Amherstburg

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.

Public meetings on Windsor police proposal set

The town has announced the dates and times of the public meetings that will be held in relation to the possibility of switching from the Amherstburg Police Service to the Windsor Police Service.

The proposal from the Windsor Police Service, deemed “viable” by the Joint Police Advisory Committee and town council, will be the subject of four public meetings in January.

The town announced that the first meeting will be Jan. 17 at Amherstburg town hall from 6-8 p.m. The second public meeting will be in McGregor Jan. 18 at the K of C Hall at 9560 Walker Road, also from 6-8 p.m.

The third meeting is planned for Jan. 25 at St. Peter’s ACHS College School, located at 6101 County Road 20 from 6-8 p.m.

The fourth and final public meeting is planned for the Libro Centre Jan. 27 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m.

Barring any delays or deferrals, the decision is expected to be made at the Feb. 26 town council meeting.

Budget set for final approval

 

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an updated version of a story that was published online last Wednesday night.)

By Ron Giofu

 

While it won’t be formally approved until the Dec. 11 town council meeting, it is now clear what the tax rate increase will be.

Amherstburg taxpayers will see their taxes go up 2.29 per cent this year, meaning a home assessed at $200,000 will see a $43.29 increase. The tax rate increase itself was whittled down from the original two per cent to 0.83 per cent with the two per cent levies being increased by 0.75 per cent increase.
Treasurer Justin Rousseau said the increase to the levies will allow for an additional $300,000 to be placed into the town’s reserves for capital infrastructure projects.

When school board and county taxes are factored in, the tax increase would be 1.69 per cent, Rousseau added, or $54.31 on a $200,000 home.

Among the big ticket capital items is the reconstruction of Creek Road. Approximately $1.4 of the estimated $1.7 million cost to rebuild that road from Meloche Road to County Road 20 is expected to be paid out in 2018.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo was pleased with how deliberations went.

“Yet again, council found a very reasonable balance between what the town needs and what the residents thought was affordable,” said DiCarlo.

DiCarlo noted that not everyone gets what they want at budget time and while a series of positions – Councillor Rick Fryer said eight – were approved, a number of other jobs were not. The mayor noted that some costs did go up for the town and that has to be passed along.

“If bills go up at home, they go up at town hall and we have to compensate for that,” he said.

An increase in growth requires additional resources, the mayor added, and “at the beginning of that growth, there has to be investments. I think that’s where we’re at now.”

The roads needs study makes a lot of the decisions on capital projects easy, DiCarlo stated, as it shows what roads need resources. Creek Road was “not a big surprise,” he added.

The town added resources in places where he believed they are needed. Some of the new positions include a financial analyst, a engineering technician, 1.5 new people for the tourism department and a part-time policy co-ordinator.

Others were rejected including a communications officer, a part-time committee co-ordinator an a supervisor of roads and fleet. The latter had been approved Wednesday afternoon but later cut when council resumed after a dinner break as three members of the six present believed there were too many management positions to oversee the six employees.

Even with the new positions, DiCarlo was happy the tax rate itself came in under one per cent.

“That’s nothing short of amazing to me. That was no small feat. Council deserves some credit for that,” he said.

The levy increases were at roughly the same rate as the cost of living and “that’s unbelievable,” the mayor added.

“The big thing for me is the big picture,” said DiCarlo. He said year over year, the tax rate keeps coming down, reserves and capital investment increase while long-term debt is decreasing.

“Those are definitely heading in the right direction,” he said.

Among the grant requests approved in principle were $5,000 for Amherstburg Community Services (ACS), $1,500 for Amherstburg Food and Fellowship Mission, $6,500 for the Amherstburg Freedom Museum and $8,500 for the Park House Museum. Grant requests for the Cat Assistance Team (CAT) and SNAP for Cats will be addressed after administration comes back with a report.

Town council also agreed with Rose City Gymnastics request to waive over $12,000 in rental fees for next year’s Ontario Provincial Artistic Gymnastics championships at the Libro Centre, an event that is expected to draw 1,200 participants and 5,000 visitors to Amherstburg. However, that has already upset user groups who already use the Libro Centre, particularly in light of town council sticking with its own surcharge option and not going with the one user groups presented Nov. 27.

Other than Creek Road, other capital projects include resurfacing of Pickering Dr. from King St. to Fryer St., complete reconstruction of the Concession 2 North bridge over the Long Marsh Drain, a new sidewalk from Seasons Amherstburg to Lowes Side Road including storm drainage, the replacement of more interlocking brick sidewalks with concrete, the first $135,000 towards the Duffy’s property redevelopment, two vehicles for the fire department, new police patrol vehicles and $80,000 for rebranding the town.

Jen Ibrahim, tourism co-ordinator, said while the town’s website is effective for municipal purposes, “for lack of a better word, it’s not sexy.” Creating a tourism-friendly website and a new town logo would make up what some of the money would be used for.

“The town’s crest isn’t a marketing tool,” said Ibrahim.

Councillor Rick Fryer believed Amherstburg “is on the cusp” but believed the town should go further to rebrand itself as a tourism destination.

Regarding the sidewalks, Fryer also noted the accessibility committee is in favour of removing interlocking brick and replacing them with concrete.

Town council debates re-opening yard waste depot temporarily

 

 

By RTT Staff

 

The leaves are falling from the trees and that has meant the return of the debate on whether or not to re-open the yard waste depot on Thomas Road.

The yard waste depot was closed in 2014 as a “budgetary matter,” said director of public works and engineering Antonietta Giofu, but Councillor Rick Fryer wondered if it could be re-opened at least temporarily to allow residents to drop off leaves and other yard waste. Fryer said there are some people with a lot of leaves on their yards and there aren’t enough collection dates to accommodate those people.

People with large yards and a lot of trees have to store their leaves until the next collection day, Fryer added.

“I’m always getting calls about this,” he said.

Giofu said that the public works department gets called regularly about the matter, but point people to the three other public drop-off points in the region. Those include the Windsor Garbage and Recylcing Depot at 3560 North Service Road, the Kingsville Garbage and Recycling Depot at 2021 Albuna Townline (County Road 31) and the Regional Recycling Depot, located at the Regional Landfill at 7700 County Road 18 in Essex.

When the depot was closed, it carried an annual operating cost of $131,000 and she added that it was “very rare to have two options for the residents.” It was re-opened after big storms to accommodate storm damage.

Councillor Diane Pouget suggested having the matter looked at budget time. Councillor Leo Meloche leaned towards a possible re-opening of the landfill for seasonal purposes, stating there are limitations on burning and that people want to keep their yards clean and not have leaves blow onto their neighbours’ yards.

Councillor Jason Lavigne said he was in favour of calling Windsor Disposal Services (WDS) if another collection date was needed rather than having to pay an employee to staff the yard waste depot.

Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale, who chaired the meeting in the absence of Mayor Aldo DiCarlo, believed if the Thomas Road depot were to be re-opened, the town should proceed with caution.

“We have opened the depot a few times on an emergency basis,” said DiPasquale. “We were getting a lot of misuse.”

Administration told council they always have the option of whether or not to re-open the depot and decide how long it will be open.

Most town roads will require rehabilitation within ten years

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The town’s roads are OK now, but a lot of work looms on the horizon, according to a consultant.

Kyle Edmunds from Dillon Consulting appeared before town council last Tuesday night and presented an updated roads needs report and while that report deemed the roads to be in “fair” condition, it was also determined that 83 per cent of the town’s roads need to be rehabilitated within ten years.

To combat that problem, the town agreed to a plan that would see $1.41 million committed annually over ten years to road work to help combat the deteriorating road system and get some of the more urgent projects completed.

Of the 226.48 kilometres of roads the town controls, about 30.5 per cent need work now while 23.3 per cent need work in the next 1-5 years. About 29 per cent need work within 6-10 years while the remained don’t need work for beyond a decade.

Less than four per cent of Amherstburg’s roads are considered to be in “excellent” condition, as compared to 20.16 per cent in LaSalle and 15.6 per cent in Tecumseh. As for roads in “good” condition, there are 23.38 per cent of roads in Amherstburg in that category as compared to 45.82 per cent in LaSalle and 29.7 per cent in Tecumseh.

Amherstburg has 16.75 per cent of its roads classified in “fairly good” condition with just over 22 per cent of LaSalle’s roads in that category. Tecumseh has 25.5 per cent of its roads classified as “fairly good.”

As for roads in “fair” condition, 27.72 per cent of Amherstburg’s roads fall in that category, as compared to 11.31 per cent in LaSalle and 23.9 per cent in Tecumseh. Amherstburg has nearly 29 per cent of its roads classified as “poor,” as compared to less than one per cent in LaSalle and 5.3 per cent in Tecumseh.

Tecumseh has 181.4 kilometres of road while LaSalle has 187.56 kilometres. They were used by Dillon Consulting as comparators as the firm did roads needs studies in those two municipalities as well over the last few years.

Expect to see more construction signs over the next decade as the town’s road system requires a lot of work. Meloche Road (pictured here, earlier this summer before the road re-opened) is one of the more recent projects the town has undertaken.

Councillor Leo Meloche wondered why the entire focus was on repairing roads that need it now as he said some priority should be put on some of the roads in the 1-5 year category. The poor roads are already poor but the roads in the 1-5 year category will soon join them if not tended to quicker.

“We’re always chasing our tail,” said Meloche.

Councillor Diane Pouget said she didn’t want residents to think it was a “doom and gloom” situation, and added Amherstburg has more roads than Tecumseh and LaSalle.

“That does make a difference,” she said.

Provincial downloading also made a difference, she suggested.

“I think the municipalities started getting into trouble when the province started downloading to us,” she said.

Councillor Rick Fryer pointed out chunks of cement are coming off of Angstrom Dr. and Victoria St. S. is also deteriorating. There are heavily travelled roads like Concession 2 North that are also in disrepair, calling that road “a thoroughfare to LaSalle. It’s one of the worst roads but people use it.”

Traffic counts should not be the only factor in choosing where road projects should be done, Fryer added, as smaller roads need attention too. He said the town should focus on roads instead of “not needed purchases.”

CAO John Miceli called an increase to $1.41 million annually “significant” and said challenges will be ensuring there are enough contractors to do the work and what prices the town gets when projects are put to tender.

“I would suggest the market will indicate where we are going to be,” he said.

Miceli added he would like to see $120,000 in the crack seal program budget to prolong the life of some of the roads.

Councillor Jason Lavigne said the current council has done a lot of road repairs in its first three years.

“I think this council spent more on roads than the last four councils combined,” he said, noting Texas Road and Meloche Road have been upgraded.

Lavigne wanted to know “what will keep politics out of this” when choosing where and when projects get done. Edmunds said all roads have been classified based on a pavement condition index (PCI) and that shows what roads are in the worst condition.

Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale also stated that more roads have been repaired this term whereas “in the past, we didn’t do so much.

“Everyone has seen the number of roads that have been fixed in the last little while,” said DiPasquale.

The last complete roads needs study was done by Dillon Consulting in 2003 with a condition assessment update done in 2013.