Finance director outlines town debt for council

 

Town hall summerBy Ron Giofu

 

With questions circulating over the town’s debt, the director of finance appeared before town council Monday night to try and provide answers.

According to Justin Rousseau, the town’s overall debt sits at $46.6 million with $44.6 being the long-term debt anticipated for Dec. 31 and roughly $2 million being added into the overall figure as short-term debt. Rousseau broke down the long-term debt as $13.5 million in general tax debt, $27 million in wastewater debt and $4.1 million in water debt.

Rousseau said the overall debt number is talked about a lot but few discuss how it came to be and the town’s assets.

“No one looks at the total assets,” he said.

Comparing long-term debt with other area municipalities, Rousseau said LaSalle had $33 million in debt in 2013 while Tecumseh had $26.8 million, Kingsville had $12 million and Windsor had $109 million. The most recent figure from Leamington that Rousseau quoted was from 2012, with that number being $47.1 million.

Amherstburg also faces $2.8 million in further debt as the town has been ordered by the province to repair a pump station, though Rousseau noted the town is seeking grant funding to cover at least a portion of that.

Two projects make up 61 per cent of the debt, Rousseau told town council, with the town being in debt $22.8 million of the $34.2 wastewater treatment plant while the town has $5.6 million in debt associated with the Libro Centre.

Rousseau noted the town is working on a ten-year financial plan and added that although the town’s debt is 12 per cent of its total assets, the town still faces “significant challenges” going forward to improve infrastructure in a cost-effective way.

“I find it interesting our tax side of it is $13.5 million,” said Councillor Bob Pillon. “If you read the paper, you are led to believe it’s all tax which it isn’t.”
Pillon questioned Rousseau over reports the debt is $61 million with Rousseau said it is a “common misconception” that such things as employee benefits are part of the debt, a point he refuted.

Rousseau told Councillor Diane Pouget that all debentures were included with Pouget adding she is still trying to find the cost of such projects as the kiosks, and the north and south gateways since April.

“I still haven’t been able to receive costs,” she said.

Pouget added that more assets means more maintenance costs and that she didn’t find it fair to compare Amherstburg’s debt to that of other municipalities. She said the town’s financial situation is different than other municipalities and that “I don’t want to give a false sense of security to residents.”

Councillor John Sutton said he recalled telling ratepayers four years ago the town’s debt would be around $47 million by now.

“Certainly you’ve backed up those figures,” he told Rousseau.

Municipalities struggle with infrastructure costs, Sutton continued, as municipalities bear the bulk of the burden for costs. He added that “no one talks about alternatives” or what the town has received over the years, stating there was no alternative to building the new wastewater treatment plant. He said the town may owe $5.6 on the Libro Centre but faced $5 million in repairs “on the same, tired single pad arena to keep it functional,” in reference to the Amherstburg Arena on Victoria St. S.

Pouget responded by stating the town has nearly a $1 million operating deficit at the Libro Centre.

Rousseau said he brought the report forward to “put an end to the misinformation that is out there” and so that everyone can “get on the same page and move the town forward.”

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