County taxes expected to go up 1.88 per cent



By Ron Giofu


The county portion of a residential tax rate looks to be on the rise to the tune of 1.88 per cent.

Essex County council’s meeting last Wednesday saw them deliberate the 2016 budget with the projected increase to amount to $17.02 on a home valued at $200,000. That means the county portion of the tax bill will total $924.47 on a $200,000 home, as opposed to $907.45 in 2015.

Director of corporate services/treasurer Rob Maisonville noted the 1.88 per cent increase is primarily due to the county’s ongoing infrastructure expansion fund, which is in year ten of 12, and the new funding that is being set aside for the new Windsor-Essex hospital systems. The proposed tax rate sees a 1.46 per cent earmarked for infrastructure expansion and a 0.91 per cent increase for the new hospital. The county’s 2016 base operations is actually being proposed at -0.49 per cent.

Maisonville noted that he would like to see at least $450,000 devoted to the new mega-hospital fund going forward. The county has already transferred $1.4 million towards that this year including $760,000 through the levy.

The county is increasing its commitment to the County-Wide Active Transportation System (CWATS) by $100,000 this year. The county also faces a challenge of having five of its six collective agreements outstanding with most coming due in March, said Maisonville. The county has seen a 30 per cent increase related to benefits this year, he added.

Essex County is below average when it comes to tax rates for its commercial, residential, multi-residential and industrial sectors, as compared to other counties in southwestern Ontario.

Maisonville also pointed out the county’s AA credit rating from Standard & Poor’s, no levy supported debt, healthy liquidity, solid reserve strategy, a “long standing” life-cycle capital program and its pay-as-you-go infrastructure method.

Essex-Windsor EMS chief Bruce Krauter noted his department still faces challenges in relation to the region not having enough acute and long-term beds. Off-load delays at hospitals remains an issue, though he noted they decreased from 2014 to 2015 thanks to both EMS and hospital strategies.

The county is also proposing a staffing enhancement of four primary care paramedics to commence a vulnerable patient navigator program, according to Krauter’s report. He also pointed out the Dougall Ave. station in Windsor is due for replacement in late 2016 or early 2017.

The county’s transportation services department was $335,800 under budget for 2015 with 2016 highlights including a total expenditure level of $26.8 million. The latter sees just over $10 million proposed for the 2016 rehabilitation program, a program which includes 36 projects overall.

Essex County’s 2016 budget includes almost $146 million in gross expenditures with the total county requirement being $85.2 million.

The budget is up for formal approval at county council’s Feb. 17 meeting.

Strike deadline extended



By Ron Giofu


The strike deadline has been extended in relation to the ongoing collective bargaining discussions between IBEW Local 636 and the town of Amherstburg.

Both sides met with a provincial mediator Thursday in a marathon session that ended at roughly 4:30 a.m. IBEW Local 636 business representative Brian Manninger said there will be a membership meeting Monday evening.

“The town has tabled a final offer,” said Manninger, who noted the strike deadline is now Tuesday at 12:01 a.m.

The fact the mediation session took 20 hours is emblematic of how things went Thursday/early Friday, Manninger said.

“It was a long day,” said Manninger. “Both sides got to where we got to and it is what it is.”

Manninger noted while membership will meet regarding the town’s offer, there is no memorandum of settlement as of Friday morning.

CAO John Miceli confirmed it was a lengthy meeting and stated the town and the union “worked through a lot of issues” during the mediation.

“I believe we presented a fair offer. It is up to the members now to accept it or reject it,” said Miceli.

Miceli also noted it was a “final offer” and that the union will discuss it with its membership Monday.

Traffic stop leads to arrest of two men with outstanding warrants



By RTT Staff


A pair of area men face charges after a traffic stop Tuesday afternoon.

Amherstburg police stopped a truck on Concession 2 North around 1 p.m. Tuesday. Police say that upon speaking with the driver of the truck the officer had grounds to give the driver an alcohol roadside-screening test. The driver allegedly failed to provide a sample of his breath.

According to police, investigation also revealed that both the driver and the passenger had outstanding arrest warrants from London, St Thomas and Windsor. Both men were arrested on the warrants and other criminal offenses for breaching their conditions of a previous release.

The driver, a 37-year-old Harrow man, was arrested on outstanding warrants from London and St Thomas Ontario and was also charged with fail or refuse to provide sample of breath, fail to comply with recognizance, fail to comply with conditions of undertaking and speeding.

The passenger, a 42-year-old Amherstburg man, was arrested on outstanding warrant from Windsor and also charged with fail to comply with conditions of undertaking.

Amherstburg police state that both men were released on a promise to appear and undertaking with conditions on the new charges from Amherstburg and were later transported to the police service with the jurisdiction of the outstanding warrants.


Town’s unionized workers could hit the picket lines Friday



By Ron Giofu


IBEW Local 636 and the Town of Amherstburg will enter mediation Feb. 4 but the two sides are looking to get their positions to the public beforehand.

Unionized workers held an information picket at the Libro Centre over the weekend with pamphlets passed out to those who entered. Identical pamphlets were put on cars in municipal parking lots in the downtown core as well.

IBEW business representative Brian Manninger told the River Town Times Friday said there was a meeting with the membership last Wednesday night where the 55 unionized inside and outside workers received an update and reaffirmed their strike position by a 98 per cent vote.

Should negotiations with a provincial mediator break down Feb. 4, the workers could hit the picket lines as soon as the next day.

Manninger hopes a new collective agreement can be reached this Thursday and said the strike deadline could be extended if progress was made, but indicated little progress was being made thus far.

“We don’t want to see a work stoppage,” he said, noting workers are worried about their livelihoods.

Manninger doesn’t believe the town will see any savings through a strike and said it could lead to a strained relationship if it gets that far.

“The residual effects of a strike can go on for years,” he said. “It’s not healthy for either side.”

A conciliation session was held Jan. 12 but Manninger stated only one small article was hammered out during a six-hour session.

“There was no progress being made whatsoever,” said Manninger.

The union will do everything it can to prevent a work stoppage, Manninger added, and they are hoping the town feels the same way.

There are two main issues, according to Manninger, one being hours of work and the other being money. While not begrudging police or fire departments, he said firefighters get a three per cent increase each year for five years while police officers will receive a 5.25 per cent increase in the second year of their deal.

Three top administrators have also seen raises while unionized staff took a one-year wage freeze, he added.

Manninger said the union wants to see their current collective agreement maintained and wage issues addressed, noting cost of living is going up.

Town staff held information pickets at the Libro Centre over the weekend.

Town staff held information pickets at the Libro Centre over the weekend.

“Whether or not people support us, call your councillor and let them know how you’re feeling,” said Manninger.

The material handed out contained much of the same information Manninger outlined in the interview but also stated there has been no work stoppages since IBEW Local 636 started representing the municipal workforce 43 years ago. The union believes, according to its literature, they are “being punished for the town’s financial circumstances as the employer is seeking significant concessions to our rights previously negotiated.”

The literature also questions how many taxpayer dollars “will be spent on scab labour” and police overtime costs.

CAO John Miceli confirmed the two sides will enter mediation Feb. 4 “and we’ll see where things go from there.”

Miceli said Friday afternoon that the town respects the collective bargaining process but doesn’t believe that feeling is being shared.

“I respect the process but the union is not respecting the process,” he said.

“(The union) seems to think it’s a concessionary contract but that’s not the case,” said Miceli.

Miceli said he wants to see what type of information is distributed at this weekend’s information picket and respond to it. The statements he has heard thus far from the union are statements he does not agree with.

“They are misleading the community,” he said. “They are making some pretty misleading statements.”

Manninger took exception to Miceli’s comments after he learned of them Saturday morning, as there was a story originally posted to the River Town Times website later in the day Friday. Manninger accused Miceli of not telling the truth and being the one to misconstrue things.

“This is who we’re supposed to work with at the bargaining table?” asked Manninger. “It’s very sad when the CAO of a corporation conducts himself in a way that is not fully truthful.”

Manninger said at Saturday morning’s information picket that the union put forth an offer Dec. 21 and have not received a response.

The town responded to the information picket with a paid advertisement, seen in this issue on Page 32.

“The Town is proposing a fair collective agreement, an agreement that respects the workers of the Town and the residents, an agreement that will assist Amherstburg in managing our financial obligations going forward. Our proposal does not seek wage concessions and in fact proposes the addition of full time jobs to the Town’s unionized workforce,” said the ad, which refers people to Miceli’s office.

The ad, presented in the form of an “open letter” to residents, notes the steps taken thus far and states the town has “been ready and willing” to meet with IBEW Local 636 to “have productive, meaningful discussions that would lead to a collective agreement” throughout the negotiation process.

LaSalle agrees to provide police costing, Amherstburg gets update on process



By Ron Giofu


Amherstburg town council received an update on how the police costing issue will be handled while a neighbouring municipality formally agreed to supply one of the costings.

LaSalle council met last Tuesday night and formally agreed to give a costing to Amherstburg. LaSalle Mayor Ken Antaya said the matter had already been agreed to by their police services board and they would ensure to make Amherstburg know LaSalle is submitting a costing.

“I suspect it’s going to take some time,” noted Antaya of the process, pointing out Amherstburg will also be considering costings from the OPP and Windsor.

The issue didn’t take long to discuss at LaSalle council, with only Antaya speaking prior to the vote.

LaSalle Civic Centre

LaSalle Civic Centre

Antaya told the River Town Times in a story published Jan. 20 that LaSalle is happy with their police service but the costing could help both municipalities achieve some cost savings, if it were approved.

“We’re not interested in making a million dollars,” said Antaya in the Jan. 20 issue. “We’re interested in watering down our costs. If we can reduce the costs Amherstburg currently experiences, that’s great too.”

At the Jan. 25 meeting of Amherstburg council, elected officials received an update on the process. Councillor Jason Lavigne, the chair of the Amherstburg Police Services Board (APSB), noted the lifting of the moratorium on costings by the OPP but pointed out any costing for Amherstburg won’t come any time soon.

“There are municipalities waiting for costings,” said Lavigne. “We’re hoping we’ll be in the next year or so.”

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said they are working on bringing a representative of the OPP to council to explain the process. Lavigne added they hope to bring police services board representatives from OPP jurisdictions to Amherstburg to speak to council on their experiences.

Councillor Rick Fryer said a switch to the OPP could produce cost savings that the town could apply to infrastructure projects, but Lavigne added there are other municipalities that have OPP costs that have gone “astronomically high.”

Lavigne said that if town council votes to go to a regional service, he is not in favour of a takeover as he would want Amherstburg to have some control. When it comes to making a final decision, he said he wants all factors on the table and indicated he won’t make a decision simply based on dollars.

“It will not be a decision that will be made lightly and it will be made by this council,” said Lavigne.