CAO explains changes, calls for residents to be “ambassadors” for town

 

 

ACOC AGMBy Ron Giofu

 

The Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce (ACOC) held its annual general meeting last Wednesday night with the town’s chief administrative officer giving an update on municipal happenings.

CAO Mike Phipps was the guest speaker at the AGM and gave a predominantly upbeat talk on what he has encountered thus far and where he would like to see administration go.

Phipps touched on the recent changes that occurred as a result of his restructuring, including parting ways with three senior staff members and adjusting the roles of the directors. He said the town would still have four directors but titles and responsibilities have been adjusted.

After starting as CAO June 27, Phipps said he wanted time to review the administrative structure and whether the town had “the right people in the right places.

“It was my conclusion that the town needed a much stronger focus in certain areas,” said Phipps.

Phipps said the financial department was part of the corporate services portfolio so he wanted to pull the financial department out and have it as its own separate department.

Customer service is another key, noted Phipps, and wants to “break the circle” of people having to go around to various departments to get the services they require. He said he wants town staff “to ask ‘how may I help you’ and actually mean it” and have staff follow up on complaints even when on the road at a call.

Having people instead of machines answer the phone will be another change Phipps said he plans to implement.

“We’ll soon be eliminating auto-answer at all town offices,” said Phipps. “I come from the old school. Frankly, I hate auto-answer.”

Customer service representatives will be cross-trained, Phipps stated, so they can handle a broader range of issues and help residents more effectively. Many customer service representatives will be part-time, he noted, as residents will be able to experience expanded hours due to the United Communities Credit Union Complex being open longer than town hall.

The town’s financial issues were addressed by the CAO as well, with Phipps believing matters were cast in too negative of a light by the media. He said the headlines were all about the town’s finances on the day he began and were all “doom and gloom.”

The town’s financial situation is “challenging,” said Phipps, but “not serious and, in fact, very manageable.”

Phipps said the town compares favourably to surrounding municipalities, pointing out while Amherstburg’s debt may be high it has $310 million in assets, higher than other neighbouring communities.

“While there have been media suggesting the town has little cash on hand, the town is rich with assets,” said Phipps. “The town of Amherstburg has jumped way ahead (of other municipalities). Amherstburg is in fine shape ”

Much attention was paid to the fact Amherstburg didn’t have its 2011 and 2012 financial statements filed on time, Phipps stated, but added the reports are now in while three other area municipalities still don’t have their financials submitted.

“Interestingly, there has been no coverage of that,” said Phipps. “Amherstburg can sure attract attention.”

Phipps also stated the debt will likely cap at $52 million. Much of the infrastructure debt was necessary, he believed, as the town had “no choice” but to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant and faced a lot of repairs to maintain a single-pad arena.

Human resources and economic development will report directly to him, said Phipps. He noted he forms an “economic development team” with manager of economic development and strategic assets Tony DeThomasis and planner Rebecca Belanger, praising the latter for the recent announcement of Dynament Corp. bringing their company to the former Nexen building on Thomas Road.

“We’re excited about the prospects of the town for 2014,” said Phipps.

Phipps acknowledged the laying off of 75 Honeywell employees, calling it “a serious blow,” but pledged the town’s thoughts and support. The goal, he added, is to have more people being able to work in the town they live in.

The CAO said if every resident “acted like ambassadors for the town,” the community would become a greater place to live and invest in. He added the town wants to be recognized as “an employer of choice” to people.

“Obviously, town council and staff can’t do this alone,” said Phipps.

Phipps encouraged people to look ahead and not “in the rear view mirror” as “there are nothing but opportunities before us. We must act promptly so they don’t slip away.

“We must stay positive, stay focused, trust each other and work towards a better tomorrow,” said Phipps.

Asked about the possibility of another hotel in Amherstburg, Phipps said many chains look to towns with at least a 25,000 population but work continues to try and convince a chain to come to Amherstburg. Phipps suggested a theme hotel might be an avenue a proponent may want to pursue.

Waterfront development was also touched on, with Phipps saying there are waterfront property owners “interested in developing.” He also said the town is looking at establishing “community improvement plans” which would be helpful when trying to obtain grant funding.

“It’s certainly on our radar,” the CAO stated.

 

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