Pelham Council managed to review most of the Town’s 2021 capital budget at a three-hour, Nov. 9 Committee of the Whole meeting, but ran out of time due to its self-imposed 10 PM. curfew.
The meeting ended on a cliffhanger note, with Ward 3’s Bob Hildebrandt complaining that councillors are not provided with annual monitoring reports from staff regarding actual population growth related to encouraged densification in the town.
“I’ve been on council two years, I don’t know the last time this was done,” Hildebrandt said. “I’ve talked to two other communities … of similar size, and they get this type of report. So to me, this is something that has to be included in the budget. If we’re not going to increase the budget then something else has to be removed from this. If I’m to make planning decisions on intensification, I need the proper reports because I need data to make these proper evaluations. I just can’t do these approvals based on opinion that we need to intensify. I need the facts to be able to justify what I’m asked to approve or not approve.”
Hildebrandt’s remarks came on the department of Community Planning and Development’s slide featuring a $155,000 budget, mostly covering a parking study, environmental impact reports and secondary plans.
Director of Community Planning and Development Barb Wiens managed to answer before the meeting was abruptly ended due to curfew.
“To be frank, we just haven’t had the staff resources to do that, but that is certainly something that staff can do in house,” Wiens said, before Mayor Marvin Junkin ended the meeting.
Mutual frustration between staff and councillors appeared evident at times earlier in the meeting, including when Hildebrandt asked Public Works Director Jason Marr about the possibility of the Town purchasing a “spider” trailer with a boom for cutting tree branches, rather than spending the $190,000 allotted for a forestry truck as recommended by staff. To date, Pelham owns no such forestry vehicle, and is reliant on contractors to cover the backlog of such work. Councillor John Wink supported the truck, saying it would save money in the long run. Marr agreed.
“One of the things this really does is increases the level of service to the public,” the director said. “This will improve our response time.”
However, Hildebrandt’s anecdote about watching a spider boom at work in his neighbourhood led to a debate over that alternative. Marr pointed out such a trailer would still require the purchase of a truck to tow it, as well as a separate wood-chipping trailer.
We’re way too deep in the weeds here
Junkin agreed with Hildebrandt that the Town consider that alternative, before CAO David Cribbs jumped in.
“We’re way too deep in the weeds here,” the CAO said, suggesting that council move to price the spider and leave the truck as a conditional item. Members unanimously agreed to do so.
Budget items already listed as “conditional” included the construction of splash pads at Marlene Stewart Streit Park and Centennial Park. Councillor Lisa Haun, however, appeared perturbed when the Town’s water budget included $200,000 for a main to service said splash pad at Stewart Streit Park.
“If the splash pad does not go in, there’s no need for this, right?” she said.
Cribbs concurred, saying the pads themselves, not the water mains, are conditional on grants from upper levels of government.
At other points in the virtual gathering, councillors took issue with items such as a new vehicle for the fire chief, and a longstanding request for an electronic sign outside Fire Hall No. 1 on Highway 20.
It was ultimately agreed upon to wait for more information on other options for the fire chief’s vehicle, while shooting down the idea of the sign and removing its $30,000 price tag from the budget.
Left remaining in the budget was a $50,000 item for a study to consider the rehabilitation or replacement of Fire Station No. 1 itself.
A more pressing fire department-related issue appears to exist at Fire Hall No. 3 in North Pelham. Despite being only five years old, its rear parking lot asphalt is in distress and needs repairs.
“That’s our newest fire hall,” Hildebrandt said. “Something seems wrong.”
Marr said it appears the pavement is compromised by water damage.
“Yes, you’re correct, it’s our newest facility in respect to fire stations and unfortunately we have problems,” Marr said, explaining that any warranty from the contractor that installed it likely expired within a year of construction.
Meanwhile, council voted unanimously to reject spending $70,000 to replace the septic system at Old Town Hall. While Marr made the point that doing the work now while the facility is less-used due to the COVID-19 pandemic was prudent, councillors agreed with Haun’s assertion that, “why spend the money if we don’t need to?”
Those people who have been here a long time may not know that that’s even an option
Staff also earmarked $10,000 for items such as park benches, leading Haun and Marianne Stewart to inquire about “legacy projects” in that area, where private citizens fund such things in memoriam of people who have passed away — a common program in other municipalities.
“Those people who have been here a long time may not know that that’s even an option,” Haun said.
Stewart moved to market such an endeavour, but Cribbs needed clarity.
“You’re approving or you’re not approving this,” he said. “There really isn’t a third lane here. You have an item before you which if passed, will lead staff attempting to purchase $10,000 worth of public park furniture.”
Council agreed to leave the $10,000 in the budget, but consider legacy projects in the future.
Road budgets were agreed upon with little debate, including $661,000 to repair a failing culvert on Sixteen Road in North Pelham, and the ongoing work to fully urbanize Pelham Street from downtown Fonthill to the Welland boundary. The multi-year price tag of the latter is $9 million, of which $4.2 million in upper-level funding is already secured. Marr said he expected the current stretch of work on Pelham Street to be finished by December, with full paving in the spring.
In total, the capital budget comes in at just over $10 million, with approximately half of this coming from grants.