Diane Pouget

Town seeking solutions to McGregor flooding, municipal subsidy program to come soon

 

 

By RTT Staff

 

A McGregor resident appeared before town council regarding the late August flood and the town is stating they are coming up with answers for him and every other resident.

Tom Welsh, who lives on Middle Side Road, said his home was damaged by flooding in the Aug. 28 storm as seven inches of rain hit that area, including five inches between the hours of 7-11 p.m. He told council it’s not the first time that it happened.

“Two times in two years we’ve flooded,” said Welsh. “It’s enough. There’s more people in town that just the core.”

Welsh said he had 18 inches of water in his basement, including human feces. He noted he has even spent $3,000 on a generator trying to fix the problem.

“I don’t know what else to do. It’s got to stop. Things have to be done,” said Welsh. “I put a whole lot into (my home). It’s a nice area. Our community is awesome.”

Welsh wanted to see more investment in that area.

“Everything you see in town is for the core,” he said. “We should get something.”

The town said there is, in fact, investment happening there and work is being done to address the issues in McGregor. An $80,000 investigation was conducted and “no smoking gun” was found in the public system. Director of public works and engineering Antonietta Giofu stating “our focus shifts to the private side.” She added a report regarding a subsidy program is currently scheduled to come before council Sept. 25.

“It will definitely include McGregor and be a town-wide program as well,” she said.

Councillor Diane Pouget told Welsh “we have spent quite a bit of money” in trying to solve the problem, with Mayor Aldo DiCarlo agreeing.

“We are spending money and we will continue to spend money until we find a solution,” said DiCarlo. “This council is very committed to it. We’re going to keep working in this area to alleviate the problem.”

DiCarlo said this council is sympathetic to residents who continuously flood but said $400,000 has been budgeted this year to try and fix the problem as quickly as possible. He noted the forthcoming report will address issues as downspout disconnections and backflow valves, among other things, and that they will work with private homeowners to address issues.

The Ontario government has released this map detailing where in Amherstburg disaster relief is available stemming from the Aug. 28 rain event.

“We have not forgotten about anybody,” he said. “I think council has shown we know where the town’s boundaries are.”

One in 100 year storms are not one in 100 year storms anymore and DiCarlo added large rain events can be expected so action is needed.

“Every time it rains, if there is a mayor that doesn’t sweat, I don’t know who they are,” he said. “The hardest part is to tell people we’re working on it as I can only imagine how that has been received.”

CAO John Miceli said administration is doing its part to try and find a resolution to the problem, believing the subsidy program is a step in the right direction.

“We understand your concerns,” said Miceli. “We’re providing a program that I think will go over and above what other municipalities are offering.”

Miceli also said until a solution is found to the flooding issues, “we’re going to keep trying.”

Welsh also expressed concern with the number of power outages the area experiences, with DiCarlo stating that Essex Power has tried to work with Ontario Hydro to take over all of Amherstburg but “they have flat out denied us over and over.”

The town would be happy to facilitate a meeting between Welsh and Ontario Hydro, said DiCarlo, as he believed that would do more than the municipality trying to get involved. He added that Ontario Hydro “is all but ignoring infrastructure in rural areas.

“We’re fighting the province on this,” said DiCarlo. “If they are going to provide hydro, they have to do so reliably.”

In all, roughly 34 homes in the McGregor area have reported flooding to the town of Amherstburg.

The Ontario government notified the City of Windsor and the Towns of Amherstburg, Essex, Lakeshore, LaSalle and Tecumseh last Thursday that it has activated the Disaster Recovery Assistance for Ontarians program in flood-affected areas.

The province advised that affected individuals, small businesses and not-for-profit organizations that have experienced property damage or loss as a result of this disaster may be eligible to receive help with emergency and recovery expenses.

The program applies to a primary residence and its basic contents, or to a main small business, farm or not-for-profit organization. Damage from sewer backup is not eligible under the program except under special provisions for low-income households.

The government states it “is closely monitoring other areas experiencing flooding across the province. It may activate the program in these areas as flood impacts continue to be assessed in the coming days and weeks.”

More information and detailed program guidelines are available at http://ontario.ca/DisasterAssistance or call toll-free 1-844-780-8925.

 

County’s response to town’s library fund request doesn’t impress local officials

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The Town of Amherstburg continues to press the County of Essex for its share of funds that accrued during the 251-day Essex County Library strike and the town isn’t happy with the latest development.

The town has asked for its share of the money back but a letter received from county CAO Brian Gregg dated Aug. 25 was one that “totally offended” the town’s CAO. John Miceli told town council that he was frustrated that the Essex County Library Board is managing the file on behalf of Essex County council.

“At its meeting of August 9, 2017, County Council passed a resolution directing that grant funding requests to support capital improvements and renovations at library branches be forwarded to the Essex County Library Board for review and support. Once approved, the Library Board will advise county administration that it is in order to release the appropriate grant amount. Council also endorsed the principle that, to qualify for grant funding, the improvements are to be carried out prospectively, effective August 9, 2017,” Gregg’s letter stated. “Council directed administration to develop, for its consideration, a process to be codified to administer the grant requests put forward by local municipalities. It is anticipated a draft process, along with the total amount of eligible grant funds allocated to each local municipality, will be presented to County Council at either its September 6, 2017 meeting or its September 20, 2017 meeting.”

Amherstburg council is still asking for its share of library funds that accrued during the 251-day strike. (RTT File Photo)

Councillor Diane Pouget said Amherstburg council asked “in good faith” about getting the town’s share back.

“They’re tying our hands, no matter what we do,” she said.

Miceli said measures have been taken by the town to improve the library building. He noted there is “only one taxpayer in the Town of Amherstburg” and that no services were provided to those taxpayers from June 25, 2016 to Feb. 10, 2017.

The town can make its own decisions what it uses its share for, Miceli stated, and that roughly $75,000 to $85,000 in work has been done to improve parking at the library and to make other repairs, some of which were safety related.

The Aug. 9 date was also questioned by the CAO, who added he is willing to attend the Sept. 20 county council meeting to further address the town’s concerns. Miceli also plans to raise the issue with his administrative colleagues this week.

“What does Aug. 9 have to do with it?” he asked. “It should be retroactive to June 25, 2016.”

 

Town to seek library funding from Essex County

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The town of Amherstburg wants its share of the savings from the Essex County library strike.

The town is requesting that Essex County council return its share of the costs, and passed a motion at a recent special meeting asking the county to release those funds. Essex County council had previously agreed to hang on to the $790,000 and use them for library purposes, with municipalities able to tap into those funds similar to that of a grant program.

Councillor Diane Pouget said the town has spent “quit a bit of money” on the current Amherstburg library and she believes the residents deserve to get money back from the county to help defray those costs.

Pouget noted such work as parking lot improvements and upgrades to the front steps have taken place, adding there are more expenses probable due to the age of the building.

Amherstburg council will be seeking money back from Essex County from the $790,000 saved during the library strike.

Amherstburg council will be seeking money back from Essex County from the $790,000 saved during the library strike.

“We’ve done a number of improvements and we’re going to have more,” said Pouget. “It’s an old building.”

Pouget made the motion to seek the town’s proportional share of the savings, believing it was respectful to Essex County council yet also showing that the town wants its share to help with its own library branch. She also pointed out Mayor Aldo DiCarlo and Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale still have to work with their fellow county council members.

“I don’t want this council to get into an argument with county council,” she said. “Both of you have to go back and work with county council.”

County council decided last month not to return money directly to residents, citing there was no real mechanism to do so. Warden Tom Bain pointed out at the time that it amounted to only $4 per resident anyway.

 

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.