Justin Rousseau

Town lands $3.7 million in funding for water treatment plant upgrades

 

By Ron Giofu

The town of Amherstburg has received some good news as it relates to upgrades at the water treatment plant.

The town has received over $3.7 million for upgrades to the reservoir at the water treatment plant. The funding was received under the federal government’s Clean Water and Wastewater Fund (CWWF).

According to a report from director of corporate services/treasurer Justin Rousseau: “The Amherstburg Water Treatment Plant currently only has one water storage in-ground reservoir. Water storage reservoirs are required to ensure that adequate supply of water is maintained to meet peak water demands or emergencies such as fires, water main breaks, power outages and pump failures. The existing reservoir is old and showing extensive deterioration. In 2003 and 2010, the town performed emergency reservoir repairs due to excessive leaking of treated water from the reservoir. Further failures and repairs are anticipated as the structure ages.”

The Amherstburg Water Treatment Plant

The Amherstburg Water Treatment Plant

Rousseau noted the construction of reservoir would take place in two phases, with the first being the construction of a new 14,800 cubic meter reservoir and the second phase being two 7,400 cubic meter cells being built within the existing reservoir footprint. The cost of the second phase is not known at the present time, he added, with an assessment of infrastructure to be undertaken after the first phase.

While the grant is good news, there is still more money needed in the future.

“The town’s Long-Term Strategic Financial Plan and Water Model identify the need to invest over $30 million in water infrastructure in the next ten years,” stated Rousseau. “Furthermore, the town presently has little in reserves in the water division and has one of the higher rates in the region for water. This successful grant application will assist the town in securing future development and providing water at a reasonable rate thus assisting the town’s long term sustainability.”

CAO John Miceli pointed out that town council received a private and confidential memo about other projects needed at the Amherstburg Water Treatment Plant. He indicated administration is “examining all options for the delivery of clean water” in Amherstburg.

Miceli said a new plan might come before council on how to deliver clean water to the residents.

“I want to be very clear that we are looking at all options,” said Miceli.

Water and wastewater rates to rise slightly in Amherstburg

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Water and wastewater rates are on the rise two per cent and one per cent respectively in Amherstburg but the town is stating that sounds worse than what it is.

The water budget of nearly $9.4 million will be funded through $638,000 from working capital, a $3.7 million grant and $5 million in new debentures with the $1.369 million wastewater budget being funded through $542,000 in operating capital, $348,150 in grant funding and $479,350 from the wastewater capital reserve.

The water and wastewater rate increases will translate into the average user paying an extra $9 more this year, said director of corporate services/treasurer Justin Rousseau.

The Amherstburg Water Treatment Plant

The Amherstburg Water Treatment Plant

In his written report to council, Rousseau stated: “The projected two per cent increase in water would result in an average annual billing increase from $450 to $456. The projected one per cent increase in wastewater would result in an average annual billing increase from $772 to $775. The combined effect to the average consumer of both water and wastewater in the town will see an annual household effect of $9 a year, or two cents a day.”

Rousseau indicated the coming years will call for the replacement of the water treatment plan, a $30 million expenditure. The town has to take steps to bolster reserves to mitigate the impact of that expenditure, he stated.

Wastewater plantWEB

The reason for the proposed increases is to provide long term stability to building both water and wastewater capital programs as well as lifecycle replacement funding that will help ensure the replacement and expansion of both the water and wastewater systems. The increases agree to the long-term financial stability plan outlined in the Town’s draft asset management plan,” he added in his report to town council.

Councillor Leo Meloche questioned the timing of the budgets, noting that it is late June and that “it’s after the fact” for council to have more extensive dialogue on it.

“At this point, it’s difficult to have any input. We’ve already spent the money,” he said.

Rousseau called it “a fair observation” but said it was delayed due to the town’s desire to bring the budgets forward with the asset management plan. He said after the meeting the consultant the town is using on the plan is tied up with other municipalities so the plan was unable to be presented at the same time as the budgets.

Finances improving, but town “not out of the woods yet”

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The town received its 2016 consolidated financial statements and the town’s auditor is giving a “clean audit” opinion.

That said, the town is quick to point out there is still some more work to do.

Cynthia Swift from the firm KPMG appeared before town council Monday night and said the clean report is due in large part to the town’s administration following the Deloitte report’s recommendations. The Deloitte report was issued in 2014 during the town’s financial struggles and helped the town regain some of its financial footing.

“We did not find any serious deficiencies,” Swift said, regarding her firm’s review of the financial statements. “Management is doing a good job following the Deloitte report, reducing debt and increasing revenue.”

Swift said she was satisfied with the town’s handling of the employee future benefit liability, noting that can increase or decrease annually.

Councillor Rick Fryer commented that the finances were in “disarray” when the current council was sworn into office.

“I feel the report is a report card of our treasury department,” said Fryer, adding his belief that town financial staff have helped restore public trust in the finances of the municipality.

Town hall signWEB

Fryer added that he regularly hears positive feelings about Amherstburg when he meets with people from outside the town.

“All I hear are really good things about Amherstburg,” he said. “(People say) Amherstburg is the place that has got its finances on a fabulous track.”

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said it wasn’t a big surprise that the town is starting to straighten itself out financially. He said if people look at the direction council and administration have taken to address its issues, “it’s not so surprising.

“If nothing else, it’s great news.”

Administration is keeping a “watchful eye” on the finances and the town is also working closely with developers and construction companies with contracts coming in under-budget rather than over-budget, DiCarlo said, adding this is leading to surpluses.

However, the mayor cautioned they can’t get too excited about the good news.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” said DiCarlo.

The KPMG audit shows management is being prudent but there are still areas the town has to work on.

“We still have to keep building reserves,” said DiCarlo, using that as an example. “We are pointed in the right direction but we have to stay pointed in the right direction.”

Director of corporate services/treasurer Justin Rousseau said the town has reduced its long-term debt from $50 million to $39.5 million and is doing a better job of collecting its receivables.

“We are building reserves and cash flow is in a good position,” he said. “We’ve been able to do it with good financial reporting to council.”
Rousseau added “we’ve got a ways to go” but said the turnaround has been gratifying for administration. He believes the town is the first municipality in the region to have its 2016 consolidated financial statements passed by council, a contrast to when the town was behind several years in presenting them to the elected body.

The town is able to make investment decisions, he added, now they have some reserves built up and that was not possible just a few years ago.

Town reports that Texas Road project nearly $600,000 under budget

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The final numbers are in and the town is reporting a positive variance in terms of actual cost versus the estimates.

According to a report from manager of engineering Todd Hewitt, the original project estimate for the Texas Road project was $5,726,509 with the estimated final cost being $5,126,515. That leaves a final variance of $599,994, which director of corporate services/treasurer Justin Rousseau said will be used to reduce future long-term debt.

Texas Road1

“The public works department used innovative thinking and was able to work together with the contractor and the consultant to achieve significant cost savings for the construction of Texas Road without sacrificing construction quality. The main savings was achieved by pulverizing the asphalt roadway and granular base and reusing the material for the widened road surface,” Hewitt’s report stated. “This change achieved significant cost savings without affecting the projected lifecycle for the asphalt surface.”

That strategy enabled the town to reduce the overall costs and “therefore reduce the amount of debenture debt that is required to finance the project by $346,528.”

Construction on the Texas Road project began in August 2015 with work continuing throughout the rest of that year and into the summer of 2016 with landscaping and sod placed in August 2016.

“The main work on Texas Road is now complete,” Hewitt stated in his report. “There are a number of small deficiencies to be resolved but they are minor in nature.”

Budget officially passed by town council

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Town council officially passed the 2017 budget Monday night with it calling for a 1.87 per cent tax increase.

The town had a 1.89 per cent figure following the Jan. 9-10 budget deliberations but after a report came back on benefit costs, a reduction of $3,038 was found thus lowering the figure 0.02 per cent.

Councillor Leo Meloche didn’t believe the 1.87 per cent number was meaningful, noting MPAC assessments are rising roughly two per cent in Amherstburg. A home valued at $191,000 is actually $194,820 and taxes are actually rising from $1,727 to $1,795 on that value of a home.

Town Logo Small-web

Meloche voted in favour of the budget, saying the town did its due diligence and that “everyone did a good job,” but said the town has an aging population and that increasing property assessments have to be factored in.

Councillor Rick Fryer, the lone member of council to oppose the budget, also pointed out the MPAC factor. He added that farmland is seeing large assessment increases.

“Once you retire, you don’t get an increase in your pension,” he said.

Fryer added that people in the rural areas are feeling “left out” because they see investment being made in downtown infrastructure.

“I can’t tell people we’re doing the best due diligence we can,” said Fryer.

“Are we doing anything sneaky or different than other municipalities with our budget?” questioned Councillor Diane Pouget. “I’m really concerned if we don’t address this, the public will think there were attempts to mislead them.”

Director of corporate services/treasurer Justin Rousseau said he believes the town has an open and transparent budgeting process and that the town is doing everything it can to show its doing its due diligence. Councillor Jason Lavigne agreed, saying he was satisfied with a 1.87 per cent increase and that the process was transparent.

Councillor Joan Courtney thanked Rousseau and his department, calling it an “exemplary budget.”