Pelham city leaders lay out plans for 2021

By NATHAN HOWELL | Special to the Reporter

PELHAM — As the new year is underway, Pelham Mayor Gary Waters and City Manager Gretchen DiFante list moving forward with lofty goals for the city’s infrastructure, renovating city hall, improving services for citizens, supporting developments and improving benefits for city employees as their priorities for the year.

DiFante expressed that the last year was a challenge, but one that has taught the city valuable lessons that will allow them to look forward to what 2021 has to offer with a renewed focus and new experiences in dealing with the many issues the city has faced throughout the pandemic.

Among the projects on the agenda, Waters said that one of his top priorities is to “continue to provide superior municipal services in spite of the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

This had been especially tough during 2020, but moving forward into 2021, the city hopes to address these with creative solutions.

“It has been a challenge to continue to provide the level of service for municipalities during COVID-19,” DiFante explained. “Those are the same issues we see all of our vendors having with people out sick and other issues. We have been very creative in staffing and cross training to make sure that there is not a delay or lapse in service for our residents. Most of the time it works, but we are looking to fix when it doesn’t.”

One of the bigger infrastructure projects that the city wants to borrow money to take on is to implement an aggressive strategy to repair aging municipal infrastructure; specifically, aging PVC water lines, according to Waters.

“We have been trying to do this a little bit at a time, but It has gotten to the point where we need to invest a larger portion of money into that in order to avoid playing catch-up in the future,” DiFante said. “We will be going to the bond market, which will help with water infrastructure and city hall. We have some sewer infrastructure that we will be updating as well.”

Another big issue for the city has been the renovation of city hall. This project was taken on nearly two years ago and has faced many challenges, especially with the pandemic. So completing this project is a high priority for the city.

“We are entering into an agreement with architects doing an initial design that we should see in the next month. We are going to be renovating city hall, not building a new building or gutting it,” DiFante said.

Waters also expressed that they want to support the two new developments that had to pause due to COVID-19, referring to the Campus 124 and Canopy projects.

DiFante added that supporting these developments and the businesses that open there is extremely necessary because it will be extremely important for the city that they are successful.

Recently, the city created and sent out an engagement survey to the city’s employees to figure out how to better help them with their benefits and other aspects of their employment, saying that providing for them is increasingly important as they support services and initiatives for the residents of the city.

“We have started an employee benefits cross functional team with employees from every area of the city,” DiFante said. “We want to make sure they are responsible stewards of the city’s money.”

She added that the process is moving very smoothly so far.

The city is also looking to purchase an enterprise and resource planning system, which will update the city’s aging software and help move the operations of the city forward in a more efficient way.

Focusing on Pelham’s comprehensive plan, which was approved in 2019, is also very important for the city’s leadership.

We want to continue to figure out how to address any challenges that may come out of the pandemic. We have benefited from cross training among departments when some locations were closed, and that has been very positive.

“We have moved forward with a lot of initiatives there. A lot of things had to stop this past year, but we will do new planning with the planning and zoning commission,” DiFante said. “We have accomplished a lot already and there is a lot to do. And staying focused on that will help accomplish our priorities.”

DiFante credits the hard work of the city council and the relationship with the new City Council President Maurice Mercer as a valuable resource for creating cohesiveness and collaboration unlike anything shehas ever seen.

Waters and DiFante both expressed that the hard work of the city’s employees were especially important in creating the necessary services to keep the city running this past year especially important this last year. They will be essential in the continued success of the city.