The shortest Pelham council regular meeting in six months was highlighted Nov. 1 by bickering over the Town’s decision this year to attempt to sell its 17 percent share in Peninsula West Power Inc., the holding company for Niagara Peninsula Energy Inc., the electric utility that serves downtown Fonthill and areas west of Pelham Street.
Beginning in mid-2020, council met several times in closed session to debate the merits of selling Pelham’s portion of the utility. After enlisting accounting giant KPMG and law firm Torys LLP, the Town was informed that the value of Pelham’s slice of PWPI had a market value of just under $5.5 million.
However, earlier this year, one potential buyer—another Niagara municipality—told Pelham that they would not proceed with the purchase, and attempts to gauge interest among other potential municipal buyers yielded no offers.
The total bill to the Town for the appraisal and associated legal costs came in at $66,875—although some $43,000 of this can ultimately be recouped, according to the staff report, from the utility’s proposed 2021 dividend payment.
Ward 3 Councillor Lisa Haun and Ward 2’s Ron Kore then took issue with the numbers.
“In my opinion, I don’t believe that the proposed 2021 dividend amount, thus reducing the bill then to $23,525, is appropriate,” Haun said. “I think we’re talking about cost here.”
Treasurer Teresa Quinlin explained that the report described total cash impact, and that the annual dividend payment was not yet credited to the Town budget. Quinlin did, however, say that the $43,350 proposed dividend figure was a correct one provided by the utility.
Quinlin said that dividends from the utility are typically in the $40,000-$50,000 range every year, and are then applied to the Town’s working fund reserve. There was no dividend in 2020, however, due to the pandemic.
At $50,000 annually, it would take 110 years of dividends to equal the $5.5 million revenue that would have come in immediately to Town coffers had a sale been successful.
Kore then asked why detailed invoices were not included in the staff report.
“I expected a report with invoices and how many hours certain parties worked,” Kore said. “I’m not happy with this report. I’m a number guy.”
CAO David Cribbs said that multiple physical invoices are generally not attached to staff reports, and that those council members who attended the closed meetings on the matter were already provided with pertinent details at the time (Haun and fellow Ward 3 Councillor Bob Hildebrandt proclaimed a conflict of interest from those meetings due to their paid seats on the utility board).
“I thought financial information, we cannot keep from the public,” Kore said, apparently hinting at something untoward.
“We haven’t,” an incredulous-sounding Cribbs replied. “It’s here in the report.”
The CAO added: “There’s no question there. You waived privilege over the numbers. The majority of you have been exposed to the work product, you attended multiple closed sessions … we’ve discussed this in closed. That’s the accountability mechanism.”
Haun then said that because she had declared a conflict of interest and was not in the closed meetings, she wanted the staff report revised to indicate that she did not participate in the process.
Cribbs objected to Haun’s logic.
“We don’t want to start a universe where reports need to be rewritten,” the CAO said, saying that as municipal protocol, conflicts and pecuniary interests have nothing to do with staff reports.
“What you’re actually contemplating is sending a report back to have me write words in that you declared a conflict, which is not something that frankly is civil service business, and will take up my time and energy,” he added, saying that it was already adequately noted in Town records that both Haun and Hildebrandt did not participate due to their conflicts of interest.
“I think Mr. Cribbs is out of line and should lose the attitude this evening,” Haun retorted, while ultimately conceding his point.
Haun, however, intimated that neither the historical record nor her political legacy would be properly reflected.
“I am concerned that in the future, five years, ten years, 15 years down the road, when somebody queries this … they’re going to pull up this document and are not going to have any path to understand who did and did not take part in this decision,” she said, without clarifying why such information might conceivably be relevant years from now.
In the end, Haun, four other councillors and Mayor Marvin Junkin voted to receive the report. Kore was the only no-vote.
Speed and roads
Ward 2 Councillor John Wink moved a successful motion that the Town better promote its traffic-calming policy through print and digital channels. Wink, who sits on the Pelham Active Transportation Committee, said the motion was to, “put some more focus on advertising to our residents what is expected for traffic calming policy.”
Kore asked Wink about the proliferation of “slow down” yard signs seen on private properties around town. Wink told him most of the signs in Pelham are available through the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA).
“I see them, and I think twice,” Kore said.
One such roadway of resident concern is Lookout Street, between Hwy. 20 and Effingham Street, although Public Works Director Jason Marr said that neither the intersections of Lookout and Brewerton Boulevard or Marlene Stewart Streit Drive currently meet the traffic policy criteria for a three-way stop.
Marr did however say that Lookout Street’s oft-ridiculed “hay-bale roundabouts” at those intersections a few years ago did actually create a measurable reduction in average speed.
Marr also gave a rundown on future road repair projects in North Pelham, including Roland Road.
Ward 1 Councillor Wayne Olson said in jest that “Roland Road should have a low priority for repairs” given that it is home to Mayor Marvin Junkin’s farm and residence.
“Staff does not pick roads based on preference or the celebrity nature of the roadway,” Marr replied, to laughter.
Odds and ends
■ Pelham had five active cases of Covid-19 as of Nov. 1. Seventy-four percent of eligible residents in Niagara Region were fully vaccinated as of that date.
■ Cribbs paid tribute to Quinlin, who recently became a Fellow CPA, one of the highest accolades in the accounting community. Quinlin, with a career of nearly 40 years, said she was honoured, and, “can truly say I still skip to work every day.”