Joan Courtney

Twenty-seven per cent of town’s infrastructure either “poor” or “very poor”

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The town approved its new asset management plan as it hopes to find a way to start replenishing some of its aging and worn out assets.

According to a report from manager of engineering and operations Todd Hewitt, roughly $88.8 million – or 15 per cent – of town infrastructure is in “very poor” condition and $70.2 million – or 12 per cent – is in “poor” condition. Hewitt added there is a $47 million backlog of infrastructure replacement based on useful life with $34 million reaching the end of their useful life in the next five years.

Broken down, $42 million (33 per cent) of road infrastructure is in poor or very poor condition with Hewitt saying that is for complete replacement, not repair. Over $10 million of bridge and culvert infrastructure is in poor or very poor shape, amounting to 23 per cent. Twenty-seven per cent of water infrastructure is in poor or very poor condition, which equates to $33.9 million of the town’s water infrastructure.

About $27.8 million – or 22 per cent – of wastewater infrastructure is classified as being in poor or very poor condition with $7.4 million (17.9 per cent) of storm water infrastructure also being in rough shape.

Councillor Diane Pouget questioned the sewage numbers and Hewitt acknowledged a lot of money has been poured into that department related to sewers and the wastewater plant, “there’s still a lot of work to do.” He cited brick sewers still being in some areas of town and equipment now past its lifecycle at the plant in the McLeod Ave. area.

Thirty-one per cent ($12.7 million) of building infrastructure is in poor or very poor condition while 59 per cent of the town’s machinery and equipment – or $1.9 million worth – is in that condition as well.

Currently, $2.6 million (33.6 per cent) of the town’s land improvements such as parks assets is in poor or very poor condition while 72 per cent of the vehicle fleet can be classified as such with the latter seeing $6.2 million worth of the fleet in poor or very poor shape. There is also $1 million worth of the information technology (IT) infrastructure in poor or very poor shape, amounting to 75 per cent of that department’s infrastructure.

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The town has an average asset health grade of “C” and and average financial capacity grade of “F,” making their overall grade for the municipality “D.”

Hewitt did note that despite items, including equipment, machinery, vehicles and computers, classified as poor or very poor, they are still usable but are just prone to increased repair costs.

“I was appalled when I read this report,” said Councillor Joan Courtney. “I was sick to my stomach.”

Courtney said she was concerned that this could make any progress the town has made moot as there is over $150 million in infrastructure that is classified as being in poor or very poor shape.

“Are we going to have to raise taxes to bring down that $150 million?” she asked.

Part of Hewitt’s report noted that a 1.5 per cent increase to the general tax budget, a two per cent increase for wastewater and one per cent increase to water will be presented to council during budget deliberations.

While tax increases are at council’s discretion, CAO John Miceli said that is part of the reason the levies were introduced. He added that it was learned at the recent Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference in Ottawa, there is a $10 million per day infrastructure backlog across the province’s 444 municipalities.

“We’re not the only ones with the problem,” said Miceli, adding that nine per cent of the revenue raised through the tax system comes back to municipalities while municipalities have the most assets to look after.

The asset management plan will assist in the grant application process, he added, believing water and wastewater would be top priorities of upper levels of government.

Councillor Rick Fryer said while the report “looks like doom and gloom,” he agreed that having the plan is actually good news, and that it helps Amherstburg seek federal and provincial funding as the town can present it to upper levels of government.

“I don’t think a negative spin should come out in the media,” said Fryer.

Fryer added that “I don’t think we’re very far off” from other municipalities and that there are roads that can get done thanks to such plans.

“There’s a positive spin to that,” he said.

Hewitt added that projects like the Edgewater sewer extension, Texas Road and Meloche Road all received funding from senior levels of government thanks to previous asset management plans.

 

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.

Fryer hopes for fire pit bylaw to streamline process of backyard fires

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A member of town council has asked that the fire department comes back with a fire pit bylaw to streamline the process for people wishing to have backyard fires.

Councillor Rick Fryer made the motion to have fire chief Bruce Montone bring such a bylaw to town council, with the hope it could be done by the July 10 meeting.

“It was brought to my attention that other municipalities have a one-time fee and all you have to do is call a number and an automated message will tell you ‘yes, you can’ or ‘no, you can’t have a fire that night due to weather conditions’,” said Fryer.

Fryer said that would come with a “nominal fee” and would allow residents to have a bonfire in their backyards and “enjoy their summer” if they wish to have a fire with their friends and family.

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“Other municipalities do it,” said Fryer. “I don’t know that this was our intention when we said no open burns.”

Deputy fire chief Lee Tome said the current bylaw is “many years old and due for an update” but doubted the report could come back by July 10. Fryer said he spoke with Montone and said July 10 is possible.

Councillor Diane Pouget said she has a problem with open burns but Councillor Joan Courtney voiced her support of Fryer’s motion.

“This past Father’s Day, my little grandchildren asked ‘grandma, can we build a bonfire and roast marshmallows?” said Courtney.

Courtney was apprehensive as a councillor about doing that, quipping that she didn’t want to see a headline in the River Town Times saying “Councillor violates own bylaw.”

“I would be very happy if we do this,” Courtney said about implementing a new fire pit bylaw.

Councillor Leo Meloche said the bylaw has to have urban and rural components.

“The bylaw has to be cognizant of where I live. There are 500 acres of open area behind me,” the McGregor resident said.

Duffy’s demolition to start shortly

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Demolition of the former Duffy’s Tavern & Motor Inn should start within the next week or two.

Town council approved the tender during its meeting Monday night with the winning bid going to the Jones Group Ltd. The total amount quoted by the Jones Group was just over $280,000 to complete the work, with that dollar figure being over $172,000 less than the next lowest bidder.

Demolition of Duffy’s Tavern & Motor Inn is scheduled to begin either next week or the week after, based on information learned during Monday night’s council meeting.

Demolition of Duffy’s Tavern & Motor Inn is scheduled to begin either next week or the week after, based on information learned during Monday night’s council meeting.

In his report to town council, CAO John Miceli stated that the firm that performed the environmental assessment on the Dalhousie St. property provided a designated substance survey (DSS) of the property.

“The DSS confirmed asbestos, lead, mercury and silica present in different areas of the former tavern building. The abatement requirements were included in the tender specifications for all proponents,” said Miceli in his report.

The town used the firm Golder Associates for the assessment, Miceli stated, adding the town was able to renegotiate the purchase price down to $1.115 million.

If all goes smoothly and according to plan, Miceli said the demolition could start either next week or the week after.

Councillor Jason Lavigne wondered if the Amherstburg Fire Department was finished with the building, as it was being used for training purposes.

“We have pretty much used it for as much as we could,” replied deputy fire chief Lee Tome.

Councillor Diane Pouget said she appreciated the thoroughness of Miceli’s report, noting she was a critic when the report came several months ago regarding the demolition of the former AMA Arena.

Pouget noted the price difference between Jones Group Ltd. and the rest of the bidders.

“It’s such a big, big difference,” she said. “With all of the savings, we’ll be able to fix up the property much quicker than we originally anticipated.”

Demolition of Duffy’s Tavern & Motor Inn is scheduled to begin either next week or the week after, based on information learned during Monday night’s council meeting.

Demolition of Duffy’s Tavern & Motor Inn is scheduled to begin either next week or the week after, based on information learned during Monday night’s council meeting.

Councillor Joan Courtney asked if the town had applied for any grant money for the project, including the redevelopment of the lands. Miceli said there has been one application submitted thus far, and that pertained to the removal of gas tanks from the property.

Courtney also questioned whether there had been any meetings with stakeholders. The CAO said the next steps are to meet with the community and stakeholder groups to discuss the proposals for the property. The town has floated such ideas as an amphitheatre, marina, and food truck parking among other amenities.

Demolition of Duffy’s Tavern & Motor Inn is scheduled to begin either next week or the week after, based on information learned during Monday night’s council meeting.

Demolition of Duffy’s Tavern & Motor Inn is scheduled to begin either next week or the week after, based on information learned during Monday night’s council meeting.

Miceli added he knows of one party that is interested in sponsoring riverfront development in that area.

Council had been made aware of Miceli’s concerns that the site could further decay and become a target for vandalism. He also stated in his report that demolition could have become more complex if delayed due to the ongoing construction of the neighbouring Queen Charlotte Residences.

Town wants enhancements to Essex-Windsor EMS

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Town council is asking Essex County council to help enhance EMS service in the town.
Councillor Joan Courtney’s motion calls for the county to review Essex-Windsor EMS and to provide funding necessary to improve the areas that are “in need.” That same letter will be sent to all municipalities and members of Parliament.

Essex-Windsor EMS chief Bruce Krauter attended town council’s April 10 meeting outlining what the service does. The 24-hour-per-day, 365-day-per-year service responded to over 103,000 requests for service in 2016 with roughly 58,000 patient contacts and approximately 39,000 patient transports. It has 12 stations, including the Simcoe St. base in Amherstburg, 38 ambulances, 12 emergency response vehicles and other support vehicles and trailers.

Amherstburg amounted for roughly five per cent of the call distribution in 2016 with Krauter adding that the town has seen an 8.6 per cent rise in call volumes. That is consistent with the region, with Krauter citing an aging population, increased residential development and retiree recruitment as factors in the rise.

Recruiting retirees to the area is great, he stated, but pointed out it is a “double-edged sword” due to the need for EMS services.

Off-load delays at area hospitals continue to put pressure on Essex-Windsor EMS, Krauter noted. As paramedics have to stay with the patients at the hospitals until they can be admitted, it ties up ambulances and resources that could otherwise be deployed elsewhere.

The recently introduced vulnerable patient navigator (VPN) program is producing “exceptional results,” said Krauter. The concept behind the VPN program is that it will alleviate calls for service and allow patients to receive the care they need without having to go to the hospital.

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Courtney said she appreciated Krauter coming to town council but questioned him over how ambulances are deployed. He noted that ambulances often go to the nearest call regardless of municipal boundaries and that municipal fire services often assist EMS at calls.

Councillor Rick Fryer wondered why all municipalities don’t use firefighters at calls, citing Leamington as an example. Fryer said if there is a city-county fee for service, all municipalities should be equal.

Councillor Diane Pouget said she was “very, very concerned” about the issue and said she “didn’t think it is fair” that Leamington isn’t paying for the same service Amherstburg is paying for.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said Leamington is paying for EMS with fire chief Al Reaume stating that Amherstburg has a tiered response agreement with the Essex-Windsor EMS which allows firefighters to attend calls while an ambulance is unavailable or a fair distance away.

Reaume said all municipalities except Leamington have a tiered response and that agreements are arrived at between Essex-Windsor EMS and each respective council. Amherstburg paid $61,000 through that program last year and Reaume suggested that if council is looking to recover costs, they should seek money from the Ontario government.

Councillor Leo Meloche said his belief is that it is up to each municipality on how much service they wish to provide, adding that the area is on the “front wave of the baby boom.”

Pouget believed the town should show it is not satisfied with the level of service and needs to show upper levels of government that fact.

“We want them to know we expect better for the citizens of Amherstburg,” she said.