Aldo DiCarlo

Rumble strips headed to Alma St./Howard Ave. intersection

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Both sides of Alma St. will feature rumble strips at the Howard Ave. intersection with the aim of improving safety in the area.

Councillor Leo Meloche brought the issue forward at the last town council meeting after having it addressed the intersection’s safety previously. Statistics were available at the most recent meeting from the Amherstburg Police Service.

“We average about an accident a year, sometimes none,” said Chief Tim Berthiaume. “I am working with Mr. (Mark) Galvin on improving safety in the area.”

Berthiaume suggested one measure could be flashing lights on the stop signs.

Mark Galvin is the town’s manager of planning, development and legislative services.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said statistics show that, between 2008-17, either there were no collisions at the Howard Ave./Alma St. intersection or there were none. The exception was 2015, when there were four collisions. Some of the accidents are rear-end collisions, he added.

“The data says it is not an excessive accident area,” said DiCarlo.

Galvin said they have to “peel the onion” and examine all factors in the accidents as well as determining whether there is commonality among the accidents. The solutions the town come up with should include measures that address the accidents that are actually happening.

The town resolved to ensure rumble strips are carved into the roadways on both sides of Alma St. to ensure drivers know they are approaching the intersection.

An two-vehicle accident in late-September at that rural intersection claimed the life of a 58-year-old Harrow woman.

River Lights officially opened after one-day rain delay

 

 

 

By Jolene Perron

 

What started out as a way to attract visitors to the downtown core during the slowest time of the year, has grown into an all encompassing festival with layers of economic involvement and holiday spirit.

“River Lights is so important for many reasons,” explained River Lights coordinator Sarah Van Grinsven. “One, community spirit.  River Lights brings people out of hibernation and enjoying the holiday season with their fellow citizens. Two, community partnership. So many groups work together to make River Lights work, from museums, galleries to other not-for-profits. And of course the sponsors who show they care through in kind and cash sponsorships. Three, economic development. The more action in the streets, the more in our downtown businesses.”

Ajay McGowan (right), Ryleigh Labutte (centre) and Colton Labutte (left) get an up-close look at the lights during the opening ceremony for the River Lights Winter Festival last Sunday night.

The opening weekend of the festival included the Super Santa Run, which was held Nov. 18 as planned despite the rain. The outdoor holiday movie and municipal tree lighting were rescheduled to Nov. 19, which turned out to be a much drier evening. Van Grinsven called the festival a “magical event” because of how it spreads joy to all those who visit and how it brings the community together. Amherstburg Mayor Aldo DiCarlo echoed those thoughts and feelings.

Town crier Frank Gorham welcomes the crowd to the River Lights opening ceremony.

“People love the event,” said DiCarlo. “It’s family friendly and seems to have become Amherstburg’s official launch of the holiday season. I’ve also heard from visitors who come from outside the region for the event. Every year we add more to see and do, and clearly this is translating to the people who look forward to the event. Personally, my family has been attending since the first year, and we still look forward to it, especially when it’s not as cold.”

The municipal tree is lit at the Richmond Street entrance of the King’s Navy Yard park for the first time Nov. 19 during the opening ceremony of the River Lights Winter Festival.

The festival also includes the lights and displays around the Town of Amherstburg, as well as the gingerbread warming house, which will also be open in Toddy Jones Park every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 5:30-8:30 p.m. until Christmas.

Free carriage rides will be available Dec. 2, 9 and 15, and the Holiday House Tours will also take place next week, Nov. 25 and 26 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.riverlights.ca.

Various concerns raised by public at budget meeting

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

It was a small crowd but a crowd that came with questions last Saturday afternoon.

The town held a public information meeting regarding the proposed 2018 budget at the Libro Centre with roughly a dozen people attending the nearly two-hour session. Among the crowd were members of council including Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale and councillors Leo Meloche and Diane Pouget with Mayor Aldo DiCarlo joining CAO John Miceli, treasurer Justin Rousseau and other department heads at the head table.

Miceli and Rousseau outlined the budget, similar to what they did at the Nov. 6 meeting when the budget was tabled, and the current recommendation is for a two per cent increase to the tax rate and 0.75 per cent increases to each of the two levies to address the town’s growing infrastructure needs. The net capital budget request is about $41.3 million with the funding sources the town has available to deal with this request without additional debt being nearly $4.2 million.

The town forecasts $24.1 million in operating expenses in 2018, as compared to $22.7 million in 2017. General rated expenses, with capital and debt payments, are budgeted to be $27.1 million in 2018 versus $25.7 million for 2017. Total collectible through the tax rate is budgeted at $20.9 million for 2018 as compared to $20.1 million in 2017.

Miceli outlined a number of plans, including the strategic plan and asset management plan among others, that the town has undertaken. He said Amherstburg “must continue to be proactive and not reactive” as it pertains to infrastructure and said among the new studies proposed are a master aging plan and a town-wide service master study, the last one to consider possibly over-sizing of infrastructure to allow for 1,500 lots in the core.

Town council and administration fielded questions at a Nov. 18 budget meeting at the Libro Centre. Pictured are (from left): director of engineering and public works Antonietta Giofu, director of planning, development and legislative service, treasurer Justin Rousseau, CAO John Miceli and Mayor Aldo DiCarlo.

Local resident Roger Hudson believed that assessment values should be reflected in what is reported as a tax increase. He said he didn’t experience a 1.87 per cent tax increase last year, but instead faced a 3.44 per cent increase due to growth in his assessment. While the town states it faces a 2.37 per cent growth factor on average in assessment growth, Hudson stated that most people have no idea what that means.

“I didn’t know it was going to be a tax increase,” he said.

Town officials argued that they can only control the tax rate and that the municipality has to work with the numbers the province gives them in terms of assessments.

“It’s only 3.44 per cent for you,” DiCarlo told Hudson.

DiCarlo said his personal assessment went up 11 per cent at his home, and said it is different for each property.

“The only number we can control is our portion,” the mayor stated. “The 2.37 per cent is only the average based on what the province gives us. On a house-by-house basis, taxes may go up way more.”

Rousseau said residents have the option of appealing their assessments to MPAC, with Meloche saying people are taxed on what their new assessment value is and that the tax rate and assessment increase numbers aren’t compounded.

John McDonald asked for further information on unfunded liabilities, noting that some U.S. municipalities have “crashed” because of not being able to afford them. Miceli said that is the American model and that the Canadian model is different.

Sarah Gibb questioned the additional new jobs proposed within the budget and wondered what the new roles would be. DiCarlo said that “some of these positions are not brand new” and said in some cases, it is a job change.

DiCarlo told the public while there are ten new jobs being talked about, some jobs were either changed or eliminated with costs offset elsewhere.

“It is not the case,” he said of the ten new positions.

Miceli said there is a mix of full-time, part-time and contract positions being proposed and attempted to justify the proposals. Using tourism department as an example, the CAO stated tourism is up 38 per cent in Amherstburg with two people in the tourism department and that one of those staff members hasn’t been able to use her full vacation allotment in three years.

“That’s problematic,” said Miceli. “I look at that and say ‘can this person continue to sustain that?’ and ‘is it fair for this person to sustain that?’” I would say no.”

Miceli said residents should look at all documents approved by the town – including the Deloitte Report and all the plans and guidelines the town is working on – to understand why positions are proposed. Such documents as the strategic plan have already had public participation, he said, adding the town doesn’t have the resources to implement what the plans’ recommendations are “in an effective and responsible way.”

Local resident John McDonald asks a question of town council and administration during the Nov. 18 budget meeting at the Libro Centre in Amherstburg.

Marc Renaud, president of the Amherstburg Minor Hockey Association (AMHA), questioned a proposed $6/hr. surcharge for AMHA users and said they would rather have a one per cent increase in ice rate charges. Renaud believed that would cause AMHA’s rates to “go through the roof” but Miceli stated that, according to his numbers, AMHA is among the lowest in the region and could charge an additional $63.50 per user just to get to the median.

Miceli said there is a cost to maintaining the Libro Centre but Renaud said facilities like that are built to draw families to the community. Renaud estimated that about 30 families in AMHA have to be subsidized through Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart program.

DiCarlo told the RTT after the meeting that “the first thing you’ve got to notice is the lack of turnout.” He said it has been his experience that people generally turn out when there is a problem.

“If people do have a problem with how we are operating, you better let us know otherwise the first reaction is that we are doing a good job,” said the mayor.

There has been a lot of comments via social media, DiCarlo acknowledged, and that the town does care about all comments and that he wants to ensure people know their comments and opinions matter.

The questions about MPAC assessments and the impact on taxes comes up annually, he said. As for the questions about new job openings, DiCarlo urged the public to fully read the budget documents and educate themselves as he admitted frustration regarding the perception the town isn’t as transparent as it should be.

Rather, the mayor believed, the town is transparent “to a fault” and that positions listed as new jobs are actually reclassified jobs. Many of the jobs that are new additions are needed, he believed, first citing the building department. He said that department had more bodies several years ago but downsized and now that the town has seen an increase in building activity, “the building department can’t keep up.”

The same is true of the tourism department, DiCarlo stated.

“We are doing what we said we were going to do. We can’t be any more transparent,” DiCarlo said. “If we couldn’t, we said why.”

As it stands now, the proposed two per cent increase in the municipal tax rate would translate into a $36.77 increase on a $200,000 home while the increase in levies would amount to a $29.66 increase each. When the county and school board rates are factored in, Rousseau said that drops the forecasted property tax increase to 1.52 per cent.

Town council is expected to deliberate the 2018 budget Nov. 28 from 6-10 p.m., Nov. 29 from 2-8 p.m. and, if necessary, Nov. 30 from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Should all go according to plan, the 2018 budget could be passed at the Dec. 11 town council meeting.

Town looks to arbitration to settle dispute with WECDSB over St. Bernard School

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Frustrated over talks to buy the former St. Bernard School, the town of Amherstburg is looking to have the matter settled by an arbitrator.

As the result of an in-camera session Monday night, town council agreed to have CAO John Miceli pursue the matter as the town and the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board have been unable to finalize what the fair market value for the former school building, located at 320 Richmond St., should be

The town has been looking to purchase the school building after it was declared surplus by the Catholic school board, said Miceli, with the intention of using it as a “community hub” centred around senior citizens.

Miceli said the WECDSB’s counteroffer to the town was $100,000 more than the $650,000 that the board had it appraised at. A subsequent offer came in at $25,000 higher than the appraisal.

“It’s been extremely exhausting working with the Catholic school board. When you look at bargaining in good faith between public entities, I find this very difficult especially when there’s a community use and a community benefit,” Miceli stated.

The town is interested in purchasing the former St. Bernard School but are locked in a dispute with the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board on what the fair market value is.

The CAO believes there is “a total disregard for the town of Amherstburg and its residents.”

A master seniors plan has been included in the 2018 budget, Miceli noted, and the community hub proposed for the site would help to address seniors needs and issues.

“All of the plans we have for the property are supported by our community strategic plan,” said Miceli.

The town is trying to protect the ratepayers of Amherstburg through this process, he added, with both he and Mayor Aldo DiCarlo pointing out the property has been public for years with public tax dollars maintaining it. Miceli added the town is taking “a very strategic approach” to acquiring the land and has followed the process “to a T.”

There is a plan on how to fund its purchase, should it occur, he added but couldn’t release it at the present time as there are other issues in play that can’t be disclosed publicly at this point. He did state there are “synergies” between the proposal for the St. Bernard School site and the possibility of a new public high school being built next door at Centennial Park.

“As soon as the school became available, we came up with a plan to benefit the community,” said DiCarlo. “We found a way to re-purpose (the school building) so it can continue to be beneficial to the community.”

DiCarlo said it has been a “frustrating” process in working with the Catholic board and trying to realize the town’s vision for the property.

Stephen Fields, communications co-ordinator with the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, said the Education Act calls for property matters to be discussed by the committee of the whole board and stay confidential.

“As a rule, we do not discuss property matters in public,” said Fields. “Those are the guidelines we operate by.”

Asked for reaction on the town’s stance on the matter, Fields reiterated the board does not comment on property matters.

“There’s a process for all negotiations and we followed the process,” said Fields. “Part of the process is maintaining confidentiality.”

OPP does not give police costing to Amherstburg

 

By Ron Giofu

 

If the town switches from its current police service, don’t look for the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) to be the service they go to.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo confirmed that the town did not actually get a costing from the OPP and only received a costing from the Windsor Police Service.

“Instead of getting a costing from the OPP, we got a letter saying they are not going to follow our guidelines,” said DiCarlo.

DiCarlo said it was “definitely disappointing” that the OPP took that position, but said he was aware of how costing proposals are presented. The town had guidelines on what it wanted in terms of policing and believed the OPP was unwilling to provide the details the town wanted in a costing whereas Windsor was willing to do so.

 

 

“Our position as the people responsible for the taxpayers dollars is that we don’t have to know every last detail, but someone has to confirm what the taxpayers are paying for,” said DiCarlo. “The OPP refuses to give that information.”

The OPP “basically said no” when asked for the details the town wanted, said DiCarlo. He said it was “incredibly disappointing” the OPP didn’t want to work with the town’s guidelines, adding it was also “very frustrating” that while Windsor was willing the OPP “couldn’t be bothered.”

DiCarlo didn’t doubt the OPP provides an excellent police service, he said he didn’t understand their costing model. He said while the town understands it would get “adequate and effective” policing from the OPP, “they won’t tell us exactly what that means.”

The town will now move forward with the options of switching to the Windsor Police Service or sticking with the current Amherstburg Police Service. That process, including public consultation, should continue early in the new year.