John Miceli

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.”

Remembrance Day in Amherstburg features largest parade since WWII ended

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Remembrance Day in Amherstburg was even more memorable than ever this year.

While Royal Canadian Legion Br. 157 did its usual excellent job organizing the parade and the service at the cenotaph, it was made extra special this year due to the parade’s size. Capt. Richard Girard, zone Sgt. At Arms, told those who marched that it was the largest parade in Amherstburg since the conclusion of World War II in 1945.

The Remembrance Day parade heads westbound on Richmond St. en route to the cenotaph.

“This is the proudest day I’ve had in a long time,” Girard told the parade participants after its conclusion outside of Royal Canadian Legion Br. 157 Saturday morning.

The ceremony at the cenotaph included the roll call of all Amherstburg veterans who died at war and also included two minutes of silence to remember all of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Essex MP Tracey Ramsey offered thanks to all of those who served Canada and also thanked the young people who attended the Remembrance Day ceremony. That included the members of the 202 Fort Malden Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps.

A member of the #202 Fort Malden Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corps salutes as part of Nov. 11 ceremonies.

Ramsey also read a poem sent to her from St. Thomas of Villanova Secondary School student Kathleen Drouillard, which captured the spirit of the day.

“It’s incredibly important that young people understand the sacrifices made by so many to have the freedom we have today,” said Ramsey.

Essex MPP Taras Natyshak said people have the “solemn obligation to remember” and that he was honoured to be in the presence of all of the veteran on Remembrance Day. Natyshak stated that “peace came with so much sacrifice” and that veterans need to be taken care of when they are at home.

Capt. Richard Girard, a Korean War veteran, salutes after laying a wreath in memory of his brother.

“Our debt is a debt that can never be repaid but by being here, we honour their sacrifice,” he added.

CAO John Miceli represented the town of Amherstburg and he read an address from Mayor Aldo DiCarlo, who was recovering from surgery. DiCarlo’s remarks, as read by Miceli, noted that “we are a better country” because of our veterans and that it is sad many are now passing away.

“The young generation of today will not have the honour of knowing our veterans like we have,” Miceli read.

The mayor added, via the CAO, that today’s youth need to be educated on the sacrifices of veterans and added “liberties and freedoms didn’t come by chance, but by the sacrifices of men and women.”

The Royal Canadian Legion Br. 157 colour guard leads the Remembrance Day parade back to the branch Nov. 11.

Laurie Cavanaugh, president of Royal Canadian Legion Br. 157, thanked those who participated in the parade and all of those that attended the Remembrance Day service. She added the cadets stood guard at the cenotaph late Friday night as part of their tribute.

Cavanaugh added there were a lot of volunteers that helped make the Remembrance Day parade and service a reality and that the Legion was grateful for their efforts.

Town’s 2018 budget could see tax rate and levy increases

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Town council got its first look at the proposed 2018 budget and it contains possible increases to the tax rate as well as the two capital levies.

As it stands now, the proposed increase in the municipal tax rate is two per cent with another 0.75 per cent increase recommended for each of the capital replacement levy and the capital reserve levy. A two per cent increase would translate into a $36.77 increase on a $200,000 home while the increase in levies would amount to a $29.66 increase for municipal coffers.

The town projects that when county and education rates are factored in, it would lower the proposed increase to 1.52 per cent. The town also forecasts a 2.37 per cent increase in assessment growth.

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. All 2018 capital will be financed in cash, the town states.

The town will spend about $1.4 million to upgrade its roads however, the municipality still faces an infrastructure gap of about $37.1 million.

The budget was presented at a special council meeting Monday night by chief administrative officer (CAO) John Miceli and director of corporate services/treasurer Justin Rousseau. Miceli pointed out this is the final budget in this term of council and compared the town’s finances from three years ago to now.

The CAO believed it was “important to note to our residents the progress we have made” in relation to the town’s finances. Miceli read headlines and quotes from Windsor media outlets from 2013 and 2014 and contrast it to today, believing the town has made strides from the “mismanagement” that occurred previously.

Miceli highlighted such progress as dealing with the Deloitte report recommendations in 18 months, filling a number of key positions, redoing Texas Road, holding staff accountable on a yearly evaluation basis, moving towards a “pay as you go” infrastructure system and the introduction of the levies among the list he recited. Accomplishments the CAO listed for 2017 were the demolition of Duffy’s and the former AMA Arena, completion of the Meloche Road project, Communities in Bloom, the Canuck it Up! Festival, sidewalk improvements, the correction of mechanical issues at the Libro Centre and new housing development.

“The list goes on and on and on,” said Miceli. “In my opinion, council’s public record speaks for itself.”

Among the possible positions that could be filled include a policy co-ordinator on a one-year contract, a communications officer, a financial analyst, additional tourism co-ordinators, a part-time bylaw officer, a supervisor of road and fleet and an engineering technician.

Rousseau said the 2018 budget “is like no other the town has seen before” in that every increase or decrease has a budget issue paper. Levies, he recommended, should be increased to meet future capital needs.

“The 2018 budget is proposing an undertaking of capital projects in the amount of $5,062,130,” said Rousseau.

Amherstburg has $11,352 in assets per capita, Rousseau noted. That is the highest in the region.

“Amherstburg has over $4,000 per resident more than the next nearest comparator in Essex County,” he said.

Miceli believed the town has made “significant, significant strides” in managing the town’s finances and told town council they have a choice of making decisions that are beneficial politically or make tougher decisions and stay the course.

“Now I suggest is the time to lead and send a message to future councils that we don’t want to go back to the financial difficulties we had,” the CAO stated.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo believed the proposed budget is in line with what council requested and said the number may come down based on what council members want to do. He suggested funds may also be reallocated to address infrastructure needs.

DiCarlo agreed the town has made progress during this term of council.

“It was a painful start but we’ve had three years of growth over growth,” he said.

The mayor believed it’s not so much a case of increases, but a question of whether people want to pay for things now or later. While a tax increase was expected, DiCarlo said they will still be middle of the pack taxation wise in the region.

There will be a public meeting on the budget Nov. 18 from 1-3 p.m. in the community room at the Libro Centre. Budget deliberations are scheduled for 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.

Parks Master Plan subject of open houses

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The town is taking a closer look at its parks system and went out into the community to see what residents want.

The town and planners from the firm Monteith Brown Planning Consultants (MBPC) held a pair of open houses with regard to a new Parks Master Plan last Thursday with one being at Amherstburg Fire Station No. 2 in the afternoon and the other at the Libro Centre that night. Joannah Campbell, a recreation and parks planner with MBPC, said the plan will be for a ten-year period and deal with parks, open spaces and trails.

Campbell said data has been collected on all town recreational space with visits also having been made to each park. They have been looking at usage and growth forecasts as well with meetings with stakeholders and user groups also planned.

“We will review the data and come up with a draft plan,” she said. “We hope to have the draft plan ready in early 2018.”

Another open house would be scheduled around that time, Campbell added, and the community would again be invited to give their input on what they would like to see in Amherstburg’s park system. Some parks could be refreshed while other uses could be changed or added, she noted.

“We want to animate space,” said Campbell, adding they would like to see people active and out in the community.

Paul Hertel and Gord Freeman discuss elements of the proposed parks master plan with consultant Joannah Campbell last Thursday night.

CAO John Miceli said the open house was to see what the community wants in its parks. He pointed out that there has been a lot of change in the parks industry and that the town wants to have parks that reflect the wishes and wants of the residents.

“We have a significant amount of parkland,” he noted.

The Parks Master Plan could identify new uses for parks or the creation of new parks, such as a dog park, Miceli indicated. Residents could also say they like the uses of the parks as they are now.

“It’s going to be driven by the whole community,” said Miceli. “There’s so many things we need to look at.”

While seed money could be part of the 2018 budget, the town would be looking to start building a capital budget for parks in 2019. Much of the implementation of the plan’s recommendations would likely be in 2019.

“Once we know what the community wants, we are going to plan accordingly,” said Miceli. “We need them to participate. We want to get it right. It’s a long term plan for the town.”

There is also an online survey people can fill out to give feedback on town parks. People can visit www.surveymonkey.com/r/AburgParks. Hard copies of the survey can be picked up at the Libro Centre or at town hall. The survey runs through Nov. 6.