New CAO looking forward to tackling the “challenges” in Amherstburg

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Amherstburg’s new chief administrative officer (CAO) has come out of retirement and is quickly getting his feet wet on the job before him.

Mike Phipps

“I’ve been fully retired for six years,” said Phipps, “but I’ve been staying on top of what is going on in the public sector.”

Phipps, who has worked in Lakeshore and Chatham-Kent previously in his 42-year municipal career, said he was “intrigued” when approached about the Amherstburg opening and “looks forward to working with the kinds of challenges” that exist in Amherstburg.

“I enjoy working with people,” said Phipps. “Basically, it comes down to serving the citizens.”

Phipps said the citizens are extremely important and should be treated that way.

“I want to make sure the staff is more accountable with a heavy, heavy focus on customer service,” said Phipps, who has a two-year contract with the town. “The citizens pay for our buildings, the equipment we use and our wages. They are the reason for our being.”

Phipps said he wants to “develop as professional of an organization as we can become.” He said he wants the “best people” possible on staff.

“One of my goals will be to make sure Amherstburg is an employer of choice and a destination of choice for residents and investors,” he said.

The financial situation is his first priority, he added. He stated council will receive timely and regular reports but predicted elected officials will have to make tough decision in the weeks and months ahead.

“Make no mistake, there will be very difficult decisions for council,” said Phipps.

Phipps and director of corporate services Val Sequeira also attempted to clarify and reinforce the town’s position on where the financial situation lies. Sequeira said his presentation June 24 to council was about requesting that the town to stop and take stock of where they are at, particularly in light of the fact there is “no current data” to go on. He said the town needed to “pause” and get its financial reporting caught up before looking at adding new debt. He said because the town’s financial reporting is behind, loans are not yet in place and “that puts pressure on our organization.

“If someone wants to give ups money they want to see our financial statements,” said Sequeira. “No one is going to lend you money if you don’t have the financials done.”

If those financial statements are not up to date, the job of getting loans from government and outside sources becomes more challenging.

“(Lenders) are right to do that,” he said. “This is not surprising.”

Sequeira pointed out for every $2 million in new debt, it means either a one per cent tax increase or a one per cent decrease in services.

Once the financial reporting is caught up, Sequeira said they could start dealing with debt and other issues. He said the town has to ensure financing is in place to pay for infrastructure is in place.

“Because our financial statements are late, we don’t have the loans in place. That puts pressure on our organization,” he said.

Sequeira said bills are being paid as are employees and while Amherstburg “certainly isn’t at the top of the pile” in terms of municipalities and its financial positions, the town isn’t at the bottom either.

“It’s somewhere in the middle,” he said. “We’re not going bankrupt or anything. The bills are being paid and they will be paid going forward. We have to look at different mechanisms to make that happen.”

The financial situation fully dealt with in 6-8 months, he predicted.

“Once we get that sorted out, we can secure loans. Once we get the loans, we’ll be in better shape with cash flow.”

Sequeira said “significant money” has been spent on infrastructure in the last number of years and stated part of the picture he tried to paint June 24 is that the town didn’t get in the position it is currently in within the last six months.

“All of this spending is investing in the community but bills are starting to come in and we have to make sure we cover the bills going forward,” he said.

The 2010 financials were approved in Sept. 2012 while 2011 figures were approved this past May. The 2012 numbers are due to come before council in August. Sequeira and Phipps vow that the days of falling behind are over.

“I can say definitely that is a thing of the past,” said Sequeira.

“The reporting and information will be provided to council so that council will have that information,” added Phipps.

Sequeira said Phipps has emphasized that a significant improvement in reporting to council is needed and he agrees with that position. Town council will receive quarterly reports, Sequeira said, with the possibility of those reports becoming even more frequent in the future.

“We need to do that,” said Sequeira.

Phipps and Sequeira said council will be presented options on how to move forward with the raising of taxes being a council decision.

“Everything is evolving and changing right now,” said Sequeira. “We’re going to have our house in order in very short order.”

Sequeira said administration is aiming at being “open and transparent” and willing to deal with the issues at hand.

“We want to be professional. We’re not hiding under a rock. We’re doing our jobs,” he said, adding he appreciated council’s decision to deal with the issues as well.

“The message is, if you are a supplier, we are paying our bills. If you are an employee, we are paying your wages,” said Phipps.

Phipps administration will “move forward” and provide council with “professional advice.

“The public will decide if it is the correct advice.”

 

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