Pelham finalized its 2022 water/wastewater budget at its Feb. 7 Town Council meeting, with a compromise coming on waste, but not water.
Members voted for a 7.5 percent increase to wastewater rates —down from the original staff proposal of 9.5 percent, with water rate increases holding at the recommended 7.5 percent.
Citing 2022’s “Year of the Garden,” Ward 1’s Marianne Stewart attempted an amendment to drop water rate increases to 5.5 percent, but it was defeated with only her and Ward 3’s Lisa Haun’s support for the idea.
Treasurer Teresa Quinlin-Murphy explained the staff formula was arrived at given the lowest estimated impact on Town reserves over the next nine years.
Ward 2’s John Wink applauded that, reminding members that Pelham will still have some of the lowest water rates in Niagara.
“We are grossly underfunded in most of our reserves,” Wink, a member of the Town’s Finance and Audit Committee, said.
Down the drain
Ward 1 Councillor Wayne Olson’s motion to have staff prepare a report on construction of a municipal drain in the Webber Road/Farr Street area near Pelham’s southwest boundary was defeated.
In December, residents in the area came before council angry about drainage problems apparently attributed to a private property owner. The matter, which is currently ensnared in litigation, may not meet the threshold of a municipal matter because the Town never had any involvement in the development of the area.
“This whole thing was created by others, other than the Town of Pelham,” Wink said. “This is why they pulled testamentary trust out of the Planning Act and disallowed it.”
Haun mused that the Town may have some responsibility, but wasn’t sure.
“How is it the fault of the town? It could be, but it might not be,” she said. “The Region seems to be perhaps wiping their hands of this.”
CAO David Cribbs said that it was up to council if they wanted to act as a community but that in legal terms, it was not Pelham’s problem.
“From a narrow legal perspective, this is not a municipal issue,” the CAO said. “With that being said, that’s only a narrow response.”
Prior to their main meeting, council met in a virtual public forum to hear about proposed changes to development charges. Consultant Byron Tan from Watson and Associates said Pelham was on track to keep the third-highest development charges in Niagara.
However, during the public portion, resident Mark Shoalts brought up the recurring controversy around hoop houses and stressed that the nursery structures should not be subject to the levies.
You’re not going to buy a $25,000 car and pay $250,000 a year for your licence plates
“It’s tenuous at best counting hoop houses in building permit framework,” Shoalts said, adding a hoop house costs about $1 per square foot to build. “Development charges would be a very serious impediment to the growth of any greenhouse operation, and would virtually guarantee the end of any nursery expansion using hoop houses in Pelham … you’re not going to buy a $25,000 car and pay $250,000 a year for your licence plates.”
Kore campaigns against harassment
Ward 2’s Ron Kore presented notice of motion that council condemn harassment of politicians. Kore was taking his lead from St. Catharines City Council, which called on all Niagara municipalities to do the same at a Jan. 31 meeting.
“We need to stop the rock-throwing through front windows,” Kore began with in an impassioned plea. “We need to stop the painting of graffiti on cars and homes. We need to stop putting untrue statements on Facebook. We need to stop the bullies with the pen who target certain councillors and belittle them on a regular basis. None of these people bring value to our community. What they bring is division, they bring hate — but most of all they bring hurt. They bring hurt to our wives, they bring hurt to our husbands, they bring hurt to our sons and daughters. And that’s I why I think we should support St. Catharines and make a motion to stop the hate in our communities.”
The rock-throwing and graffiti cited by Kore refer to recent incidents suffered by St. Catharines Councillor Karrie Porter and Mayor Walker Sendzik. In Porter’s case, the councillor told CTV she believes the graffiti matter was related to the anti-vaccine movement.
Kore did not reply to a Voice request asking for clarification regarding the specific “bullies with the pen who target certain councillors” or “untrue statements on Facebook” to which he may have been referring occurring in Pelham.
The motion is expected to be debated at the next meeting.
Perhaps somewhat related, Cribbs discussed a proposed communication policy update that would apply to Town staff. The item stresses that staff should conduct themselves appropriately on Town and personal social media platforms.
“Any municipality worth its salt has some sort of communications policy document,” the CAO said. “Council may be able to recall various instances of employees — not specifically in the municipal context — behaving badly on social media, and being terminated for doing things on live television either at sporting events and large crowds. And the law has evolved fairly dramatically to suggest that one’s personal conduct can have a major impact on the employer.”
Cribbs said much remained fluid with the lifting of pandemic restrictions, but said that Town Hall was scheduled to reopen to the public Feb. 14. As of regulations in place last week, visitors had to be fully vaccinated to enter. Broader reopening plans remain the domain of the province, not the municipality.
Arches, LED streetlight conversion a go
Stewart was the only council member to vote against authorizing a $30,000 bridge loan to the Arches Committee to reconstruct the Pelham Town Square structure. The project is set to commence this spring, replacing the former wooden arches with a more robust metal design.
“I think council, like most citizens, are anxiously awaiting the resurrection of the arches,” Mayor Marvin Junkin said.
Meanwhile, council passed a bylaw to award RealTerm Energy a contract for just under $622,000 to replace Pelham’s entire streetlight network with LED fixtures.
Odds and ends
Public Works Manager Ryan Cook said there will be less gypsy moth spraying this spring, with only one percent of the urban area planned to be covered. Given the recent cold weather and other factors, it is hoped the infestation will be down from the past two years.
Councillor Olson made a presentation endorsing Southwestern Integrated Fibre Technology (SWIFT), a non-profit outfit looking to provide “last mile” high-speed internet access to rural areas in Ontario by 2025.