Attempt to rescind 2021 budget decision fails

A roundabout, time-consuming procedure led Pelham Town Council and staff to agree in principle about potentially modifying the 2021 budget schedule at their September 8 regular meeting. Councillor Bob Hildebrandt presented the motion, with the intent of rescinding council’s June vote to approve the schedule so that any new emergency COVID-19 funding from upper levels of government would be included in next year’s budget.

Pelham found out last month that it’s set to receive just under $447,000 as a first round of funding to offset the various financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. A second round of funding will be available later, which Treasurer and Director of Corporate Services Teresa Quinlin said the Town fully intends to apply for. While the deadline for applications is September 30, it is unknown when the next funding announcement will be made, and it may not come until early in the new year.

“We are flexible,” Quinlin said.

She and CAO David Cribbs also noted that items in the budget schedule can still be prepared and studied in the meantime.

“’Happy’ is never a relevant consideration as to the proper execution of one’s duties, but I think we can bring you something workable,” Cribbs said. “My point is it will not have specificity.”

However, in Hildebrandt’s motion, he included verbiage that staff bring back a revised budget schedule for the next council meeting on September 21.

Cribbs called that aspect essentially pointless, as staff will not have any new information in the next week.

“With all due respect there won’t be, because we’re not learning anything magic in the next week,” Cribbs said.

Yet when Councillor John Wink attempted to have that part removed from the motion, Hildebrandt refused.

Cribbs was seen on the video conference feed abruptly slouching back in his chair in apparent frustration.

Wink asked Hildebrandt if he still expected a staff update on September 21.

“That’s correct,” Hildebrandt said.

Hildebrandt was one of the councillors to complain about the time they are given to study staff reports at an August 10 special meeting. He also tabled a successful motion then to cap such items at 300 pages (story, p.3)

Refusing to budge on the September 21 date, Hildebrandt’s proposal was then defeated — even though he, Ron Kore, Lisa Haun and Marianne Stewart voted in favour of it— because council rules dictate that five votes are required to rescind previously approved items. Wink and Mayor Marvin Junkin voted against it.

Council has been operating with only six of a possible seven seats since the April death of Mike Ciolfi.

Despite the fiasco, Cribbs understood the spirit of what Hildebrandt was trying to accomplish.

“We will behave in a manner that clearly interprets your desire not to make those final [budget] decisions until such time that we hear back from the province,” Cribbs said. “We can respect both needs.”

Junkin thanked Hildebrandt for bringing the matter up.

Community centre debt

Quinlin provided council with a report that $3.4 million in debt on the community centre is being debentured on October 1.

The Treasurer said that the amount comes from a bridge loan from the Ontario Infrastructure and Lands Corporation — which gave the Town two extensions on repayment in 2018 and 2019. She assured councillors that no tax levy increase is needed this year, but explained that it will be necessary beginning in 2025, starting at approximately 0.4 percent.

COVID updates

The community centre continues to provide the Town with much-needed money during the pandemic: Cribbs reported $172,000 in MCC revenue in July and August.

“In normal conditions, we would call that an extremely strong summer,” he said.

Hockey practices were set to begin this week, and the arena’s walking track is also open — although running is not permitted. Haun asked Fire Chief and Chief Bylaw Enforcement Officer Bob Lymburner if the Town’s advertising materials can be changed to reflect the need for masks and social distancing — for example, the Town’s website features a photo of two unmasked men using the walking track.

Lymburner agreed.

“The new picture will have the participants wearing masks, that was an oversight on our part,” he said.

Lymburner reported that as of September 8, there were only 16 active cases of COVID-19 in Niagara, and zero in Pelham. The concern provincially, he said, remains in the larger metropolitan centres such as Toronto and Ottawa. He also described Pelham’s current personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies as “very healthy.”

Sign bylaw amended to help businesses

Council approved a motion by Haun and Stewart to allow businesses to display portable road signs more frequently. Under normal rules, businesses can only apply to display their “Read-O-Graph” mobile-type signage on the sides of roads for 60 days twice a year, with a gap in between. The amendment will allow them to display the signs for six 30-day periods.

Stewart called it a “short-term effort” to help businesses during the pandemic. After some back-and-forth over what constitutes the “end” of the pandemic, council agreed to peg the expiry of the allowance to the end of the Town’s current mask bylaw.

While he said he supports businesses, Junkin disagreed with the idea of more signs.

“I will not support this motion,” the Mayor said. “The reason we had the limit on the signs was that we didn’t want Highway 20 to take on the appearance of Lundy’s Lane. I realize businesses have got to advertise to survive [but] there’s other ways of doing it … print, social media, what have you.”

Heritage committee

After some discussion about how to launch Pelham’s new Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee during the pandemic, council agreed to go ahead and begin advertising it and soliciting potential members. Like other Town committees, it was decided that once established, meetings for the foreseeable future could also be done electronically.

The mandate of the Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee will be to advise council on matters relating to the conservation of significant built heritage resources and significant cultural heritage landscapes within the Town.

Regional Council report

Pelham’s Regional Councillor Diana Huson presented a report, highlighting her own motion to Regional Council about prioritizing childcare as part of the COVID-19 recovery plan.

“This is really about trying to recognize the importance of childcare as an economic policy, and getting the government to pay attention to it in terms of building back better in a post-pandemic world,” Huson said.

Junkin lauded the presentation, noting that it was accepted near-unanimously by Regional Council.

Huson also relayed a presentation by the Niagara Regional Police at a recent meeting that included mentioning of the department’s mobile crisis team. That team tries to send out mental health professionals alongside police officers on person-in-crisis calls. However, the NRP only operates the team in St. Catharines and Thorold.

“One of the things I asked them for was to perhaps explore a way to creatively address the deficiency of this service in that it’s only offered in certain municipalities —and that doesn’t include Pelham,” Huson said. “Mental health calls have really escalated, it’s created a significant … drain on police resources.”