BOB HILDEBRANDT COMING SOON
race for: Councilor, District 3. He has already been unopposed for another four-year term.
Profession: Mechanical engineer retired.
Residence: Fonthill has lived in Pelham for 48 years.
Family: Wife Lorraine, three children, ten grandchildren.
BI informed. collaborate. Create consensus. Pelham District 3 acting councilman Bob Hildebrandt considers these his guiding principles as he begins his second term as Pelham’s elected official after being recognized – or automatically elected – because no one ran against him.
“I am committed to representing every citizen and addressing any issues in a timely, responsible, respectful and transparent manner,” he told the Voice.
Hildebrandt, who lives in Darby Lane, Fonthill, is a retired mechanical engineer, multinational operations manager 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 main priorities at Pelham include financial budgeting and reporting, sound development and planning related to the maintenance of green space and a “small-town atmosphere” in Pelham, and overseeing the community’s hydroelectric power plants.
“We’ve had to endure power outages as our aging infrastructure has been under increasing strain,” he said. “We have problems with voltage and electricity. Hydro One has acknowledged they have a problem.”
Since 2011, Hildebrandt said he was at odds with Hydro One over rate hikes.
“They changed Pelham’s density factor from high urban to medium, which added another $20 a month to everyone’s water bill. It just seemed random,” Hildebrandt said. “I tried to get on the hydroboard but it was unsuccessful. And I failed to get on the committee that was formed to oversee the construction of the MCC. It was at this point that I decided to throw my councilman hat in the ring. I knew I had the qualities and skills to be a good Representative. I was semi-retired at the time, some were consulting engineers and still trying all sorts of things.”
Years ago, his children initially recommended that he stay away from politics, Hildebrandt said.
“My kids didn’t want me to do that because they know what I’m like,” he said. “I have very clear opinions and I don’t pull punches. Sometimes that creates a controversial situation. Generally at council meetings, I try to be the first to answer a question because I don’t want people to think I’m being swayed by other people’s opinions.”
For the past four years, Hildebrandt has been lumped in with council members Ron Kore, Lisa Haun and Marianne Stewart — the so-called “Gang of Four” — because they felt they voted as a bloc on many issues. Hildebrandt denied any form of collusion.
“I can assure you that I made my choice based on what I felt was the right course of action,” Hildebrandt said. “I followed all the rules and was absolutely transparent. My choices were my choices, not discussed in advance with other council members.”
I have very definite opinions and don’t pull punches
Hildebrandt said that prior to his time on the council, he spent a significant amount of time at the MCC when the facility was under construction.
“I spoke to the architects and asked them about their plans,” he said. “I wasn’t exactly happy with what I heard and thought the heating, lighting and cooling could be improved to save money. Petroff is an architecture firm and from the references I checked they had never built an arena-like facility. I’m not saying they weren’t competent, but an arena presents some unique challenges for an organization used to blowing up malls.”
Hildebrandt said he was aware other Niagara arenas had design issues and sent his comments to his local council and former mayor. A meeting followed, but his warnings were ignored, 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,” Hildebrandt said. “What we spent there has a large number and it obviously reflected in our taxes. At the time I thought it would be the best idea 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 in the MCC or not was not the main issue.
“To meet the budget, grants were needed, and the previous ones [Augustyn] The council just went through with it with no grants for that building,” he said. “Everything had to be fundeded by taxpayers. Compare that to Fonthill’s new library proposal, which includes $5.4 million from the federal government, or Grimsby’s Peach King Arena, which underwent a $21 million renovation a few years ago and $16 million in state funding received grants.”
When Hildebrandt was elected to the council in 2018, he said Ball Construction staff told him they could have saved 25 percent on the cost of the MCC if the construction schedule had been more relaxed.
“The timeframe that Ball was given was very tough,” he said. “They argued that if they had been given more time they could have been more efficient and that would be reflected dramatically in the final cost. But you know, hindsight is always 20/20.”
Critics of the former mayor cited Augustyn’s apparent rush to open the MCC by the summer of 2018, coupled with his ambitions to run for regional council chairman, as a feather in his cap to propel him to voters across Niagara.
The municipality’s improved financial position, as reflected in the 2021 annual report, is a tribute to the city’s staff, council and audit committee, which includes independent local accountants, Hildebrandt said.
“Our 2021 revenue was $30.6 million [compared to] $25.8 million in spend,” he said. “Four years in a row we have had a positive budget and in the last two years we have increased our reserves. The city added $4.8 million to its assets, reduced its liabilities by $1.5 million, and reduced its debt to $12.1 million a year from $18.5 million in 2020 2021. This resulted in a $14 million increase in taxable cash reserves through the end of 2021. So I think financially we did a great job. I, along with the Audit Committee, commend the city’s financial staff.”
I commend the City Treasurers along with the Audit Committee
Some financial savings were a bit embarrassing when they were revealed.
“All the utilities were still running in the old arena on Haist Street,” Hildebrandt said. “By turning them off, we saved $30,000 a year. They decommissioned the building but never shut down the utilities. We have [also] has saved MCC $150,000 annually in electricity since 2019.”
Cold water ice floods in the MCC save a lot of money.
“We used to use two hot water boilers to heat the water to flood the ice. But we’ve learned that cold water flooding technology is on the market, and now we’re saving about $60,000 a year,” he said.
Hildebrandt pointed to the Sustainability Committee’s push for LED streetlights as the city achieved a 67 percent savings over previous energy costs when the city used the old technology, sodium vapor streetlights.
He is pleased that the council passed a new zoning ordinance in August this year that protects forests and wetlands in Pelham and establishes natural heritage zones to protect the environment.
“I strive to preserve the community’s green spaces,” he said. “Not crossing the Steve Bauer Trail with a roadway was a monumental decision by the council. 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 from the province that we have to meet.”
Traffic flow and traffic enforcement is another major concern in Pelham, Hildebrandt said, and additional traffic calming measures are needed to keep pedestrians and cyclists safe.
Other achievements of the council cited by Hildebrandt are a decision on second homes and a statute affecting Airbnbs. The cannabis oversight committee, led by local business owner Tim Nohara, has also done an excellent job, he said.
“I want to have an open and transparent local government that listens to its citizens and takes actions that reflect the will of the people,” Hildebrandt said. “In fact, one of the first things we did in 2018 with the new council was to invite the media back into council chambers. Before that, the relationship between the media and the council was not very good.”
Lots of footwork, going door-to-door on his ward, was one of the keys to his success in the last election, according to Hildebrandt.
“I wCome by to see every 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.”