Catholic school remaining open despite support worker strike


By Ron Giofu

Schools within the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board (WECDSB) will remain open despite a strike impacting custodial, secretarial, maintenance, information technology and campus ministry staff members.

The strike began Monday morning.

“From administration’s point of view, our plan is to keep the schools open for the duration,” said Stephen Fields, communications coordinator with the WECDSB. “Students will be in the classroom learning, as they should be.”

The WECDSB has been alerting parents and students about the work stoppage, urging patience and safety.

“They can expect there will be delays as they will encounter picket lines when they go to the schools,” said Fields.

The Catholic board is asking that people remain respectful and composed during the strike. He said the board doesn’t want to discuss the issues publicly at this stage, but stated claims that the board doesn’t want to work towards and agreement as “patently false.” Fields told the River Town Times last Friday afternoon that a proposal was tabled by the board seven days earlier and had yet to receive a written response.

“We’re willing to talk at a moment’s notice,” said Fields.

Administration and management will try to cover off duties at the schools that are performed usually by the striking workers, he added.

“We’ll have our resources deployed at our schools to make sure things get done,” said Fields. “It’s not going to be easy but we’re pledging to keep the schools open for the duration.”
That could mean principals will have to perform some extra duties, he added.

Fields said the Catholic board is trying to reassure parents that their children can come to school but to be respectful and calm if they encounter any picket lines.


“This action is not directed at students, their families or the community, our picket lines will not prevent or delay students from entering the schools,” Unifor Local 2458 president Bruce Dickie stated in a press release.

Unifor Local 2458 states it represents 370 workers and states that parents, guardians and students will be allowed direct access for drop-off and pick-up. The union states “strike action follows years of failed negotiations with WECDSB. Two bargaining units represent the support workers. Both groups voted overwhelmingly to support a strike.”

Dickie told the River Town Times Monday morning one of the issues is when the starting point is of a collective agreement. A negotiated contract expired in 2012 but a new contract was imposed through the Putting Students First Act last through 2014. Dickie said that deal was taken to court and it was ruled unconstitutional, but a sticking point in current negotiations is whether the two sides are looking at the 2012 agreement or the 2014 agreement.

Dickie added that the board wants something out of every article in the agreements, something the union opposes. According to Dickie, the WECDSB also wants out of the benefit business and wants benefits offered through a trust.

“We want no part of a benefit trust,” he said.

A union local in Thunder Bay reached an agreement without a benefit trust part of that agreement.

“It has been extremely, extremely complex,” Dickie said of negotiations.

Benefits and sick time are issues, the latter having been “decimated” in recent years. He said the union would like to go into binding arbitration but claimed the school board “flatly rejected” that. He added a conciliator and the union is actually waiting for a response from the Catholic board.

“We made it clear we are willing to go back on a moment’s notice and we’ve been awaiting a call from the very beginning. We are not getting a response,” he said.

Dickie said the union hopes people will not do their work as that will make the strike longer and encourages people to speak with trustees and board administration.

“It’s not going to be an easy round of bargaining, for sure,” said Dickie. “There’s no question it’s going to be a long strike.”

Fire Prevention Week observed in Amherstburg


By Ron Giofu

Parents, grandparents and children converged on all three Amherstburg fire stations last week as part of Fire Prevention Week.

With this year’s theme being “Don’t Wait, Check the Date,” the public was urged to check the dates on their carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. Anything over ten-years-old should be replaced, said deputy fire chief Lee Tome.

Marko Pavlovic takes a ride aboard a fire truck Oct. 12 at Amherstburg fire station #2. All three stations had open houses last week as part of Fire Prevention Week.

Marko Pavlovic takes a ride aboard a fire truck Oct. 12 at Amherstburg fire station #2. All three stations had open houses last week as part of Fire Prevention Week.

Tome said the open houses that were held last Tuesday night at Station #3, Wednesday night at Station #2 and Thursday night at Station #1 allowed people to learn fire safety tips, though he added the Amherstburg Fire Department does public education all-year round.

Kelly Fraser and William Triolet sit on one of the fire trucks on display at the open house at Station #2. Last week was Fire Prevention Week.

Kelly Fraser and William Triolet sit on one of the fire trucks on display at the open house at Station #2. Last week was Fire Prevention Week.

Fire Prevention Week also allows the public to meet firefighters and feel more connected with the fire department, Tome added.

“It gives the residents an opportunity to see what the fire department has to offer,” said Tome.

Zach Kollin takes his turn in the driver’s seat of a fire truck during last Wednesday’s open house at Station #2.

Zach Kollin takes his turn in the driver’s seat of a fire truck during last Wednesday’s open house at Station #2.

Tome said being in a community the size of Amherstburg is nice as he added many people already know the firefighters. They also learn necessary tips, with one of those being that it is mandatory for those in homes with attached garages or fuel-fired furnaces to have carbon monoxide alarms.

Three-year-old Julia Bullock was one of the many “Junior Fire Chiefs” at the Amherstburg Fire Department’s three open houses last week.

Three-year-old Julia Bullock was one of the many “Junior Fire Chiefs” at the Amherstburg Fire Department’s three open houses last week.

Among the other pieces of advice passed along to the public were to check smoke alarms monthly, change the batteries once per year, and to develop and practice a home fire escape plan with everyone in the household.

Town to look at mechanical upgrades at Libro Centre due to temperature complaints


By Ron Giofu

The town will be looking at mechanical repairs to the Libro Centre after a user group complained about the temperature in the downstairs community room.

The Fort Malden Golden Age Club was represented at the Oct. 11 town council meeting with members telling council temperature control is an issue in the community room. Fern Elliott told council it has been a problem that has been “ongoing since we moved to the Libro Centre five years ago.”

Elliott said the club has no control over the temperature in the room and that members have complained to the front desk and met with staff to try and rectify the problem. They have also brought in portable heaters and fans but have run into problems of having fuses blow.

“We don’t like to complain constantly to the office staff but we would like our members, some in their late 80’s or 90’s, to enjoy a day out,” said Elliott.

A recent card tournament saw people from out-of-town leave with a bad impression of the facility, Elliott added, with some saying they wouldn’t come back because it was too cold.

Libro Centre

Ron Johnston, also a Golden Age Club member, agreed that it was too cold at times in the community room. He said it is “unacceptable” that people have to bring their own heaters to the Libro Centre.

Johnston also said there is a lack of cleanliness, telling council there have been occasions where garbage that was taken out by club members was returned to the room and that has caused a foul smell in the room.

“I think it’s deplorable our seniors are being treated this way,” said Johnston.

Councillor Diane Pouget commended the seniors for speaking up about the temperature issues they face, adding a recent union meeting held in the same room saw similar complaints from people in their 20’s.

CAO John Miceli said there is a review of the mechanical system of the Libro Centre ongoing with a report to be brought to budget. He noted the lease agreement with the Golden Age Club expired in April, an arrangement that sees the club get the 2,400 square foot community room rent-free. He suggested that council look at a new lease agreement before work is done, with council agreeing to enter into negotiations with the club for an extended lease.

Miceli added it is an LEED facility and that “checks and balances” had to be done in order to get that designation.

“I can’t explain why the variation is happening. I need to further my investigation,” said Miceli.

Councillor Rick Fryer said while the community rooms are often cold, the dressing rooms are too warm.

“It’s like walking into a sauna when you are done playing,” said Fryer.

“Yes, temperature is a concern,” added Councillor Leo Meloche. “The design of it is an issue too when you have 15-20 foot ceilings.”

Meloche suggested lowering the ceilings and the duct work to bring heat closer to the ground and that the town should consider a shared cost arrangement.

The town agreed to spend the money on upgrading the system at the municipality’s expense. Miceli estimated the cost to be in the range of $20,000, though council gave an upset limit of $25,000 to complete the project.

Town seeking over $3.7 in federal grant funding for water plant upgrades


By Ron Giofu

The town of Amherstburg is seeking over $3.7 million in federal funding under the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund for upgrades to the town’s water treatment plant.

According to a report from director of corporate services/treasurer Justin Rousseau, the key project the town is seeking funding for a reservoir replacement.

“The Amherstburg Water Treatment Plant currently only has one water storage in-ground reservoir. Water storage reservoirs are required to ensure that adequate supply of water is maintained to meet peak water demands or emergencies such as fires, water main breaks, power outages and pump failures,” stated Rousseau. “The existing reservoir is old and showing extensive deterioration. In 2003 and 2010, the Town performed emergency reservoir repairs due to excessive leaking of treated water from the reservoir. Further failures and repairs are anticipated as the structure ages. The construction of the new reservoirs would occur in two phases. Phase 1 would involve the construction of a new 14,800 cubic metre reservoir. Phase 2 of the project will involve the construction of two 7,400 cubic metre cells built within the existing reservoir footprint.”
Rousseau added it is unknown what the cost of Phase 2 works would be at the present time.

The Amherstburg Water Treatment Plant

The Amherstburg Water Treatment Plant

“An assessment of the existing infrastructure will be undertaken once Phase 1 is completed for council’s consideration,” he stated in his report.

The total cost of the Phase 1 project would be over $8.1 million, including HST. If the grant request is successful, the town would fund its share through a $500,000 contribution from its growth-related development charge reserve with the remainder through 20-year debentures funded through water rates.

“The Amherstburg Water Treatment Plant has not had significant upgrades since its construction in 1971. The current plant lacks a redundancy system which means in the event of a failure at the plant the town’s water supply could be jeopardized,” Rousseau stated in his report.

Rousseau stated the town’s long-term Strategic Financial Plan and Water Model identifies the need to invest over $30 million in water infrastructure in the next ten years, adding the town presently has no reserves in the water division and one of the region’s highest water rates.

“In an effort to remain competitive in the region, administration believes that this grant submission is necessary,” Rousseau stated. “A successful grant application will assist the town in securing future development and providing water at a reasonable rate thus assisting the town’s long-term sustainability. The Town must be strategic in its approach to capital investment and a successful Clean Water and Wastewater Fund application will assist the town in doing so.”

Rousseau added that in the proposed long term financial plan, “administration has identified the need to increase the debt levels for the water division by 2025. Should the town be successful in its grant application, the future projected debt levels will be decreased. It is important for council to note that costs associated with infrastructure improvements are funded through municipal water rates. Successful grant applications will assist the Town in reducing those costs and mitigating future water rate increases.”

Councillor Diane Pouget pointed out the fact the town has no reserves in its water division and high rates. She said water has to stay clean and that council has to “tighten its boots and look for ways to save money.”

Councillor Leo Meloche suggested an interconnected system with surrounding municipalities so that all municipalities are treated through one large plant rather than each town having its own systems. Meloche also was concerned over debt, bringing up the Belle Vue purchase and his opposition to it. He said the town will still have debt even with a successful grant application and that a better long-term vision is necessary.

Rousseau said the town is essentially three different corporations where “different pieces pay for different things.” Belle Vue does not impact the water budget, he stated, and that it is the water division that does not have adequate reserves.

“The water area is the next area of significant investment for the municipality,” said Rousseau.

“I believe this administration is taking procedures appropriate to maintain assets,” added CAO John Miceli. While previous administrations may have “put their heads in the sand,” the current administration is working on the issues including seeking funding from senior levels of government and examining alternate methods of service delivery.

“Residents need to understand administration is forecasting a worse-case scenario,” said Miceli. “We are trying to get grants to mitigate costs. We believe we are taking all the necessary steps to do that.”

Miceli added that, as it relates to the comment about Belle Vue, the town will not proceed with restoration efforts unless it has the community’s participation.

Expressions of interest for grant funding have to be sent to the Ministry of Infrastructure by Oct. 31.

Secret Santa Benefit Dinner returns to Mealtime Express


By Ron Giofu

A local restaurant is bringing back a fundraiser that gives children and families a happier Christmas.

The Secret Santa Benefit Dinner is back at Mealtime Express with the 2016 event scheduled for Nov. 20. The last time the event was held was in 2012 but owners Janet and Norm Mickle are bringing it back this year and they have teamed with Amherstburg Community Services (ACS) to help them.

“We have four seatings that night,” said Janet. “We sell 50 tickets per seating, advance tickets only. They are $20 per ticket.”

Mealtime Express, including owners Norm and Janet Mickle and their staff, will be bringing back their Secret Santa Benefit Dinner Nov. 20. Tickets are $20 and need to be purchased in advance with takeout tickets also available.

Mealtime Express, including owners Norm and Janet Mickle and their staff, will be bringing back their Secret Santa Benefit Dinner Nov. 20. Tickets are $20 and need to be purchased in advance with takeout tickets also available.

Janet added there are takeout tickets available as well and that it is a complete broasted chicken dinner. Takeout tickets must also be purchased in advance.

“All the proceeds are going to local kids for Christmas,” said Norm. “It’s to help local families have a great Christmas.”

The dinner will see the staff at Mealtime Express volunteer their time preparing and serving the meals with ACS staff buying the gifts and delivering them to the families.

“They are going to buy Christmas presents right off of their lists,” said Norm.

Mealtime Express has put on the Secret Santa Benefit Dinner seven times in the past and has helped 186 families and 460 children in the time. In 2012 alone, they helped 33 families and 87 children.

Families are also assisted with gift cards to local grocery stores so that they may have a nice Christmas dinner. Norm said they are trying to keep everything local to the Amherstburg community.

“We are hoping for support from many local businesses,” Janet stated.

The Mickles said they are excited to team with ACS as they help share the workload to make the event a reality for local families. In the past, the Secret Santa Benefit Dinner has been “overwhelming” and the community has traditionally supported it.

“The response we have found (to the dinner) has been amazing,” said Norm. “This is a very, very generous town.”

The Secret Santa Benefit Dinner is scheduled to have a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus as well. People are also invited to drop off new, unwrapped toys at Mealtime Express.

“Norm and Janet Mickle said ‘Amherstburg, you’ll love it here,” said Norm. “No one should go without on Christmas.”

The four seatings for the Nov. 20 dinner are at 4 p.m., 5:15 p.m. 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at Mealtime Express, located at 421 Sandwich St. S.

For information or to donate, call 519-736-4338.