John Miceli

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.

Could town aid in acquiring lands in Big Creek Watershed?

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Lands in the Big Creek Watershed north of Alma St. could be one step closer to preservation.

About 250 acres of land north of Alma St. between Fox Road and Thomas Road were the subject of debate at town council last Tuesday night with Councillor Rick Fryer wanting the town to look into the possible acquisition of the lands.

The land, which local resident Greg Nemeth has long advocated preserving due to the number of species in that area, was the subject of conversations Fryer said he had with ERCA general manager Richard Wyma.

“It’s got to come from our council,” said Fryer, who chairs ERCA’s board of directors. “The (ERCA) board has said, ‘if Amherstburg is willing, we are willing.’”

Fryer said he was not in favour of the town purchasing the land on its own, but with help from ERCA and the province. He said there are now over 550 different species in that area.

CAO John Miceli stated the town is working with the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), adding that MNR is aiming for increased protection of endangered species. There is the thought of having developers contribute to a fund to protect endangered species.

The town will have a report done on the matter and did not agree to any land purchases at the meeting. Councillor Jason Lavigne pointed out he did not want to consider purchasing any new land, noting that town council had heard about the town’s deteriorating road system earlier in the meeting.

Town to draft budget with maximum of two per cent increase

 

By Ron Giofu

The town of Amherstburg is going ahead with its 2018 draft budget, with that budget to contain up to a two per cent tax increase.

Council authorized administration to move forward with that plan, with the budget to be tabled Nov. 6. Bill 148, the “Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act” that will, in part, increase minimum wage and allow for equal pay for part-time and seasonal employees doing the same job as full-time staff will also impact next year’s budget.

“Although 2016 saw surpluses, administration is requesting council to consider a tax increase. The surpluses of 2016 can be explained by circumstances we do not believe will exist in 2018 as well as the continuing infrastructure needs of the municipality. The recommendation for presentation of up to a two per cent increase to the mill rate is reasonable when considering the consumer price index in Ontario trend, which for the first eight months of 2017 is at 1.2 per cent,” stated director of corporate services/treasurer Justin Rousseau, in his report to town council. “The forecasted growth on the roll return from MPAC from 2017-2018 is forecasting out a 2.4 per cent increase to the town’s assessment base. This coupled with a two per cent increase to the mill rate will provide additional revenue to the town of 4.4 per cent or approximately $880,000. It should be noted the new asset management plan requires an additional $300,000 to be spent on capital, in order to narrow the infrastructure funding gap that currently exists. This request is part of the council approved 20-year financial strategy to replace and repair the town’s infrastructure.”

Councillor Leo Meloche said the two per cent recommendation was higher than the rate of inflation, and the town had a “nice increase” last year when factoring in property values increasing as well.

“I think it would be prudent to stay with the inflation costs,” said Meloche, who advocated for a 1.5 per cent target.

CAO John Miceli said two per cent is a “target that allows administration to weed through the management issues” and is a “general guideline for the treasurer and myself.” It “establishes the ceiling, and not the floor,” he added.

“Council can always reduce that,” said Miceli.

Rousseau said Bill 148, if passed as it currently stands, would impact the town to the tune of $1.6 million. He predicted it will be a challenging budget due to that piece of provincial legislation.

Councillor Diane Pouget said she wants to keep the budget low, but acknowledged there are bridges, culverts and water plant infrastructure that needs to be addressed.

Under the current timetable, a public information session would occur Nov. 18 and council will deliberate the 2018 budget Nov. 28-30. If all goes according to plan, the budget could be approved Dec. 11.

Town council approves basement flooding protection subsidy program

 

 

By RTT Staff

 

Town council has approved a new basement flooding protection subsidy program, but not all residents are impressed by it.

Under the new program, the town will provide a downspout disconnection service to residents on the Amherstburg wastewater collection system free of charge. The town will also provide a financial subsidy to residents on the Amherstburg wastewater collection system to disconnect foundation drains from the sanitary sewer for up to 50 per cent of the cost, to a maximum of $1,000.

The town of Amherstburg has also committed to providing a financial subsidy to residents on the town’s wastewater system for installing backwater valve devices on the internal sanitary plumbing system in existing homes for up to 100 per cent of cost to a maximum of $1,000.

The town will also provide a financial subsidy to residents on the wastewater collection system to install a sump pump overflow to discharge outside to the surface for existing sump pumps. That also can cover up to 100 per cent of the cost to a maximum of $300.

Administration was also directed to develop a program for the mandatory disconnection of downspouts and improper cross connections and report back to council.

. The program is retroactive to Aug. 28, the day McGregor was pounded as part of a heavy rain storm that hit Windsor-Essex County.

McGregor resident Tom Welsh, who has been the victim of multiple floods, didn’t believe $1,000 was enough, saying “this is a band-aid, in my opinion. You are stating you are going to help us, but we are still going to have to fork out $2-3,000.”

Welsh believed the residents should be able to apply for total funding of costs incurred.

Director of engineering and public works Antonietta Giofu said the town’s program is similar to a program offered in Windsor, and that comparisons were made to other local municipalities as well. The public works department also called plumbers in the area and the estimates were similar as well.

CAO John Miceli said that it’s a voluntary program and that the plan is to ask for funding requests during budget time, if needed, to ensure the flooding issues are addressed.

“Members of the community have to apply for the subsidy,” Miceli pointed out.

Councillor Rick Fryer said he wanted more information about water coming from other municipalities and what the entire region is doing to address the flooding problems. He believed a report was necessary on what all municipalities are working towards.

Fryer also suggested better infrastructure to deal with the issue once and for all, and not yearly subsidy programs.

“We’ve got to start taking care of the hamlet of McGregor,” he said.

Giofu countered that studies into the area have shown that major issues in the McGregor area are on private property but the town is willing to work with residents.

Councillor Leo Meloche, a McGregor resident himself, said there are subdivisions in McGregor with small lots and that water is often just drained to neighbouring yards during storms.

“Planning has to address the issue of elevations before we get to the issue of disconnections,” said Meloche, who also expressed concerns about the mandatory disconnections of downspouts.

Welsh reiterated what he and fellow neighbours believe, and that is not enough money is spent in areas like McGregor as opposed to the “core” of Amherstburg.

“I see it as a band-aid. It’s frustrating,” he said of the program. “Something has to be done. I’m not going to finish my downstairs ever again.”

Councillor Jason Lavigne said money was spent by the current council to fix flooding in the urban part of Amherstburg due to a design flaw with a previous project. He said there are no design flaws in McGregor and that Mother Nature “wreaked havoc” with heavy rain.

“To suggest we are doing more for the core than the county, I blatantly disagree with that,” said Lavigne. “I don’t believe it’s neglect. All we can do is offer a subsidy program. We hear you. It might not be enough. We are doing everything we can and we’ll do more if we can.”

“My whole community thinks this way,” Welsh responded. “We get nothing. We pay more taxes than some people on Boblo.”

Miceli indicated more could be done on the infrastructure front.

“What my team is doing is trying to increase design standards for the town. We are not going to wait,” he said. “We want to make sure we have the highest standards in the region.”

The CAO added that while he won’t guarantee that will eliminate flooding, “we are going to take the highest standards to prevent it.”

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said after the meeting that numbers contained in the program “seem to compare with actual costs” and called it “a good starting point for the town.” He said the town wants to work with individual residents to resolve flooding issues and those requests could come immediately.

“I fully expect residents will contact public works and they will get on it as soon as they can,” said DiCarlo.

The mayor added the new program “may not fix the problems but we have to look at mitigating them as best we can.”