VOICE

The Town of Pelham will receive just shy of $1.3 million dollars—$1,298,000— from the Province of Ontario’s COVID relief for municipalities phase two funding. In total, for 2020, the Town has received just over $1.7 million dollars between phases one and two.

This second phase of funding, announced last Wednesday, builds upon the first phase of the federal-provincial Safe Restart Agreement undertaken this past summer. According to a Town statement, the funding allows municipalities to deliver critical services and programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring towns and cities avoid operating deficits in 2021.

Phase two funding represents total lost revenue related to COVID-19 and additional expenses incurred, including operating impacts on the library.

“The Province came to the rescue, not just for Pelham, but municipalities across Niagara and Ontario,” said Mayor Marvin Junkin. “This funding is game-changing, and we are grateful to receive such a significant amount to help offset lost revenue and not ask our taxpayers to carry any of that burden.”

In August, Pelham received $428,500 plus $18,334 for transit in the first phase of funding. At the time, year-end estimates suggested revenues would be short just over $220,000. According to the Town, the second phase announcement ensures that Pelham will not be carrying a deficit into 2021—at least not due to COVID-19.

“This is great news for Pelham,” said Teresa Quinlin, Director of Corporate Services and Treasurer. “Working through the COVID-19 pandemic tested all of us, and from a financial standpoint, we operated conservatively and appropriately, always with the best interest of the municipality and its residents in mind.”

Town Council recently deferred the passing of the operating and capital budgets for 2021, pausing their completion until the second phase of funding arrived. Council will likely now consider these budgets in early-to-mid January.

In Niagara, Pelham received the third-highest amount in phase two funding, behind only St. Catharines and Niagara Falls, despite having a fraction of those cities’ populations. Nearly $17.5 million dollars was distributed among the Niagara’s 12 municipalities, and the Niagara Region government.

“Our government is committed to working in good faith with our municipal partners as they face unprecedented challenges,” said Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff in a statement.

Quinlin told the Voice that Pelham faced a hurdle in phase one funding, which was based solely on the number of households in each of the province’s 444 municipalities—and Pelham has fewer households than Port Colborne, Niagara-on-the-Lake, or Thorold, despite all four towns having similar population sizes.

“So we received a lower [phase one] grant.”

Quinlin said that the phase two grant application was a different story.

“We went line-by-line on the budget to identify lost revenues and additional expenses due to COVID-19 pressures on our operating budget. It was a very time-consuming process, but it was very important since we wanted to capture the true impact of COVID-19 to the Town’s operations and receive funding to offset this impact. We are very happy that we received what we applied for.”

Quinlin stressed that the application was a team effort between herself and the Deputy Treasurer, Charlotte Tunikaitis.

“This is important to mention this since we both worked on this application 100 percent together.”

The Voice has learned that the grant is one element that will lead to a recalculation of the 2021 operating budget, potentially reducing a planned increase in property taxes to a significantly lower figure. Details are yet to be finalized.