Rick Fryer

Town council waives fees for Rotary Club’s Ribfest

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The Rotary Club’s eighth annual Ribfest is this weekend and organizers received some financial relief thanks to town council.

The town has waived $2,035 in fees for the Ribfest, with $1,352 being parks fees and the rest for equipment rentals. The Ribfest committee was represented by chair Carl Gibb and Rotary Club past president Lena Lazanja.

“We are a charitable organization and all the funds we receive continue to be funneled back into town,” Lazanja told town council.

Councillor Leo Meloche stated he supported the Ribfest and didn’t have any problem with waiving the parks fees but was concerned about waiving the equipment fees. He said equipment suffers wear and tear and wanted to ensure the town has the resources to replace equipment when need be and believed “at some point we have to draw the line.”

Members of the Rotary Ribfest Committee, an event that operates under the umbrella of the Amherstburg Rotary Club, are disappointed with the guidelines they have to operate under to comply with the sign bylaw. Town council upheld the current sign bylaw at the March 20 meeting.

The Amherstburg Rotary Club’s 2017 Ribfest is July 7-9.

“Unfortunately, the equipment – we use it and we have to replace it.”

Waiving the fees was an easy decision for Councillor Rick Fryer, pointing out that the Rotary Club has undertaken many projects that have benefitted the residents of Amherstburg. Fryer thanked the Rotary Club for its efforts over the years.

“If it was up to me, we can approve the waiving of the fees every single time,” said Fryer.

The Ribfest runs 12 p.m.-11 p.m. July 7 and 8 and 12 p.m.-7 p.m. July 9 at Centennial Park.

Council allows sign bylaw exemption and encroachment agreement for local business

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Town council has agreed to allow a local business to encroachment on town land and has granted a sign bylaw exemption.

John Collison from Woodland Home Renovations & Additions appeared before town council requesting that he be allowed to place a seven-foot by five-foot sign in front of his Sandwich St. N. business. He told council that if it were to be pushed back towards the building, people would not be able to see it.

Currently, he shares a sign with Riccardo’s Italian Restaurant but said people looking for his business sometimes go to the restaurant.

“My business is the residence,” he said.

Town hall signWEB

Councillor Rick Fryer said he was concerned about sight lines for drivers at the corner of Sandwich St. N. and St. Arnaud St. and the possibility of creating a blind spot for drivers and cyclists. Manager of licensing and enforcing Nicole Rubli said the town would work with the applicant on the sign to ensure such issues don’t arise.

Councillor Diane Pouget said she sits on both the parks committee and Communities in Bloom committees and both are “very concerned” about the application.

“They want to make sure we are following the rules we set forth,” said Pouget.

Councillor Joan Courtney worried that the town was setting a precedent by granting the request.

“If we grant this request, I think others will follow,” said Courtney, adding that council has to be cognizant of the bylaw.

Collison said he is in an area where he has all commercial units on that side of the street. He didn’t believe he would be standing out more than anyone else in the area. He added he is zoned similar to the other businesses in the stretch of road.

The motion to grant the sign bylaw exemption and encroachment agreement passed in a 6-1 recorded vote with Mayor Aldo DiCarlo, Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale and councillors Fryer, Courtney, Jason Lavigne and Leo Meloche being in favour while Pouget was opposed.

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.

Council agrees to waive Amherstburg Farmers Market fees, but for only one year

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Fees have been waived for the Amherstburg Farmers Market, but for only one year.

The market opens this Saturday at the Malden Community & Cultural Centre with Steeve Bouchard representing the market at the most recent meeting of town council. Bouchard outlined the many markets in the area and said those markets pay nothing in fees.

“I’m wondering if we could avoid me having to come back every year and waive the fees for the life of the market?” asked Bouchard.

Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale wondered how much the fees amounted to with manager of licensing Nicole Rubli stating that waiving the fees could amount to the town not receiving as much as $3,000 in revenue.

Amherstburg Farmers Market

Councillor Rick Fryer was in favour of waiving the fees for as long as the market was there.

“If we are going to do it one, two or three years, let’s do it as long as the market exists,” said Fryer.

Councillor Diane Pouget disagreed with waiving the fees in perpetuity, believing council doesn’t have the right to do that. She said the financial situation can change every year.

“A new council might feel different about this,” said Pouget.

Councillor Leo Meloche agreed with Pouget, also noting financial conditions can change.

“If the situation changes and we desperately need $3,000, I’m sure the council of the day will find a way to charge residents $3,000,” said Fryer.

CAO John Miceli noted there are many fees that the town charges and that can add up to “significant revenue.” He said every time fees are waived, the town needs to be on top of the situation.

“In my opinion, we need to keep track of this,” said Miceli.

Miceli added that “in perpetuity is a very long time” but added that it is “just a word” that could be changed if the council of the day saw fit.

Councillor Jason Lavigne questioned whether the town should just scrap fees for the farmers’ market if Amherstburg is the only municipality charging them. His motion to waive the fees for one year and get a report back from administration on the subject.

The Amherstburg Farmers Market runs 8:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. every Saturday from May to September.

Town gets update on condition of Boblo dock

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The town has received an update from the federal government as it pertains to the former Boblo dock on Front Road South.

CAO John Miceli brought a report to council which stated that he was advised by William Ariss of the Real Property Division of the Central & Arctic Region of Fisheries and Oceans Canada advising the Boblo dock would not be declared surplus at this time. Miceli reported that Ariss advised the town that the department is undertaking “a review of the various wharfs in the Sarnia to Amherstburg corridor” and that upon the completion of that review, “the department will determine whether the wharf is to be repaired, removed, divested or some combination thereof.”

According to Miceli’s report: “Should the Coast Guard determine that the department no longer has an interest in the wharf, then divestiture of the site will be considered. Mr. Ariss has advised that the divestiture process of the wharf requires DFO to offer a site first to other Federal Departments and then to the Province. Mr. Ariss has also advised that it would be difficult at this point (to say) whether the wharf would be transferred to the municipality with monies associated for repairs or if the Department would look to demolish it.”

Cost to repair the pier is estimated at $579,546 with the cost to demolish the pier, including the piles, estimated at $524,807. To demolish the dock, excluding the piles, would carry an estimated cost of $337,488.

The current state of the former Boblo ferry dock is of concern to town council.

The current state of the former Boblo ferry dock is of concern to town council.

“It is important for council to note that the estimates were developed on a Class D level which should not to be considered final and must continue to be refined through the design process. Class D estimates are indicative of a project being considered for budget development and place holder purposes,” Miceli stated in his report.

The CAO added it “would not be unreasonable for one to conclude” that the cost to demolish and replace the dock could be in in excess of $1 million.

Miceli said a decision is not expected before late summer or fall. He added the town is continuing to negotiate with the federal government, saying $337,000 “is the floor. I just can’t tell you what the ceiling is.”

Councillor Rick Fryer believed the dock is a great location for an outlook and for birding opportunities, adding his hope would be for the town can start putting money aside for a project involving the dock so the community can use it.

“I think this is a great opportunity for tourism for the town and for eco-tourism and sports tourism,” he said.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo questioned whether the town had public access to the dock but Fryer believed access could be looked at as part of the town’s negotiations into the site. Fryer, also chair of the Essex Region Conservation Authority, said ERCA is looking at a possible lookout trail in that area.