Town council

Belle Vue Conservancy gives update to town council



By Ron Giofu


The Belle Vue Conservancy has given town council an update on their progress.

Conservancy president Shirley Curson-Prue appeared before town council at the Sept. 25 meeting to give elected officials, administration and the public more information on what has been collected through donations and other fundraising.

The information regarding cash-on-hand was as of Sept. 14 with that information showing that $115,946.23 had been received. A breakdown of that figure showed that $9,045 was collected through online donations while $60,936 came in through cheques. Other sources of revenue factored into the overall total included the $5,200 made from the WSO “Leading Notes” concert at Christ Church, the $8,000 raised from “Golf Birdies and Bogies” golf tournament and the $28,000-plus won in the National Trust for Canada’s “This Place Matters” online crowdfunding contest.

Other revenue collected by the Belle Vue Conservancy includes $9,861.80 in in-kind donations receipted, $5,049.20 from their recent yard sale, $90,600 in donation commitments and roughly $25,000 from the “Puttin’ on the Ritz” fashion gala at Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery.

Belle Vue Conservancy president Shirley Curson-Prue (left) addresses town council as treasurer Michael Prue holds the painting of Belle Vue done by artist Peter Rindlisbacher.

Curson-Prue pointed out additional funds will be raised through the sale of prints of Peter Rindlisbacher’s painting of the building and future fundraising efforts. She indicated there is a grant they are looking at applying for but noted the application deadline is Oct. 6.

Curson-Prue thanked the donors, town and River Town Times for their assistance in fundraising, and noted that the funds raised thus far could be put to use. She shared a motion from the conservancy’s Sept. 11 meeting which requested that money raised and deposited with the Amherstburg Community Foundation be used to repair the roof, clean out and repair eavestroughs, install solar lighting and cameras to deter trespassers, remove asbestos, repair “targeted windows” using $10,000 of the “This Place Matters” prize money, utilize pro bono cleanup and allow monthly cleanup of the grounds by staff and volunteers.

Councillor Joan Courtney praised the work of the conservancy and said they are working “non stop” on trying to restore the 200-year-old building.

“What you’ve achieved already is awe-inspiring,” said Curson-Prue.

Later in the meeting, concern was brought forth by residents about a possible roadway to Belle Vue from Sandwich St. S. CAO John Miceli said the roadway is conceptual at this point and that it has not been formally approved by council.

Miceli indicated that local projects, including Belle Vue, have to be looked at for what is good for the community as a whole. He added that the parking lot just south of the police station is still required for municipal business and that while it needs to be paved to live up to municipal bylaws, the site itself is not designated historical.

“The attractions that would have made it a heritage site were removed in the 1960’s,” said Miceli.

Belle Vue Conservancy outlines sponsorship program to council



By Ron Giofu


The Belle Vue Conservancy has outlined its next steps to town council, with some of those steps including sponsorship opportunities.

Shirley Curson-Prue, president of the conservancy, spoke to town council at their most recent meeting with several members of the group in the audience. She also presented a written presentation to the town.

“We have confirmed the branding, goal, and vision of the Conservancy and developed an overarching fundraising strategy. Based on information provided by the town liaison representative, our activity should be eligible for matching funds up to $1 million through a Sesquicentennial Program to be offered by Parks Canada,” Curson-Prue stated. “There may well be funds available from other departments and other levels of government. For this reason the Conservancy Steering Committee confirmed our intention to target our fundraising activities for phase one to be up to $1 million.”

The first phase includes obtaining “keystone sponsors” including room sponsors that could go as high as $300,000 for a room to window sponsors for the ten rooms that they hope to raise $200,000 from in total.

A crowd sourcing fundraising campaign is expected to start in February. They hope to raise $50,000 in a semi-annual campaign.

The Belle Vue Conservancy has a new logo, designed and donated by local artist Elio Del Col.

The Belle Vue Conservancy has a new logo, designed and donated by local artist Elio DelCol.

“As indicated, we are recommending Naming Rights as a way to generate considerable individual and corporate funds, the lowest amount being $20,000 for a window, up to and including $200,000 or more for different rooms or areas of the building. We have researched naming rights offered by other charitable and not-for–profit organizations and agencies and relied to a certain extent on the activities and funds raised for the Hospice of Windsor and Essex which has generated millions of dollars for the restoration and ongoing maintenance of their facility,” Curson-Prue reported to council. “Given the potential variety of donations from $25 for a tax receipt to $100,000 for naming a large main floor room, it is confirmed that the conservancy will maintain ongoing consultation with the CAO and town administration concerning the type and nature of acknowledgments for other levels of donations. Where it is apparent additional involvement of the town council is required this will be recommended and facilitated through the office of the CAO.”

There are 14 active members of the conservancy, she told town council, noting they are all volunteers.

Councillor Leo Meloche said he is pleased the group “hit the ground running.

“I like what I see and I hope for more good things for the community,” said Meloche.

Upon questioning from Councillor Rick Fryer, CAO John Miceli said there will be no new staff member added to pursue grants with manager of tourism and culture Anne Rota, director of corporate services/treasurer Justin Rousseau and Miceli the ones that will pursue grants.

“I commend you on the work you are doing and thank you very much,” added Councillor Joan Courtney.

Town council receives first look at 2017 budget, 1.99% increase recommended



By Ron Giofu


Administration has presented the 2017 budget to town council and is recommending a 1.99 per cent increase.

Now, the budget will be taken to the public for consideration then back to council for line-by-line deliberations.

While the town’s portion currently calls for a 1.99 per cent increase, the town anticipates the overall county and municipal property tax increase to amount to 1.49 per cent based on current recommendations. That would mean a net effect of a $45 increase to a home valued at $191,000.

Council received the budget Monday night with CAO John Miceli starting by going over 2016 achievements. Those included the Texas Road project being completed under budget, Alma St. work being funded through the capital levies, not adding debt, engineering work for Meloche Road and awarding the tender for the Libro Centre’s temporary entrance.

“The town has not issued any debt since July 2014, which is over two years ago,” said Miceli.

Miceli also believed the town’s purchase of Duffy’s and Belle Vue was as a result of listening to the residents through the strategic plan process.

The town proposes to increase capital spending in the 2017 budget thanks to savings realized through lower debt and interest payments, he continued. The debt is projected to be at $39 million by the end of 2016, he said.

“This is a noteworthy achievement. It represents financial discipline and is something council should be proud of,” Miceli stated.

Director of corporate services/treasurer Justin Rousseau noted several operating budget pressures, including $66,000 for preventative maintenance for the Libro Centre’s refrigeration system, $38,000 for building maintenance and $120,000 in increased hydro costs due to increases in hydro rates. He noted the pair of two per cent levies are recommended to continue, though they are built into the budget itself.

“It is not an increase to our residents in taxes over 2016,” said Rousseau.

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Rousseau also stated the 2017 recommended capital budget is funded from town sources and senior levels of government and is over $8.2 million.

“All 2017 capital will be financed in cash with the exception of the final debenture debt for the Meloche Road project which is projected to be at $1,624,800,” he said.

The town is contributing an additional $500,000 towards capital from operations, something Rousseau termed “significant.” The town proposes to contribute $1.7 million from operations to help fund more capital projects.

The town also has the most infrastructure per resident for people to utilize, a point similar to the one he made last year, but he also noted residents will also have to pay the most to maintain the highest amount of infrastructure in the region. Amherstburg still faces a $10.9 million infrastructure gap, he noted.

“The best way for a municipality to guard itself against the growing infrastructure gap is by growing reserves, as well as developing a self-funding infrastructure program, and are all steps we are now taking as a town,” he said.

Rousseau said council “has made significant strides in managing the financial affairs of the town and the town’s infrastructure needs” and that “council must continue to be proactive and not reactive in its approach to managing the infrastructure and financial affairs of the town.”

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo believed the draft budget had “very reasonable” recommendations. He said all municipalities have to face inflation and their own expanding infrastructure gaps.

Acknowledging “it’s going to be hard not to raise (taxes) to some extent,” DiCarlo pointed out the current recommendations calls for a $45 increase to an average home, or 12 cents per day. He said he doesn’t want to minimize that for those who are on fixed incomes, but said the town is now accountable for every dollar it now spends.

“No council in their right minds wants to increase taxes,” he said, adding there are struggles to keep up with such things as infrastructure costs. DiCarlo added they are now getting some money back for that from the provincial and federal governments so that helps out.

The mayor also stated he hears from residents who want to keep the amenities they have.

Administration is recommending new positions, such as a part-time committee coordinator, a director of parks, facilities, recreation and culture, a part-time planner, converting IT technician and fire administrator positions to full-time, extending the health and safety officer’s contract, and adding a firefighter. DiCarlo admitted he does hear from residents opposed to new hires, but added that some new hires have actually resulted in savings to the town in the long run.

“It costs more to outsource,” he said.

“This is the first budget tied to the ideas and concepts in the strategic plan,” added Rousseau.

The debt was at $51 million in 2013, he noted, and now that it is projected to drop to $39 million by the end of the year, that too was “significant,” he said. Over ten years, Rousseau said the forecast is for the debt to further drop to $32 million with a significant amount of capital work also factored in.

Among the capital work proposed this year are bridge work, including the Concession 2 North bridge in River Canard, and the start of a program to convert street lights to LED fixtures to cut the town’s hydro costs.

“I’m very proud of the staff here and this council,” said Rousseau, stating there is dialogue and input from the public and a very “collaborative” approach to the budget.

There will be a public input session at the Libro Centre Nov. 26 at 1 p.m. with budget deliberations scheduled for the week of Nov. 29.

The target date for adopting the 2017 budget is Dec. 12.

Off-site portable signs banned


By Jonathan Martin

In a 6-1 vote, Amherstburg town council has amended the by-law governing the erection of signs within the municipality.

Councillor Leo Meloche was opposed to the amendment.

As of Jan. 1, 2017, portable signs will only be permitted on the property for which they are advertising.

The amendment defines a portable sign as “any sign which is not permanently affixed to the ground, building or structure and which is designed with or without wheels, so as to facilitate its movement from place to place.”

Any off-site portable sign could be found to be in violation of the amended by-law and therefore become the subject of a fine.

According to Amherstburg councillor Diane Pouget, the town’s licensing director will contact the province to discuss applicable fees.

Discussions about the amendment started around three years ago.

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“Three years ago, 75 per cent of (signs in Amherstburg) were found to be in non-compliance with the bylaw,” said Pouget. “Some of them were blocking (drivers’) views of pedestrians.”

Concerns were raised by a Harrow-based business owner who owns property in Amherstburg. Once the bylaw comes into effect he will no longer be permitted to place a sign on his Amherstburg property. He said he believes the by-law will hurt local businesses by limiting their advertising.

“We’ve been working on this for two-and-a-half years,” Pouget said. “We’ve held public meetings and done everything right. I believe bringing this up at the last moment was very unfair to administration.”

Puget added that notices will be delivered to the owners of violating signs before any sort of fine is administered.

Town looking at updating nuclear plan, looking for aid in paying costs



By Ron Giofu


The town is updating its nuclear plan and while it has revised what the “primary zone” would be in case of an accident at Fermi II, they are also looking for aid in helping to pay associated costs with the plan.

The town agreed to amend the “primary zone” from 23 kilometers to 16 kilometers (ten miles) of the Fermi II nuclear plant in Michigan with that distance aligning with the current U.S. standard. The town’s motion also calls for the plan to be amended with the assistance of the province and that new negotiations between the province, town and Detroit Edison for the purchase of securing additional funding and support for the town be supported. The town will also correspond with surrounding municipalities, as well as Essex MP Tracey Ramsey and Essex MPP Taras Natyshak on the matter.

Deputy Fire Chief and emergency plan co-ordinator Lee Tome said he has been reviewing the town’s plan since last October and said “there were a number of differences” between the province’s plan and the town’s plan. The change from 23 km to 16 km was to keep with industry standards, said Tome, and that it actually still exceeds the provincial requirement which is 10 km.

The 23-kilometre figure was one they didn’t understand the source of, Tome added.

“No one could tell us why we were at a 23-kilometre zone,” said Tome.

The town receives $25,000 from Fermi II but the town wants more in order to ensure ratepayers no longer have to pay for associated costs. Other areas in the province near nuclear facilities receive more in funding than does Amherstburg, it was learned during Monday’s meeting, though other plants are within Ontario.

“I believe Fermi will step up and assist us,” said Tome.

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The amended nuclear plan is an enhancement, said Tome, who added he believes the town is still is in good shape should there be any sort of accident in the immediate future. He said a recent tabletop exercise did identify “a number of gaps” in the plan but expressed confidence in the town’s ability to deal with a nuclear event.

Councillor Diane Pouget said she wanted to ensure residents are notified should an accident happen with Councillor Rick Fryer said he can hear sirens from Michigan during emergencies and wanted improvements like that to Amherstburg’s system.

Reverse 911 is no longer an option, noted Tome, and that a mass notification call-out system would be considered but that carries a $10,000 annual price tag. As for who pays that, “it should not be the town of Amherstburg,” said Tome. Social media and other notification systems would also be used in the case of an emergency, he added.