Rick Fryer

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.

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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.

Sidewalk repairs coming to Sandwich St. S.

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Town council has pre-committed $93,000 from its 2018 budget in order to replace sidewalks along Sandwich St. S. this year.

The decision came Monday night and will result in much of the interlocking brick sidewalks on both sides of Sandwich St. S. torn out and replaced with concrete sidewalks. Manager of roads and fleet Eric Chamberlain stated in a written report to town council that “the interlocking brick sidewalks were installed in the late 1980’s and are approximately 30 years old. The sidewalks are settling and have become a potential health and safety hazard thus attracting liability for the Town. The condition of the interlocking brick sidewalks has resulted in an increased number of trip and fall accidents and claims against the town. Council approved $50,000 in the 2017 capital budget for the sidewalk replacement

program. It is the intention of administration to continue the replacement of the interlocking stone sidewalks in subsequent years until all of the interlocking brick sidewalks were replaced throughout the town.”

The town has advanced $93,000 from its 2018 budget to fund sidewalk replacements on Sandwich St. S.

The town has advanced $93,000 from its 2018 budget to fund sidewalk replacements on Sandwich St. S.

Councillor Diane Pouget pointed out that downtown streets and King’s Navy Yard Park have interlocking brick pathways with the powers that be at the time thinking “interlocking brick was the way to go.” She said the thought process was it gave the town a heritage look.

CAO John Miceli pointed out there are no urban design guidelines in Amherstburg currently with such guidelines being useful to maintain a “look and feel” of the town. He backed up Chamberlain’s assessment, saying there are “a number of trip hazards” along the section of Sandwich St. S. between North St. and Park St.

With public safety a concern, Miceli said the town wants to replace those sidewalks. Thirty years is the approximate life cycle for interlocking bricks, he stated.

“What we’re trying to do is be proactive and take advantage of a really good price we got from the contractor,” said Miceli.

Additional works to the west side of the street will be done over and above what was originally planned. Giorgi Bros. Contracting put in a bid of $28,238, roughly 41 per cent lower than the next lowest bidder, Chamberlain stated in his report.

Councillor Rick Fryer said sidewalk maintenance was “a great topic” because “people like to use it against me because I was a victim of that,” referencing his 2006 injury that would result in him filing a lawsuit that has since been resolved.

Fryer questioned whether a student was sent out as there used to be to monitor and GPS any deficiencies and was told by administration that staff and students continue that process. Fryer also wondered if problems were actually being fixed in a timely fashion or whether problems have to wait for budgetary approvals. Fryer was told that once problems are identified they are dealt with.

Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale raised the issue of trees along Richmond St., noting that some are causing bricks to lift. Miceli said an arborist is coming in to examine those trees, adding his preference is to see trees in planters rather than in sidewalks.

The CAO added that by putting trees in planters, they could be removed in the winter allowing a more efficient operation of the town’s new sidewalk snow removal initiative.

Town council to consider 12-year-old’s request for chickens in urban neighbourhoods

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A local 12-year-old is hoping the town can help him in achieving his goal of having chickens in residential areas so that his family can eat a bit healthier.

William Brush, a Grade 7 student at Amherstburg Public School, appeared before town council Monday night asking that the zoning bylaw be revised so that it can allow for chickens in residential areas. He believed it will not only allow people to eat healthier by providing organic eggs for the owners, but it will also help teach people where chickens come from.

While eating breakfast with his family one morning, they started talking about the subject and the residents of the Monopoly subdivision thought it was a good idea.

“The topic of chickens came up and we just decided we wanted them,” said Brush. “I just think organic things are better for you.”

Brush said accommodations can be made to allow chickens and neighbours to co-exist, including not putting the coop near fences and to ensure the area is clean. He said they hope to have three or four chickens and keep them in a coop in their yard.

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“If I were to have chickens, they would be in the middle of my yard, away from the fence,” he told town council.

Manager of planning services Rebecca Belanger said the current zoning bylaw permits three pets, but all have to spend time in the house at some point. Councillor Rick Fryer countered by saying that a chicken coop is like a house and they do go inside.

“It might not be a house people are living in but they do go in a coop at night,” said Fryer. “I’d be all for administration coming back with an amendment (to the bylaw).”

Councillor Leo Meloche worried about coyotes coming into town if chickens were allowed in residential areas. Fryer said coyotes already do come in as there are a lot of feral cats in town.

Council agreed to have a report brought back on whether an amendment to the bylaw is feasible and that should be back before council by the end of the summer. Brush said he is ready to go if council gives the go-ahead.

“I was hoping to do it over the summer but any time is good,” he said.