Council “antics” prompt holiday check-in
I haven’t written a letter for quite a while, but the antics of Pelham Town Council just keep repeating themselves.
Here we are with a budget and a tax increase during a pandemic that will impact all businesses and residents who live within Pelham’s boundaries. While council spent its time playing 3 vs. 3 with Ron Kore not representing his constituents at all, I will say again that it is dysfunctional to waste taxpayer money and time wrangling over non-essential issues, and both the ombudsman and emergency preparedness costs are repetitive and wasteful.
In the Nov. 18 issue of the Voice, new Councillor Wayne Olson gave a detailed outline of what he had found in his research of finances within the Town Hall of Pelham. No one should be shocked that this Town is living paycheck to paycheck and has no financial recovery plan in place.
The most shocking news was the forecast that included successive years of 12% tax hikes on the horizon and a $33 million dollar debt load towards the community centre. Pelham is in financial trouble and only one councillor shone some light on our plight. Services and repairs in this Town are being deferred, but here is, in my mind, what needs to be considered.
Right from the start, Pelham Council, past and present, knew that the elephant in the room is the MCC. Carrying such a debt load, like an albatross, is not manageable for our small population. What seems to be the path that council has taken is the urbanization of Fonthill and East Fonthill to try and increase Pelham’s population and tax base. One of the projects is the urbanization of the infrastructure on Pelham Street. Pelham needs the tax money. Fonthill is a myriad of strip plazas on its east side, south side, and west side, with more on the horizon.
Recent articles and letters over the past weeks in the paper seem to illustrate pushback concerns from residents over development clashing with our trails and treed land scape. The Town planners are responsible for this, just as the Town planners and CAO and council were responsible for allowing Fenwick to be turned in to Pot- ers-ville, with three outside investment speculators trying to impose their will and lawyers on our agricultural and residential landscape in Fenwick.
The Steve Bauer Trail originally was part of an abandoned railway line. Back in the 1980s the Pelham Snowmobile Club used to mark and maintain it as a trail for all to use, whether you hiked, cross country skied, or snowmobiled. We kept the trail groomer in my backyard on Spruceside, and in agreement with the Recreational Dept. of Pelham maintained it as volunteers at no cost to the taxpayers, until motorized vehicles were banned by the Town, which was a slap in the face to the volunteers and snowmobile club.
Today the trail is a cost to the taxpayers of Pelham and part of it is paved and trees have been cut down and now development encroaches upon it, and may one day threaten its viability. It has taken 30-plus years ,but the “urbanization of Fonthill” is coming to fruition and being encouraged by our politicians and Town planners because it fits their need and they/we need the money—or our taxes may go up to 12 percent, as Wayne Olson found out.
While I personally believe that no healthy tree should be cut down—only dead ash trees—this town needs to maintain as much greenscape as possible. What is the point of having a trail running through a concrete jungle? While I believe it is too late to turn around the urbanization path that Fonthill is on, there is still time to save Ridgeville and Fenwick from the same plight.
The small-town feel is leaving Fonthill and being replaced by high- density housing. I am glad that I moved from Fonthill 20 years ago out to rural Fenwick, where there is still a sense of community and our own unoffficial mayor. While Pelham’s town planners have already tried to impose their development rules on east Fenwick and already allowed cannabis to surround us, we will fight back because where do we go from here if Fenwick and Ridgeville also lose their small-town feel?
So here we are, surviving the wrath of a pandemic at Christmas, with a divided Town Council, layers of lawyers fighting each other over pot in Pelham, a cash-strapped council that may need to make a decision to “sell the albatross” and restore our financial stability, without having to urbanize the whole of Pelham. Is this the ultimate price we pay, in order to have a community centre?
Every Christmas season my family watches Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life, dealing with the cash-strapped pressure of Bedford Falls, trying to stop it from becoming Pottersville, under the wrath of developer Henry Potter. In the end the community of Bedford Falls prevails.
While this story is fiction, my wish is that while it may be too late for Fonthill, it isn’t too late for Fenwick and Ridgeville. While some CAOs and urban planners might disagree with me, there is no room for an urbanized Pottersville (Pot-ers-ville) within my Fenwick. I like my affordable small-town feel and the close knit community within.
Charm of Fonthill fading fast
I have read the letters in the Voice regarding Fonthill and what it is becoming. I totally agree.
I came to the Niagara area often to visit with my brother’s family. I thought it would be so nice to live in Fonthill, a small town with small homes and lots of beautiful trees. Just driving on the streets of Fonthill made me happy.
When I first retired, I went to live in Keswick to be near one of my daughters. However, Keswick has now become a bedroom town for people that work in Toronto. It is nothing but large, closely packed homes with no trees and no gardens. I didn’t like living there any longer so I thought, let’s look for a home in Fonthill.
I was lucky enough to purchase a home here. I enjoy my home, and going on the Bauer trail that is close to me. However, now Fonthill is becoming another Keswick—large, closely packed homes with no trees, no gardens and no green space.
And yes, the old Fonthill will become a memory just like my previous town is. Shame on you, Town of Pelham officials, for letting the developers take over.
TD Bank revisited
In the November 18 Voice, I suggested that the TD Bank may have overstepped itself in accessing the Federal government’s CEWS (Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy) program. CEWS was designed to subsidize 75 percent of a worker’s salary if he/she were to be “on leave” rather than “laid-off.” This means that if an employee is on leave and the employer pays 25 percent of the normal wage, the worker receives full salary. When employers receive the funds from the federal government, they direct it to employees. The individual remains an employee of the company and receives full salary but normally resides at home and is not involved in work.
My letter stated that over 200 Toronto Dominion bank branches had been closed in Ontario plus many more across Canada. The letter was not intended as a criticism of the Fonthill TD branch but of the general policy of the “TD Bank Corporation” in handling the COVID-19 crisis. All of the major Canadian banks met to discuss the best response to the COVD-19 crisis. Inexplicably only the TD Bank decided to close hundreds of branches across Canada. The TD Bank announced that there would be no job losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Why was the TD Bank the only major bank to take this action and how was it able to close hundreds of branches with no job losses?
The question was raised, “Did the TD Bank receive funding through the CEWS program for the hundreds of employees who were ‘on leave?’” Contacts with government officials, TD personnel and media outlets failed to provide a simple yes-or-no response.
Following my original letter, TD officials made contact and suggested that a retraction was in order. However, no yes-or-no response to the question of CEWS payments was provided. You can draw your own conclusion as to why this question remains unanswered.
The question goes beyond the TD Bank conundrum. The CEWS program is the single largest direct-spending measure of the government’s COVID-19 response. The public deserves clarity and transparency when billions of taxpayer dollars are allocated to private corporations. What other private corporations received taxpayer dollars through the CEWS program?
There is no “privacy issue” involved as no individuals who benefited need to be identified.
The federal government needs to disclose the names of the corporations and the amount of money each received.
The public and thousands of small businesses who are struggling to survive deserve to have the details of the CEWS program brought out of the darkness and into the light.
COMMENTARY / OP-ED | Larry Coté
Put on a happy face in 2021
Before I sat down at the keyboard to write a year-end wrap, I asked my adult children what news items I might highlight in such a piece. Both quickly responded with the similar advice that “people are sick of hearing all those goings on about Trump, masks, the virus and all that stuff.” Ah, as the saying goes, from the mouths of babes. (My daughter, who is a grandmother herself, should love me for that!)
So this piece is not going to try and balance the good with the bad but rather focus on the good. Maybe, just maybe, such a “good” dosage will help readers greet 2021 with a dose of optimism and hope. We need our newspapers to do more of that. Strange beings we are, we have become accustomed to anxiously await the arrival of our news source to present us with the bad news of the current news cycle.
As always, there were plenty of news stories in a year that many will want to forget. In the parlance of the more optimistic, let’s not get stuck in the mire of the bad and the ugly and get on with celebrating some good news. It is unlikely that the good news sources will overtake the bad anytime soon but we would do well should such dreams come true. Let’s give it a try.
Fifteen-year-old Gitanyali Rao was chosen by Time magazine to be “Kid of the Year” in 2020. She is being recognized for her astounding contributions on issues from contaminated drinking water to opioid addiction and cyberbullying. At age 12, she developed a portable device to detect lead in drinking water. Gitanjali is a high school sophomore in Denver.
How momentous is this news? For some 90 years, Time has named a “Person of the Year” on the cover of their last issue of the year. This year they initiated the “Kid of the Year.” This 15-year-old was one of 5,000 stories about our youth. Isn’t that an amazing good news story worthy of more headlines in 2020?
Did you know that in 2020, the rate of the warming of our planet was slowed down? This upward warming trend over the last number of years, if it were to continue, was threatening our very existence in only a few decades into the future. However, the warnings from environmental scientists appears to be making an impact in the reduction of air, water and land pollution that has gone on unabated for decades. There appears to be some notable increase in the awareness of people that measures to reduce pollution reach all the way down to the kitchen sink. The conversion to electric cars is but one good example of that trend. Isn’t that a good news story worthy of being a topmost story for 2020?
In 2020, there have been so many advancements in healthcare and medical research that it is difficult to highlight the most significant. However, the development of the vaccine to combat the current pandemic has to be near the top of most people’s list. It normally takes five years, or more, for medical researchers to develop vaccines for a multiple of health threats. This time, these researches broke all records and in the course of less than a year came up with a formula that works. That news story should be more than a poke in the arm and deserving of banner news coverage.
Here is an example of a good news story on the local front. The Fonthill Legion was recognized by that organization’s Board of Director’s magazine for their “Heat and Serve” program. This handful of volunteers led by the local Legion president, Toni McKelvie, will have prepared, delivered and served more than 9,000 meals this year to veterans, seniors and shut ins in Fonthill and area. These free-of-charge, full course meals were an important source of healthful nutrition for these physically challenged members of this community. Isn’t such a program and effort in our community worthy of a good news label by any measure or standard for a good news story?
Well, there you have it. Doctor Larry’s OTC prescription to overcome the malady diagnosed as 2020. Having cleared that condition and on behalf of the elves at the Voice, we wish you a healthy, happy and prosperous 2021. ◆
PELHAM AND COVID-19 | 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.
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. ◆