Budget process continuing despite audit, OPP investigation

 

Town hallBy Ron Giofu

 

Despite the request for a provincial audit and an OPP investigation that has been launched, the town is continuing with its 2014 budget talks.

Chief administrative officer Mike Phipps said administration continues to work on the budget although he admits a planned February target to have it brought to council is “long gone.” Instead, his new estimate as for when it will be brought to council is the last week of March or the first week of April.

“We could be in a position then to bring something to them,” said Phipps, noting “we’ve still got a town to run.”

In the meantime, senior management will continue to meet and try to whittle down the budget.

“We’re still working away at it,” he said. “We’re trying to find ways to trim that budget. We’re still stuck on a significant number. We’re trying to address needs the public is demanding and what council wants. We are diligently looking at it. We want to bring in something workable.”

Phipps said there are numerous items that have to be included in the budget that has never been budgeted for in the past. He cited an example of the yard waste depot, noting that a charge of $50,000 annually to haul material away hadn’t been budgeted for previously. Another $50,000 charge the town is carrying to apply another coat of pavement to Martin Cr. hadn’t been included in previous budgets either, he said.

“Things like that have to be cleaned up,” he said.

Reserve funds, starting with the retirement benefit and Ranta Park reserves, must be paid back, he said.

“They have to be replenished,” said Phipps.

The CAO said the easiest part of this year’s budget process is identifying the problems with the hardest part being fixing them.

“Even at the big numbers we’re looking at, we have no capital works in there,” said Phipps.

Department heads have been asked to rank items that must be done, things that should be done and items that would be “nice to do,” he said. Only the “must do” items and a few of the “should do” items are likely to be included.

The 2014 budget might be presented in two ways, Phipps added, as the possible sale of Amherstburg’s 14 percent share of Essex Power to Entegrus is still being considered and studied. Other possible avenues administration is considering are temporary levies to replenish reserves and similar types of bookkeeping measures.

“Things are not hopeless,” he said. “There’s no question it’s all fixable. They can be fixed but it’s going to take the whole of council and the citizens working together to make some difficult decisions.”

Despite the trying financial times the town is currently in, Phipps said there are still investors taking a look at Amherstburg. Some are holding off on their plans until it is determined what went on but others are still looking at the town. Phipps said investors range from small scale developments to “significant” job creating investments.

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