Diane Pouget

Council moving forward with open air burning bylaw

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A decision is still weeks away as to whether open air burns will be permitted in Amherstburg, but the town is moving forward in the process.

Town council authorized administration to move forward with an open air fire bylaw and permit process for council’s consideration at a later date with public consultation meetings to be set up to allow residents to speak to it.

Councillor Rick Fryer pointed out he was the one who brought the issue forward, noting that some residents may want to have a bonfire with their children. He said he has heard a lot of comments and innuendo from residents but said he understands both sides of the argument including the argument against smoke and fumes.

“I’ve had blood clots in my lungs and I understand the health issues,” said Fryer. “I do understand the flipside too. It’s not something I thought of willy nilly.”

Fryer said the idea would be to call a hotline and see if conditions were right to have a fire, though added there is a difference between a fire in a rural area and a small bonfire in urban areas.

According to Fryer, about 70 per cent of people he has heard from are “excited” for the possibility of it being easier to have a bonfire while 30 per cent have health issues they are concerned with.

“I feel for them,” he said of the latter.

The bylaw will be “complicated” and will have to come back to council after a public consultation process, he added.

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In a report from fire chief Bruce Montone, he said “open air burning and campfires are currently taking place in all (urban, sub-urban and rural) areas of the Town of Amherstburg. The current situation where campfires are not permitted anywhere is resulting in illegal burns taking place in spring, summer and fall with no appropriate controls in place. Enforcement of the current bylaw is not manageable with current resources. Fire services is limited to responding to complaints with very little information often resulting in full station responses. In the past three years fire services has responded to 133 open burn calls at a cost to ratepayers of approximately $40,000.”

Montone added in his report that “the proposed by-law establishes a set of comprehensive maps that define the regulated areas for open air fires. The proposed harmonized by-law continues to permit open air fires where such burning can be carried out safely and provides for control over open air fires. The intent of existing regulations will be maintained within the proposed bylaw. To address changes in population density and fire safety conditions however, certain geographical areas will not be permitted to have open air fires.”

Montone said that a processing fee of $25 for an annual open air fire permit and $75 specific event open air fire permit respectively are proposed for the processing of the permits but told council those were suggestions based on information gathered from other Essex County municipalities. He said they are trying to “strike a balance” between customer service, recreation and public safety.

Councillor Joan Courtney said the intention was not for Amherstburg council to pass a new bylaw quickly and said she wants to hear from the public.

“I understand both sides,” said Courtney.

Councillor Diane Pouget questioned no fines after responding to 133 calls. She added she is “adamantly opposed” to moving forward with the process, believing council should have just received Montone’s report and gone no further. There are many toxins that are emitted during such burns and people’s health could be negatively impacted.

“Council was very concerned about smoking and second hand smoke and eliminated all smoking near municipal buildings and parks,” she said, “yet we’re thinking of allowing open air burns?”

Pouget was particularly concerned about burns in urban areas, noting rural landowners have to have burns as part of their farming operations.

“They have a right to burn because it is part of their agricultural needs,” she said.

Montone told town council that all Essex County municipalities except Amherstburg currently have “permissive systems” with Fryer adding “we’re the only community in Essex County that doesn’t allow this.”

Council moved forward thanks to a 5-1 vote, with Pouget being the vote in opposition. Councillor Jason Lavigne was not in attendance.

Town agrees to increase non-unionized and management staff salaries

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Non-unionized and management staff with the town will be seeing a pay increase soon.

Town council voted to compensate staff at the 65th percentile, meaning that over the next six years, those salaries will have a budgetary impact of $368,683. Councillor Diane Pouget advocated for compensation at the 55th percentile level, or a budgetary impact of $257,012, as she didn’t feel the town was ready financially for a larger increase.

Pouget said the town still has “significant debt,” quoting a figure of $40 million, unfunded liabilities, $30 million in upgrades needed for the Amherstburg water treatment plant, roads and sewers that are “crumbling,” and significant upgrades needed at the Libro Centre.

Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) John Miceli said the town’s unionized staff members are among the highest paid in the region but the non-unionized staff rank among the lowest. In his written report to town council, Miceli stated “staff is presently compensated below market comparisons within the region and will continue to fall below compensation levels of comparator municipalities without an appropriate compensation adjustment. This decision may lead to challenges for the Town with the retention and recruitment of staff. It is important to note that the majority of our comparator municipalities are within minimal daily traveling distance and with the imminent number of retirements coming in the near future there will be a number of job opportunities available for staff.”

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There are problems looming in the municipal sector as it relates to staffing with thousands eligible to retire in the next five years.

“We have a significant crisis with respect to municipal employees,” said Miceli. “All I can say is that I know what is coming.”

Miceli said there are challenges in municipal departments as some only have one person holding a position. While the training budgets are slowly increasing, he said the town can’t be a “training ground” as there are not enough people to conduct training and believed raising compensation at the 65th percentile is a “minimal investment” in the town’s future.

Local municipalities are also limited in their abilities to attract people from outside the region, the CAO added, and that they will have to look at one another to attract staff.

“We will be pilfering from ourselves,” said Miceli.

Miceli said the town isn’t out of the woods yet financially but administration has done a good job to turn things around.

Councillor Leo Meloche agreed with Miceli but added that training of staff is also key.

“Performance is dependent on quality people,” said Meloche.

Pouget wasn’t buying the arguments, stating student placements could be used where knowledgeable and eager college and university graduates are utilized.

“Why aren’t we giving people a chance to coming in and learn?” she asked. “I don’t think we should keep bringing in retirees.”

Pouget added they had options between the 50th and 65th percentile to choose from and she thought the 55th percentile was fair.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo noted there has been a wage freeze for the non-unionized and management staff for two years.

“This is always a tough decision when you are talking about taxpayers’ money,” he said. “In simple terms, I had to support (the compensation at the 65th percentile) based on what the CAO said.”

DiCarlo added that “as much as people think we have a lot of people at town hall, we really don’t” and that they are training people as best they can.

“We do have to remain competitive,” he said. “We’re in a good place now and a lot of that is because of the people we have.”
DiCarlo also pointed out the increases will occur over a six year time frame.

Council members not impressed with county over not returning library funds

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Members of Amherstburg town council are not impressed that the county won’t be returning any funds collected during the eight month long library strike.

Amherstburg had sought a refund of money paid during the library strike with Councillor Diane Pouget wanting an update during Monday night’s council meeting. Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said the county chose to reallocate the funds into reserves with no money being returned to municipalities.

“Other than that, we have no authority per se other than our votes,” the mayor stated.

Pouget asked if the town has any legal recourse in the matter.

“Taxpayers paid the money,” she said, “and we didn’t get the service.”

Amherstburg town council is upset with the county over not returning funds collected during the Essex County library strike. One of the strikers is pictured in this August 2016 photo.

Amherstburg town council is upset with the county over not returning funds collected during the Essex County library strike. One of the strikers is pictured in this August 2016 photo.

Pouget added the town could have used the money to put in a reserve of their own to maintain the library building itself.

Director of planning, development and legislative services Mark Galvin said the town can look into the agreements between upper and lower tier municipalities with CAO John Miceli stating that library services fall into the county’s jurisdiction.

“Our residents pay a significant amount of money in taxes for a service they didn’t get,” Pouget pressed. “I do think we have to take a stand on this.”

DiCarlo said Amherstburg was one of the municipalities that wanted the money returned and “to the best of my recollection,” there was one other. Councillor Jason Lavigne wondered why no other municipality was concerned about “ripping off” the residents.

Lavigne added his belief that there is a “black mark” on the county for failing to return the funds collected during the strike.

Council allows sign bylaw exemption and encroachment agreement for local business

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Town council has agreed to allow a local business to encroachment on town land and has granted a sign bylaw exemption.

John Collison from Woodland Home Renovations & Additions appeared before town council requesting that he be allowed to place a seven-foot by five-foot sign in front of his Sandwich St. N. business. He told council that if it were to be pushed back towards the building, people would not be able to see it.

Currently, he shares a sign with Riccardo’s Italian Restaurant but said people looking for his business sometimes go to the restaurant.

“My business is the residence,” he said.

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Councillor Rick Fryer said he was concerned about sight lines for drivers at the corner of Sandwich St. N. and St. Arnaud St. and the possibility of creating a blind spot for drivers and cyclists. Manager of licensing and enforcing Nicole Rubli said the town would work with the applicant on the sign to ensure such issues don’t arise.

Councillor Diane Pouget said she sits on both the parks committee and Communities in Bloom committees and both are “very concerned” about the application.

“They want to make sure we are following the rules we set forth,” said Pouget.

Councillor Joan Courtney worried that the town was setting a precedent by granting the request.

“If we grant this request, I think others will follow,” said Courtney, adding that council has to be cognizant of the bylaw.

Collison said he is in an area where he has all commercial units on that side of the street. He didn’t believe he would be standing out more than anyone else in the area. He added he is zoned similar to the other businesses in the stretch of road.

The motion to grant the sign bylaw exemption and encroachment agreement passed in a 6-1 recorded vote with Mayor Aldo DiCarlo, Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale and councillors Fryer, Courtney, Jason Lavigne and Leo Meloche being in favour while Pouget was opposed.

Council agrees to waive Amherstburg Farmers Market fees, but for only one year

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Fees have been waived for the Amherstburg Farmers Market, but for only one year.

The market opens this Saturday at the Malden Community & Cultural Centre with Steeve Bouchard representing the market at the most recent meeting of town council. Bouchard outlined the many markets in the area and said those markets pay nothing in fees.

“I’m wondering if we could avoid me having to come back every year and waive the fees for the life of the market?” asked Bouchard.

Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale wondered how much the fees amounted to with manager of licensing Nicole Rubli stating that waiving the fees could amount to the town not receiving as much as $3,000 in revenue.

Amherstburg Farmers Market

Councillor Rick Fryer was in favour of waiving the fees for as long as the market was there.

“If we are going to do it one, two or three years, let’s do it as long as the market exists,” said Fryer.

Councillor Diane Pouget disagreed with waiving the fees in perpetuity, believing council doesn’t have the right to do that. She said the financial situation can change every year.

“A new council might feel different about this,” said Pouget.

Councillor Leo Meloche agreed with Pouget, also noting financial conditions can change.

“If the situation changes and we desperately need $3,000, I’m sure the council of the day will find a way to charge residents $3,000,” said Fryer.

CAO John Miceli noted there are many fees that the town charges and that can add up to “significant revenue.” He said every time fees are waived, the town needs to be on top of the situation.

“In my opinion, we need to keep track of this,” said Miceli.

Miceli added that “in perpetuity is a very long time” but added that it is “just a word” that could be changed if the council of the day saw fit.

Councillor Jason Lavigne questioned whether the town should just scrap fees for the farmers’ market if Amherstburg is the only municipality charging them. His motion to waive the fees for one year and get a report back from administration on the subject.

The Amherstburg Farmers Market runs 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. every Saturday from May to September.