pelham, are extending payment deadlines and the waiving of late penalties for tax and water balances owing.

Arches a victim of COVID?

Despite the gloomy forecast, the organizers of the effort to rebuild the arches previously erected above Pelham Town Square took their shot at asking the Town for a $15,000 loan to cover fundraising shortfalls due to the pandemic.

Local business operator and Rotary member Frank Adamson made his pitch.

“What I request is, at this point in time … as council has supported the request by the Concert Series for the landscaping of the park as a loan … we’re asking your consideration to do the same thing,” said Adamson.

“We think —not positive — but we think we can provide $3,000 a year over five years.”

Adamson said that the inability to hold public fundraisers has hindered plans for the fully privately-funded arches, as well as seen support wither from companies forced to tighten their belts. He added that the late Councillor Mike Ciolfi had indicated he could provide crane services for construction at no cost, something now unknown.

In total, the cost of the project including a reserve maintenance fund and taxes sits at $123,430.

Arches committee member Bill Gibson said the price is a bargain, citing working with vendors who believe in the project.

“[But] these people can only be benevolent for so long,” Gibson said. “You’re getting a heck of a deal here at 120, even if it costs 130.”

Still, one arch opponent eviscerated the loan request.

“I don’t see any numbers in this at all except for your inability to pay for these in the time it would take to construct them,” Councillor Marianne Stewart said.

“I suggest to you that you get your money, then come back to us to build the arches.”

Stewart also objected to design changes that give the latest arch renderings a more circular shape, unlike the original’s more graceful, flowing design.

“I looked at the drawings you provided and I find that they are not in the least aesthetically pleasing,” Stewart said. “And now, this is your third time coming to us.”

Councillor Bob Hildebrandt concurred.

“To me the appearance you have now looks like a Quonset hut or greenhouse design,” he said. “That’s not what the people signed up for. You’re changing the appearance, which I think is critical.”

Ultimately, council decided there just isn’t money right now to facilitate a loan.

“This is a project that wasn’t put forward by the Town,” Stewart said. “It’s not something the Town needs in any way to be successful. Perhaps it’s better to defer the whole thing for a year, two years.”

Mayor Marvin Junkin, a supporter of the arches, was more tactful.

“In this uncertain time that we’re into now … unless this project can be guaranteed to be 100 percent funded, I just don’t think this council has an appetite to go further,” he said.

“And especially when we think of the taxpayer out there that is laid off, wondering when his next mortgage payment is coming from. As much as I love this project … if we do take it back another six months … do you think [the project] can stand that kind of a setback?” he asked Gibson.

“I’m not opposed to putting it off for a while,” Gibson replied. “[If] costs go up a little bit, I guess they go up. It’s not like we have signed contracts with anybody right now.”

Planting compromise

Council embraced Lisa Haun’s idea to turn over the planting of nine Pelham flower beds to the public. Essentially, residents would compete to build the nicest public garden bed, and win prizes at the end of the summer.

“It would engage citizens during this unprecedented time,” Haun said. “Called ‘Hope Grows’ or something of the like, the Town can select prominent flower beds … and organizations or families can purchase locally-grown Pelham plants…community plants to plant and retain their Town flowerbed.”

Councillor Lisa Haun reacts as Mayor Marvin Junkin casts the lone dissenting vote on her flowerbed planting proposal. YOUTUBE

Haun estimated the budget for the endeavour at $5,000, a figure Town CAO David Cribbs agreed was “more than ample.”

“It’s a great compromise under the circumstances,” Councillor John Wink said.

Not factored into the calculations were costs for watering, which presumably will continue to be borne by the municipality.

Citing how much of the spring growing season has already passed, and the additional delay in organizing nine resident groups to do the planting, former farmer Mayor Junkin cast the lone dissenting vote.