Past deals negatively impacting town’s finances: Pouget

By Ron Giofu

 

A member of town council is looking at agreements agreed to by the town at least eight years ago and alleges they have helped put Amherstburg down the wrong financial path.

Councillor Diane Pouget commented on a pair of reports issued by chief administrative officer (CAO) Mike Phipps at the most recent meeting and believed the town was negatively impacted financially by the deals Phipps looked into.

Phipps’ first report dealt with the Seasons Amherstburg development and referenced an administrative report from May 2006.

“Council is directed to the second last paragraph on page 2 of the report in which there is discussion regarding calculation of the development charges. This  section references Council’s ability to ‘…grant full or partial exemption …’ from development charges,” Phipps wrote in his report. “In this case, the report states that ‘the Town (emphasis added) has reviewed this development and has determined that due to the services provided within the facility that it is a form of assisted housing.’ In this case the writer is convinced that reference to ‘the Town’ is actually the administration that made this determination.”

Phipps continued, “The Council therefore approved a report for substantially less development charges than likely were required. Had the full development charges been assigned, the developer would have paid $929,502. With the approved housing interpretation, the developer paid $63,000 in development charges.”

Pouget called that report “very, very disturbing,” claiming “this so called partial exemption is actually a loss of $823,000 to the taxpayers.

“I’m all for development but council and residents must be given all the facts regarding development charges,” said Pouget.

Pouget said the public has been told the reasons the town is so far in debt – the last report council receiving being $38.5 million – was due to infrastructure but she believed “this is one of the deals” that contributed to it also.

Councillor John Sutton urged caution before too much blame was handed out. He said that deal was approved two council ago and said hindsight is often 20/20.

“We can’t attest to what was stated and what questions were asked,” said Sutton. “We can’t go back in time and change what another council did.”

Mayor Wayne Hurst said the deal was in the past and bringing it up “for the sake of bringing it up” won’t solve anything.

“Whoever they were gave up $800,000 of the people’s money,” said Councillor Bart DiPasquale. “I won’t beat it to death but it’s ridiculous.”

Phipps’ second report dealt with Salmoni Building development charges.

“In 2006 the Town required development charge fees of $7,377 per residential unit built in the Town. On February 27, 2006, in public session, the Town Planning Coordinator presented a report to Council regarding this property and Council adopted the recommendation to approve the Site Plan for construction of the residential and commercial condominium. This report provided for payment of six residential units,” Phipps stated in his report. On March 15, 2006, a building permit was issued for this

construction. This permit provided for construction of fourteen residential units and two commercial units. Council will note that the development charges were for six residential units. This clearly reflects the information Council had before it and adopted on February 27, 2006, again in public session.”

Phipps added that, “Administration has investigated this matter further and has determined that planning advice at that time was that a negotiation could justify eight residential units but the developer was suggesting four would be more proper. However, the CAO at that time undertook a calculation that, although not consistent with the development charge policy of the Town, determined there should be development charges paid on six units.”

Pouget claimed “the town of Amherstburg lost a very significant amount of money with this” and that the issue also saw a 40 percent tax decrease on the units for several years and a “public outcry” over the loss of trees. She also stated the taxpayers paid 80.7 percent of the costs of the parkette despite assurances it wouldn’t cost taxpayers a cent.

“It’s another reason we can’t do Texas Road,” she said.

Sutton said “we have to be careful” about summarizing what went on in that time period, believing there are a lot of unknowns about what was said and what was questioned in that time period. He said a lot of good people served on council and in administration in that period and believed they had the best

interests of Amherstburg at heart.

As for the parkette, it was an issue when he became a councillor following the 2006 election and the matter was referred to the town’s solicitor, the latter recommending the town follow through on the payment plan.

“Very few people seem to remember that point but it’s an important point,” said Sutton.

Hurst advised Pouget that she should “be careful” as some of her claims “could be litigious.”

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