Budget officially passed, tax rate increases 2.3 per cent

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The 2016 budget has now been passed and taxes are on the rise 2.3 per cent.

Town council made it official Monday night after approving the budget at that level seven days earlier. The budget passed on a 3-2 vote, with Mayor Aldo DiCarlo and councillors Jason Lavigne and Leo Meloche voting in favor. Councillors Rick Fryer and Diane Pouget were opposed.

Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale and Councillor Joan Courtney were absent from Monday night’s meeting.

Town hall

The tax increase means owners of a home valued at $191,000 will pay $38.71 more than last year. The two capital levies were also carried over from last year and when those are factored in, the tax increase moves up to $40.32 per average household.

DiCarlo said he was happy this year’s budget was put to bed.

“It’s a big relief, to say the least,” the mayor stated. “We got it done very early. We are actually waiting for other people at this point.”

Stating he always tries to be positive as it relates to the issue, he acknowledged not everyone will be pleased with the budget. He believed the town “struck a good balance” in this year’s budget.

“There’s never going to be a perfect budget,” he said.

DiCarlo said he cast the deciding vote in favor of the budget primarily because it was something that already had been agreed to in principle.

“I believe it was my responsibility to move it forward as it was agreed to,” he said.

Having a 3-2 vote didn’t faze DiCarlo, who noted Amherstburg is known for debate

“Debate is the way to get the right answers,” he said.

While noting residents he speaks to don’t want a tax increase, he stated that most understand why it needs to occur. He believes setting the budget early in the year assists administration as it puts the town on the financial path it has to follow for the year.

Pouget stated she had two main reasons for her opposing vote, with one of those being some of the new positions that were approved. She said she was particularly concerned with the addition of a second building inspector and a drainage superintendent, believing taxpayers will now have to spend $200,000 per year on those positions.

“In five years, that’s $1 million for two positions,” said Pouget, adding the audit and finance committee did not agree with those new hires.

The recorded votes that were made during the Jan. 4 meeting was the other main reason for Pouget’s dissenting vote, as she believed they were not done according to the town’s procedural bylaw. The votes were done in alphabetical order of surname with DiCarlo voting second instead of last. Pouget said Wayne Hurst voted last when he was the mayor, which was how the procedural bylaw is supposed to operate.

Meloche wondered why this issue had suddenly arose, noting the current council had been voting that way since it began.

“As far as I can remember, we’ve always used the alphabetical procedure,” said Meloche. “I’m wondering why the councillor is questioning our procedure now.”

Pouget responded by stating the town “pays a great deal of money” to administration so that bylaws can be adhered to properly. She said she was alerted to the matter by a resident during a break in last week’s meeting but computer issues prevented her from bringing it up that night as she couldn’t check during that meeting.

The matter was something she also questioned six months ago, she added.

“At what point did you raise the issue six months ago and with whom?” asked DiCarlo, who didn’t recall the matter arising before.

Pouget said it was discussed in “casual conversation” at that time.

“It’s not up to you to change the procedural bylaw,” she told DiCarlo. The mayor replied that he had no intention of changing the bylaw and that they were following procedure. He added he has no preference of when he votes, but Pouget believed his vote coming before others on council impacted how others voted.

“The recorded votes show that, in my opinion,” said Pouget.

Meloche disagreed with Pouget’s assertion, stating taxpayers elected people who can “stand on their own two feet” and vote their own individual way.

“I just think we’re opening a can of worms here,” he added. “If we allow this one (to be questioned), why can’t we challenge one from one year ago.”

Fryer questioned whether the town could be challenged.

“I don’t want to go through the budget process and find out we did something improper,” he said.

Parker didn’t believe the town was in a bad position as it related to those recorded votes.

“I believe the vote would not have changed. The mayor is one vote out of seven members,” she said.

DiCarlo stated when he was elected, he wanted it known his vote was no different than any other member of council.

Town council also passed the water and wastewater rates for 2016 as well Monday night. Those rates will see a zero per cent increase this year.

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