Councillor Bob Hildebrandt. DON RICKERS

Bob Hildebrandt keen on financial accountability, green-space preservation

BOB HILDEBRANDT QUICK FACTS

Running for: Councillor, Ward 3. Absent any opponents, he has already been acclaimed for another four-year term.

Age: 75

Occupation: Retired mechanical engineer.

Resides: Fonthill, has lived in Pelham for 48 years.

Family: Wife Lorraine, three children, ten grandchildren.

Be informed. Collaborate. Build consensus. Ward 3 incumbent Pelham Town Councillor Bob Hildebrandt considers these to be his guiding principles, as he embarks on his second term as an elected Pelham official, having been acclaimed—or automatically elected—due to an absence of anyone running against him.

“I am committed to representing every citizen, and dealing with every issue, in a timely, responsible, respectful, and transparent manner,” he told the Voice.

Hildebrandt, who resides on Darby Lane in Fonthill, is a semi-retired mechanical engineer, manufacturing plant manager for a multinational corporation, and consultant. He has served on the Niagara Region Audit Compliance Committee, the Pelham Seniors Advisory Committee, and the Niagara Parks Volunteer Advisory Committee.

Hildebrandt’s key priorities in Pelham include financial budgeting and reporting, sound development and planning related to preserving green space and a “small-town vibe” in Pelham, and keeping an eye on the municipality’s hydroelectric power utilities.

“We’ve had to endure power outages due to increasing demand placed on our aging infrastructure,” he said. “We’re having problems with voltage and power. Hydro One has acknowledged they’ve got a problem.”

Since 2011, Hildebrandt said that he has been in a fight with Hydro One due to their rate hikes.

“They changed Pelham’s density factor from high urban to medium, which translated into another 20 bucks a month on everybody’s hydro bill. It just seemed to be arbitrary,” said Hildebrandt. “I tried to get on the hydro board, but was unsuccessful. And I couldn’t get on the committee formed to oversee the building of the MCC. At that point, I decided to throw my hat in the ring for Town Council. I knew I had the qualities and skills to be a good representative. I was semi-retired at the time, some doing consulting engineering, and still dabbling in all kinds of stuff.”

His children initially recommended years ago that he steer clear of politics, said Hildebrandt.

“My kids didn’t want me to do it, because they know what I’m like,” he said. “I have very definite opinions, and don’t pull any punches. Sometimes that creates a controversial situation. Generally, at council meetings, I try to be the first one answering a question, because I don’t want people to think I am being swayed by anyone else’s view.”

Over the past four years, Hildebrandt has been lumped in with Councillors Ron Kore, Lisa Haun, and Marianne Stewart — the so-called “Gang of Four” — due to a perception that they voted as a bloc on many issues. Hildebrandt denied any form of collusion.

“I can guarantee you that I voted based on what I believed was the right course of action,” said Hildebrandt. “I followed all the rules, and was totally transparent. My decisions were my decisions, not discussed with other councillors in advance.”

I have very definite opinions, and don’t pull any punches

Hildebrandt said that he spent a lot of time at the MCC prior to his time on council, when the facility was under construction.

“I talked with the architects, asking what their plans were,” he said. “I wasn’t necessarily satisfied with what I had heard, and thought that the heating, lighting, and refrigeration could have been refined for cost savings. Petroff is an architectural firm, and from the references I checked out, they had never done an arena-type facility. I’m not saying that they were not competent, but an arena poses some unique challenges to an organization that’s used to throwing up malls.”

Hildebrandt said that he was aware that other Niagara arenas had design problems, and sent his comments to his ward councillor and the former mayor. A meeting ensued, but his cautions were not heeded, he said. Ball Construction was given the go-ahead to build the facility.

“I know engineers are expensive, but there’s a big difference between an engineer and a contractor,” said Hildebrandt. “What we spent there has a big number, and it obviously was reflected in our taxes. At the time, I thought the best idea was to design the thing for two ice pads, but only build one, to save costs.”

In hindsight, Hildebrandt said that whether they built the second pad or not at the MCC wasn’t the primary issue.

“In order to meet the budget, grants were required, and the previous [Augustyn] council just rushed it through without any grants for that building,” he said. “It all had to be funded by taxpayers. Compare that to the new Fonthill library proposal, which includes $5.4 million from the federal government, or the Grimsby Peach King Arena, a $21 million renovation a few years ago, which received $16 million in government grants.”

When Hildebrandt was elected to council in 2018, he said that Ball Construction staff told him that they could have saved 25 percent of the cost of the MCC had the construction schedule been more relaxed.

“The timeframe Ball was put under was very tough,” he said. “They argued that if they would have been given more time, they could have been more efficient, and that would be reflected dramatically in the final costs. But you know, hindsight is always 20/20.”

Critics of the previous mayor cited Augustyn’s apparent hurry to open the MCC by summer 2018 as being related to his ambitions to run for chair of Regional Council, as a feather in his cap to promote to voters across Niagara.

The improved financial state of the municipality, as reflected in the 2021 annual report, is a tribute to Town staff, council, and the Audit Committee which includes independent local accountants, said Hildebrandt.

“Our revenues in 2021 were $30.6 million [compared to] expenses of $25.8 million,” he said. “For four years in a row, we ran a positive budget, and in the last two years we brought our reserves up. The Town increased its assets by $4.8 million, decreased its liability by $1.5 million, and reduced its debt from $18.5 million in 2020, to $12.1 in 2021. That resulted in an increase of tax cash reserves of $14 million by the end of 2021. So I think financially, we did a great job. I give the credit to the Town’s financial staffers, along with the Audit Committee.”

I give the credit to the Town’s financial staffers, along with the Audit Committee

Some financial savings were a bit embarrassing when uncovered.

“The old arena on Haist Street still had all the utilities running,” said Hildebrandt. “Shutting those off saved us $30,000 a year. They decommissioned the building, but never turned off the utilities. We’ve [also] saved $ 150,000 a year on electricity at the MCC since 2019.”

Cold-water ice flooding at the MCC is saving big bucks.

“Previously we were using two hot-water boilers to heat the water to flood the ice. But we learned that cold-water flooding technology was out there, and now we’re saving about $60,000 a year,” he said.

Hildebrandt pointed to the Sustainability Committee’s push for LED street lights as realizing a saving of 67 percent from previous energy costs when the Town was using the old technology, sodium-vapour street lights.

He is pleased with council’s passing of a new zoning bylaw in August of this year, which protects woodlands and wetlands in Pelham, and establishes natural heritage zones for environmental protection.

“I’m eager to preserve community green space,” he said. “Not crossing the Steve Bauer Trail with a roadway was a monumental decision on council’s part. We should be able to work with developers to come up with a reasonable plan. I know they have to build houses, and we have an intensification factor placed on us from the province that we have to meet.”

Traffic flow and enforcement is another big issue in Pelham, said Hildebrandt, and additional traffic calming measures are required to keep pedestrians and cyclist safe.

Other council accomplishments cited by Hildebrandt include a decision on second-dwelling units, and a bylaw affecting Airbnbs. The Cannabis Control Committee, under local business owner Tim Nohara’s leadership, also did excellent work, he said.

“I want to have an open and transparent local government that listens to its residents and takes action reflecting the will of the people,” said Hildebrandt. “In fact, one of the first things we did in 2018 with the new council was to invite back the media into the council chambers. Prior to that, the relationship between the media and council had not been very good.”

Lots of legwork, going door to door in his ward, was, according to Hildebrandt, one of the keys to his success in the last election.

“I went around to see each resident in Ward 3 twice,” he said. “I spent five or six days in a row knocking on doors and talking to people. It paid off.”