Secret deal leads to quilted windfall
BY APRIL FUELLES
Special to the Voice
In a stunning turnaround, the Town of Pelham has rescued itself from a financial black hole of its own making—and now finds itself with some $11 million dollars in reserves.
Teetering on the edge of bankruptcy just three years ago—a result of the municipality’s ill-advised foray into East Fonthill real estate development—the Town’s books are healthier now than they have been in a decade.
That was the message delivered to six clearly surprised councillors during a special meeting of Pelham Town Council held last evening, Wednesday, March 31.
Mayor Marvin Junkin and CAO David Cribbs took turns describing how they—along with Treasurer Teresa Quinlin—had managed the seemingly impossible. And then kept it secret for over a year.
The trio, accompanied by Town Clerk Nancy Bozzato, were present in council chambers. All six councillors were attending from home by Zoom. Councillor Ron Kore’s video was turned off.
Junkin started with a succinct overview of the Town’s financial status at the end of 2019.
“We were shakier than cafeteria Jello,” said the Mayor, gesturing toward the Treasurer. “Teresa, she was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs.”
“It was a tight time,” Quinlin acknowledged.
“As tight as a too-small bathing suit on a too-hot car ride back from the beach,” said Junkin. “To tell you the honest truth, we didn’t know whether to wind the watch or bark at the moon.”
Salvation arrived unexpectedly. It was in late January 2020 that CAO Cribbs was contacted by a former colleague from Norfolk County, where Cribbs was employed before coming to Pelham. The individual, whom the CAO said he would identify only in closed session, had an intriguing offer.
“I undertake to give you all,” Cribbs said, speaking to the wall-mounted widescreen monitor displaying each of the six remote councillors’ video feeds, “conjunctively, an explanation.”
The individual, Cribbs said, offered to split 128 shipping containers of toilet paper, then en route to Halifax from Portugal.
“He was, cognitively, an identifiable human offering the corporation a lifeline.”
Cribbs jabbed the air.
“Identifiable. Human being.”
What seemed a gamble turned out to be a safe bet as the world’s toilet paper supply began to run out in late February—a turn of events which savvy paper industry observers like Cribbs’ former colleague had predicted.
“This individual had constructive knowledge that the entire globe—which, I will undertake to remind you, consists of human beings who need to poop—would collectively lose its mind over toilet rolls within four to six weeks,” said Cribbs.
Junkin, a retired dairy farmer, reached out to contacts at Canadian Pacific Railway to arrange for a special freight train to travel directly from the Halifax docks to the switching yards at Pelham’s far southern reaches.
“Our biggest worry,” said Junkin, “was that word of the shipment would leak, and that bandits would rob the train, Butch and Sundance-style. You know, ‘Think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?’ We would’ve been beat like a rented mule, you better believe it. All the same, Madame Clerk, if a frog had side pockets, he’d carry a taser.”
The room fell silent for a moment.
Cribbs took up the story.
The train arrived without incident. Sworn to secrecy, senior Town staff corralled a team of local haulers to transfer the toilet tissue to what would become its distribution centre—the old Pelham Arena, on Haist Street.
“I would not be telling an untruth if I failed to assure you of how premium this product was,” said the CAO.
By daybreak, a total of 44,240,000 rolls of toilet paper had been securely stored in the former hockey venue, which by executive order had been taken off the real estate market in mid-February.
“I knew it,” said Councillor Lisa Haun, her audio briefly distorting. “I told you that building still had a municipal use!”
“That you did, Councillor,” replied Junkin.
“Generally speaking, we did not wish to be, or perceived to be, price gougers,” said Cribbs. “That said, the market rate for toilet paper in the first three quarters of 2020 was just crazy high.”
Over the course of eleven months, the Town sold the rolls to large retail chains for the same price that they were currently paying their own suppliers, Cribbs asserted. The last pallet went out the door three days before Christmas.
“The net profit,” said the Treasurer, “was enough to pay off all of our community centre debt, plus fund gypsy moth spraying through 2032, rebuild the Pelham Arches in titanium, install a totally new drain system out of Lake Augus—pardon me, the Rice Road storm water pond—and still leave $11 million in reserves.”
After brief discussion, Councillor John Wink made a motion, seconded by Councillor Wayne Olson, to accept the CAO’s report, and retroactively approve the “Pelham Operational Outsourcing Program 2020.” The motion failed, 4-3.
April Fuelles is a freelance reporter whose stories appear annually on the first day of the fourth month of the year.