Aldo DiCarlo

Council, JPAC get another earful over possible police switch

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Two more public meetings on the proposed switching of police services from Amherstburg to Windsor were held last week with large crowds wanting their voice on the matter.

Approximately 65 people attended last Thursday night’s meeting at St. Peter’s ACHS College School while over 100 attended a Saturday meeting at the Libro Centre, the latter lasting approximately three hours.

The majority of the residents in attendance voiced opposition to switching from the Amherstburg Police Service to the Windsor Police Service though there were some supportive opinions during the two meetings.

John Miceli, the town’s chief administrative officer (CAO) and chair of the Joint Police Advisory Committee (JPAC), pointed out policing currently takes up 23 per cent of the town’s total operating budget. He emphasized that it will be town council who will make the final decision, and that decision is scheduled for Feb. 26.

The community room at the Libro Centre was packed for the Jan. 27 meeting on the policing issue. (Submitted photo)

Mike Mitchell, a consultant from MPM Consulting, said the town’s Request for Proposal (RFP) is “quite a comprehensive document” and is available for public viewing on the town’s website. Mitchell added the Windsor police proposal addresses all the concerns laid out by the JPAC while Miceli stated the “town is committed to an accountable and transparent process.”

Many members of the public weren’t buying what the JPAC officials were saying, including Ross Scott who questioned Mayor Aldo DiCarlo as to why this process was taking place.

Denise Bondy holds up a photo of her father – former Amherstburg police chief George Hannah – during a public meeting at St. Peter’s ACHS College School Jan. 25.

“This issue has never been about service or service levels,” said DiCarlo. He said it was caused by people who were questioning candidates during the 2014 election about policing costs and wanting options.

Windsor police chief Al Frederick said Amherstburg has “an excellent police service” but believed public safety could be enhanced if the service was switched. Frederick noted crimes are “borderless” today and “your high school students are being victimized every day.”

Amherstburg police chief Tim Berthiaume said the current service is as efficient as it can get.

“We never stop looking for efficiencies in the police service,” he said. “We are already running as lean as we can be but we never stop looking.”

Berthiaume cited $240,000 in savings from switching the dispatch to Windsor.

Scott called the process “ludicrous” and put his support behind the Amherstburg Police Service.

“I am quite satisfied with Amherstburg police. I am proud to say I taught many of them and they are good people,” said Scott. “I have no problem with Windsor police but, in my opinion, Amherstburg can do a fine job.”

Denise Bondy reiterated a previous position that the decision was too important to be made in haste and with less than the full council. Two members of council – Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale and Councillor Diane Pouget – have sought legal advice and have declared a conflict of interest.

Bondy called for the public to have a vote in whether they want policing switched.

Dan Ouellette said he feels safe in Amherstburg and commended the current officers.

“I’m very happy with the police force we have,” he said.

“I like the Amherstburg police force,” added Nancy Atkinson. “I think they are doing a fine job.”

Atkinson said she didn’t see the need for enhanced services like bomb squads and the other, with enhanced services also being questioned by others. Miceli said the enhanced services would come to Amherstburg, if needed, free of charge though noted OPP doesn’t currently charge for services and “may or may not” in the future.

Frederick pointed out there was an explosive ordinance that washed up in Amherstburg several months ago that Windsor police detonated.

“It does happen,” he said. “It happened here recently.”

Another look at the packed house at the Libro Centre Jan. 27.

Frederick, when addressing a different question, said they are “staffed well in Windsor” and that he doesn’t foresee pulling resources from Amherstburg to Windsor in case of a major crime. The JPAC has stated that all current Amherstburg officers would stay in Amherstburg and leave only if they pursue promotional opportunities.

George Kritiotis said he believes in the officers with the Amherstburg Police Service.

“I don’t think any service would police Amherstburg better than the Amherstburg Police Service,” he said.

Kritiotis questioned why Windsor doesn’t use body-worn cameras with Frederick replying that no large municipality currently employs them and that he wants to see what added value he brings.

“I never said I don’t want them,” he said.

Berthiaume said the difference in Amherstburg is its size, adding it’s “a completely different animal” in Windsor.

“We are small enough (to have body-worn cameras). We can handle the capability ourselves,” said Berthiaume. “I’m a firm believer in them for the community. It’s a good fit for our community and our people.”

Kritiotis questioned whether Miceli was in conflict due to the CAO being a former Windsor employee but DiCarlo defended the CAO. The mayor said that if people wanted to lay blame and hate someone, go through him, adding that any thoughts of Miceli being behind a conspiracy is “absolute nonsense.”

Paul Hertel called for town council to receive a more thorough report that goes beyond the RFP.

“If council has no JPAC report content on this issue, it must search elsewhere. I believe the public is entitled to understand the thinking of its duly elected representatives and expects more articulation than a mumble of platitudes,” said Hertel.

Hertel also questioned what the timeline is for implementation and what the implications are for the dissolution of the local police force and police services board. He also wondered implications would come into place if Amherstburg is added to the Windsor Police Services Board.

“Based on the public meetings so far, and my readings, I am unconvinced that the community finds merit in the current proposal,” said Hertel. “Notwithstanding the answers to my questions, there appears to be neither evidence of urgency or failed community policing. Contracting out police services is not an option and I hope the final JPAC report to Amherstburg council will acknowledge the views of our citizens.”

“We are very comfortable with what we have,” added Tracey Matte. “The savings aren’t enough to make us switch from what we have.”

It is projected the town would save $567,802 annually by switching to Windsor.

Others agreed that the savings wasn’t enough, with some voicing they would be glad to pay an extra $61 on their taxes. That is the average amount per household that would be saved.

Frank Cleminson, who spoke at both of the first two meetings, pressed for transparency in the process and how numbers were arrived at.

“I’m still concerned with how you arrived at these savings,” said Cleminson. “If you have the numbers, you should be able to put them up and explain the savings.”

“There is no hidden agenda here,” responded Frederick. “There is no hokey-pokey with numbers. I have nothing to gain by pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes with regards to finance.”

Frederick said Berthiaume and Amherstburg deputy chief Ian Chappell would be offered sworn positions with Windsor police and that accounts for some of the savings.

“We are being transparent and accountable,” he said. “I have no interest in this other than supplying a superior police service at a cheaper cost.”

Among questions posed by Marc Pillon were the reduction of operating costs but noted many residents would rather pay for the existing service.

“It is emotional,” he said. “We are saying this is not what we want.”

Tim Ackerson indicated there are studies that show small forces manage operating costs effectively and that local forces have an intimate knowledge of the town. Ackerson said his position was a “weak no” but there could be opportunities in the future.

“It’s not the right time,” said Ackerson. “In the future, maybe it will be.”

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkins said there was a regional policing study done several years ago that showed a benefit to the region. He said the town would receive the same level of service should the proposal be accepted with same same officers, vehicles and shift schedules.

“We can do this and save the town $560,000,” said Dilkins.

Dilkins added that “no one is not trying to be transparent” but there are police functions that are included in the proposal that can’t be stated publicly by law.

“We can’t de-risk this more for the Town of Amherstburg,” said Dilkins. “We can’t.”

Other towns have switched to OPP and maintained their identity, he added, and predicted the same would be true of Amherstburg should a switch to Windsor police occur.

“You will not lose your identity based on one decision,” Dilkins told the crowd at the Libro Centre Saturday afternoon. “You are too strong of a town for that to happen.”

Michael Prue, a former MPP and mayor from the GTA, said after 26 years in politics, he learned to “forget the money” if it comes down to what the public wants versus cost considerations.

“To me, the fundamental problem is the town will lose control,” said Prue. “The Amherstburg Police Services Board is essential. It states where the police service should be going.”

Prue added it is the wishes of the public that are the most important.

“The people of the town make the town,” he said. “Give them what they want. It’s the town and it’s what they are going to pass down to their children.”

Len Paquette didn’t believe the right questions were asked during the JPAC process, adding his belief that the process was being “sugar coated” and that not all the facts were being released.

“If you break it down, it’s 17 cents per day,” he added.

Don Brown, an Amherstburg resident and member of the Amherstburg Police Service, said many officers already have specialized training and it is similar to what Windsor officers have. Steve Owen, another Amherstburg resident and Amherstburg officer, questioned how long the JPAC had to review the proposal, noting there have been rumours of them only reviewing it 20-30 minutes.

Miceli said the motion from JPAC was to move the process forward and “no one forced anyone to agree or not agree with the motion.”

Owen added they offer accident reconstruction and VIP in Amherstburg, with that latter seeing ten visits to a Grade 6 class by an officer. He told the public while there is a concern that there is a concern the town isn’t listening to them, the police officers are.

Shawn McCurdy, another Amherstburg officer and president of the Amherstburg Police Association, said they have a great working relationship with Windsor and have respect for the service but the majority of members want to stay with their own service.

“I think the public needs to know that many of us want to stay in Amherstburg,” he said.

Glenn Swinton questioned whether dispatch is on top of the policing proposal or included. He was told it was a matching up of contract terms with Dilkins noting that if Amherstburg were to return to its own force after five years, they could still have dispatch services.

Should a switch back to Amherstburg occur down the road, Swinton also questioned the shape the assets returning to the town would be in. He also had questions about the JPAC itself, wondering who drafted the terms of reference. DiCarlo said administration created them and they were approved by council.

The crowd listens to the JPAC presentation at St. Peter’s ACHS College School Jan. 25.

In a written notice, Swinton called for the disbarment of the JPAC, alleging several members were in conflict. He believed DiCarlo was in conflict for having a relative on the force while Berthiaume was an employee of Amherstburg police. Swinton’s letter also named Councillor Rick Fryer, alleging conflict due to “legal issues having been put before the APD” from members of his family including the issue involving

The process of electing a chair and vice-chair was also questioned with Miceli being appointed chair of the JPAC.

Swinton stated in a letter that he was taking the matter to the town’s integrity commissioner. Swinton questioned during the meeting when a Friday JPAC meeting was actually called, with Miceli responding it was called two days previous and placed on the town’s website.

Among those in support of the Windsor police proposal was Judy Carter. Carter said she had no reason to doubt that Amherstburg police provides an excellent service. She did say she was concerned about her tax dollars and how they are spent.

“I’m retired. I don’t have a money tree in the backyard,” she said.

Carter said she supports switching to the Windsor police service, adding she hopes more people with opinions like hers speak up.

“I do support the proposal because of the enhancements it provides to the town,” said Carter.

Sarah Gibb said she was a “soft yes” for the Windsor police proposal. She didn’t believe it should go to a public ballot as she feared that residents wouldn’t educate themselves fully and vote out of fear, the latter which she said is “all over the internet.”

There will be some savings but they are “savings nonetheless,” she said. She urged the town to place the savings into a reserve and not use the money for any “surprise giveaways.” Should the town maintain the status quo, there is no guarantee there won’t be increased costs to cover it, she believed.

“I feel the Windsor Police Service is a viable option,” she said.

Gibb added: “I would feel sad to see the local service go, out of nostalgia, I suppose.”

Noting it is a stressful time for people in the community, Gibb pointed out there would be no job losses for current Amherstburg police members.

“I choose to see this as an opportunity for our town and its police officers,” said Gibb.

The decision on whether or not to switch will come Feb. 26 and DiCarlo suggested the meeting be moved to a larger venue than the council chambers to accommodate the crowd. It might also be the lone agenda item that night.

In the meantime, the town states it is going to come up with phone and online surveys to further gauge public opinion.

Town passes new open burn bylaw

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A process that resulted in three public meetings late last summer has concluded with a newly passed open burn bylaw.

Town council passed the new open burn bylaw thanks to a 5-1 vote Monday night. Fire chief Bruce Montone said the bylaw is “reasonably close” to what was presented last year.

Voting in favour of the new bylaw was Mayor Aldo DiCarlo and councillors Jason Lavigne, Rick Fryer, Joan Courtney and Leo Meloche. Councillor Diane Pouget was opposed while Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale was not at Monday night’s meeting.

Properties will have to be inspected before a permit is granted. The bylaw also contains other provisions depending on the type of fire set, the setting (urban vs. rural) or if a device such as an outdoor fireplace or chiminea is being used. Montone said firefighters will assess each lot before a permit is granted and that an inspection has to be passed before a permit is issued. Some lots may be too small for a campfire but that will be determined through inspection.

“The biggest challenge we had in the community were bonfires,” he said.

A frequent request was to have small campfires so that people could enjoy each others’ company and enjoy outdoor cooking, he added, though noting all fires have to be properly extinguished and will not be allowed to burn out on its own.

A hotline will be established so that people can call in and see if they can have a fire that day, he noted, with the Amherstburg Alert system being another way to notify residents.

“I’m hoping we found a happy medium between those in the community who wanted open burns and those were against it,” said Montone.

Another challenge will be the volume of inspections in the first year, he noted, though that is expected to subside in subsequent years. Upwards of 1,000 people could ask for a permit, he estimated.

DiCarlo said the bylaw was very well thought out and said it won’t amount to Amherstburg being a “pollution zone” as not every resident will be eligible for open burns will be allowed to do it or will want to have a fire.

“It will come down to a property by property basis,” the mayor stated. “There will be things to learn. Now we have put the fire department in a position to educate people.”

Pouget voiced numerous concerns, including the possibility that smoke could infringe on other people’s property and negatively impact seniors, children and those with disabilities.

“(Smoke) contains many of the same toxins as tobacco smoke,” she said. “I can’t play Russian roulette with the health and safety of our residents.”

The bylaw could also “pit neighbour against neighbour,” she believed, as some neighbours won’t be able to have a fire while others will depending on their lot size.

“It will tax our fire department’s resources,” she added.

Courtney admitted she was on the fence until speaking with Montone earlier in the day Monday but was satisfied with what she heard. Fryer said outdoor fires can do such things as uplift a person’s spirit and provide “joyful experiences,” adding that ancestors spent years cooking over open fire.

“Many of us experience more smoke over a barbecue or a stove than a campfire,” added Meloche. “Education is going to be a big part of how you manage smoke from campfires.”

New public high school location revealed

By Ron Giofu

 

The location of the new public high school has finally been revealed.

The town will sell 15 acres of the southern portion of Centennial Park to the Greater Essex County District School Board for $2,457,000 with the town putting the proceeds into a parkland reserve. The town will retain 12 acres on the northern end of the park.

The new 819-student high school will house both General Amherst High School students and Western Secondary School students with the estimated opening date being Sept. 2020.

“Amherstburg is getting a single location, dual high school that will be state of the art,” said Mayor Aldo DiCarlo. “We’re ecstatic.”

Greater Essex County District School Board and town officials were pleased with the announcement that Centennial Park will house the new school to replace the current General Amherst and Western. From left: board chair Kim McKinley, CAO John Miceli, GECDSB director of education Erin Kelly, Mayor Aldo DiCarlo and Amherstburg/LaSalle trustee Ron LeClair.

DiCarlo said the location is close to the downtown area and keeps students close to downtown businesses. It also enables many students to continue to walk to school, he noted.

The mayor called it “incredible” news and gave his thanks to the school board officials.

(UPDATE – As for the fate of the pool, tennis courts and baseball diamonds, DiCarlo told the RTT Wednesday afternoon: “All of these amenities are being considered in the context of the parks master plan and where they will be located.”)

Erin Kelly, director of education with the Greater Essex County District School Board, said the board has selected an architect and will be moving forward with the design process. She believed they would be able to combine the two schools and meet the needs of all the students.

Kelly said they will try and get a shovel in the ground as soon as possible.

“There’s a lot of decisions to be made,” she noted.

CAO John Miceli said the town is “really excited” because of the fact the new school will provide additional opportunities for the municipality. Additional community use could arise with the new school and programming could be developed for after-school hours.

The Ontario government has already put $24.3-million towards the new public high school. As for the current building, Miceli indicated the town has its eyes on it and the board has its ears open for those plans.

“It’s in a strategic location in the Town of Amherstburg,” said Miceli. “The board is willing to listen.”

The CAO added: “There’s more to come.”

Miceli also thanked the public board’s administration for working with the town to arrive at the agreement.

Ron LeClair, trustee for Amherstburg and LaSalle, indicated there are opportunities for co-operative education that will be within walking distance for students.

“This is wonderful news for the board and the Town of Amherstburg,” he said. “This is a win-win for the board and the town.”

While admitting “I can’t wait to get a shovel in the ground,” LeClair also said they have to complete the design phase first.

Councillor Leo Meloche noted the importance of the school to the community, and said parents and students alike appreciate the effort. Councillor Diane Pouget also offered praise to the public board for working with the town.

“It’s a special spot for many of us,” she said.

Pouget added there is work being done that would eventually allow for over 1,700 building lots to be created in town, but Kelly noted they have to build based on the students they currently have. If an addition were needed in the future, the board could seek further funding from the province, she suggested.

Councillor Rick Fryer said the new school’s inclusion of skilled trades for students is important and called it “an excellent idea.”

The announcement to sell 15 of the 27 acres in Centennial Park to the public board was met with applause by those in attendance at Monday night’s meeting.

Mayor looks back on 2017, looks ahead to 2018

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The new year is upon us and there were positives and negatives from the year that has just ended, says the town’s mayor.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said that 2017 was a good one but it had its ups and downs as well.

“I think, overall, it was a good balance of successes and challenges,” said DiCarlo. “I think we’ve done well with the waterfront development acquisitions, we had the fibre (internet) announcement and I think the budget confirmed our financial restraint and investment.”

DiCarlo believes the town did a good job of walking the “fine line of paying down debt and increasing amenities that should keep people in town.”

Regarding the Belle Vue and Duffy’s property projects, DiCarlo said he has heard positive and negative responses from residents but acknowledged, “it’s impossible to keep everyone happy” and that council is trying to work for residents and address the needs of the community. He said many people want the Duffy’s property available for public use as soon as possible and “hopefully we can make progress on that” in 2018.

The town did make progress in 2017, the mayor stated.

“We’ve definitely moved forward again,” he said. “That’s my belief. At the end of the day, it always comes down to what the residents think. As long as we can maintain the balance of moving forward, which I think we did (in 2017), we’re in good shape.”

DiCarlo said 2018 could be “another year of challenges,” and the first one on the radar is the policing issue. The town will be hosting four public meetings later this month to discuss the proposal from Windsor police, one that forecasts a $567,000 annual savings to the town.

“That is obviously going to be a big decision we have to deal with,” said DiCarlo. “I’ve definitely heard from a broad demographic of residents on this particular issue. There are people on both sides and plenty of people in the middle waiting to hear what is said at the public meetings.”

The location of the new public high school by the Greater Essex County District School Board is expected at some point, and DiCarlo said that is good news. While noting that not everyone will be happy with the new location, he believes that the new public high school will be positive for the town.

“Everyone is asking where it is going and when it will be built,” said DiCarlo, adding that timelines suggest that the announcement could come soon.

Other development is tied to the school announcement, he suggested, and that more news could be revealed shortly after the location is revealed. While much of that development hasn’t been publicly revealed as of yet, the seniors hub development proposed for the former St. Bernard School appears to be one of them. The town and Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board are headed for arbitration over the building’s value as the town wants to acquire it.

DiCarlo said the town is committed to serving the senior population and that he is hopeful the dispute over the building can be resolved.

“We’re going to go through legal channels there to mediate some sort of solution,” he said.

Much of the plans for future development is hinged on one another, he said, and that “there are a lot of synergies to projects now.” He said fewer projects are done in isolation.

“I think that’s going to translate into success in the long run,” said DiCarlo.

The town remains focused on a hotel, he added, and that the rollout of the fibre internet should occur in 2018. The town will also continue to pay down debt and continue to invest in the community, with DiCarlo stating the goal of the latter being to do so with cash the town already has.

The mayor said there is some “misconception” as it pertains to the town’s debt, which has been brought down from $44 million to approximately $38 million over the last few years. While it has come down “millions,” DiCarlo said much of the debt is locked in and can’t be paid down faster than what it already is.

This year is an election year and DiCarlo said the town could be impacted if and when the current council achieves “lame duck” status.

“While we tackle everything we have to deal with, things have to be in the perspective of what happens with the election,” he said. “If we become a lame duck council, we’ll have to put the issues on hold and we would not be able to deal with them.”

The municipal election is Oct. 22 and the nomination period opens May 1 and ends July 27 at 2 p.m.

Town receives grant to assist with work at Duffy’s site

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Duffy’s Tavern & Motor Inn was demolished several months ago and now the town has received word it has received grant funding to help pay for that cleanup.

The Government of Canada and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) announced $45 million in Green Municipal Fund (GMF) grants and loans in support of 28 environmental initiatives led by local governments across Ontario. Those announcements came Friday and Amherstburg received $142,900.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo was pleased with Friday’s announcement.

“We did apply for it some time ago for the clean-up of the property and it looks like we were successful,” said DiCarlo.

DiCarlo said the town still applies for grants but the projects are not contingent on grant funding. Money is budgeted for projects and “grants are like a bonus” in that it frees up money for other things.

“It’s that much less we have to front,” said DiCarlo. “When you are working on the project anyway, it’s always nice to get a letter that says ‘by the way, the work you are doing is going to be paid for.’ It’s fantastic.”

Timelines on the Duffy’s property depend on other factors, said DiCarlo, and those factors are still being worked on and can’t be announced just yet.

“The residents want to see (the Duffy’s site) done ASAP,” the mayor acknowledged.

DiCarlo also credited town administration and staff for their grant writing abilities.

“We’re known for being successful in getting grants,” said DiCarlo. “We have people who understand government processes. They know what they’re doing, they really do. Full credit to them for that.”

Demolition was completed at the Duffy’s site in September. The town received a grant Dec. 15 helping with clean-up of the site.

CAO John Miceli confirmed the money will apply retroactively to the town’s clean-up of the site. He said the next phase is a report of site conditions, which will be worked on in 2018. He said their consultant Golder & Associates will go in, drill at various points at the site and perform an Environmental Assessment (EA).

The early cost estimate to develop the site is $5-6.5 million with a 500-seat amphitheatre, marina, boat ramp, fishing wharf, service buildings and plazas among what is currently proposed for the site. Miceli is hopeful of starting construction in 2019. He noted that is a federal election year and that additional grants could flow in the town’s direction.

“It’s a good sign,” the CAO said of Friday’s grant announcement. “That shows they want to help it come to fruition.”

Miceli added the town maximized the available grant funding for this stage of the process.

According to a news release sent by FCM: “Municipalities across Canada are modelling some of Canada’s most innovative green solutions. This highlights their commitment to being part of the solution as Canada works to meet its Paris Agreement commitments by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while creating jobs and growing its clean economy.
Some of the richest potential to reduce Canada’s GHG emissions lies in scaling up local innovation, and peer learning is at the very core of GMF, making it easier for municipalities to take on green innovation in their community.”
Fridays’s announcement was made by London North Centre MP Peter Fragiskatos on behalf of Jim Carr, Minister of Natural Resources and Clark Somerville, FCM past president.

“Our government is proud to support initiatives through the Green Municipal Fund that can help make communities more sustainable and provide a better quality of life for Canadians. These projects demonstrate the excellent work being undertaken throughout the province to promote innovative clean solutions and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said Fragiskatos.
“Looking at the initiatives being funded today, it’s clear municipalities are taking the lead on some of the country’s most promising green innovations. Not only do they deliver tangible and ongoing benefits to residents, they are an important part of the solution in our national effort to fight climate change. With continued national leadership and investment, remarkable progress is possible,” added Somerville in the press release.

The Government of Canada endowed the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) with $550 million to establish the Green Municipal Fund. An additional $125 million top-up was announced in the 2016 federal budget. The Green Municipal Fund supports partnerships and leveraging of both public and private sector funding to reach higher standards of air, water and soil quality, and climate protection. To date it has funded over 1,400 municipal initiatives.