ACOC

Voters hear mayoral candidates talk about the issues

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Amherstburg’s two mayoral candidates went toe-to-toe in last weeks’ “Meet the Candidates” night at Western Secondary School.

Incumbent Aldo DiCarlo and challenger Glenn Swinton traded viewpoints in the second of two “Meet the Candidates” nights, presented by the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce (ACOC). It was moderated by Patty Handysides of AM800.

The discussion was scheduled to start at 7:45 p.m. that evening, following the deputy mayor debates, but DiCarlo was late entering the auditorium due to an apparent illness. When things finally got underway, DiCarlo said he was “very proud of what we accomplished” in the last four years, stating they worked with everyone for the good of the town.

The town’s financial position has greatly improved, he said, noting four years ago “people wanted the town turned around and turned around for the better.” He said the town got its “house in order” and completed all of the recommendations from the Deloitte report in less than 18 months.” Reserves have grown from $2.2 million to $15.8 million, he said.

The debt has also decreased from $44 million to $36 million, DiCarlo stated.

Swinton vowed to review and release all documents pertaining to the policing issue. One item he pointed out was that the town will still have to pay for costs to run the existing Amherstburg police station.

There will also be a review of the role of upper management with the town and the flow of information to council and the public.

“Currently it appears that the tail is wagging the dog and that’s not acceptable,” he said.

Staffing and salary levels will also be looked at as well as the Belle Vue property, the latter of which should have no tax dollars going to it. Swinton said he wants more public input into the Duffy’s site as well.

Swinton also believed in holding off on development charges for builders, the possible formation of a BIA and to better include areas such as Anderdon, Malden, River Canard and McGregor. Bringing on an economic development officer to go after business was also suggested.

Swinton said the town would be “open and honest like you’ve never seen before” if he were elected.

The first question pertained to the policing contract and DiCarlo stated he supported the switch and that if he were re-elected, he would want to ensure that everything that was told to the community at the public meetings came to fruition.

Swinton contended that promises are not being kept, stating he learned the deputy chief is not being retained. He said he wants to bring things out into the open.

“It’s your tax dollars. Why is it so secret?” he asked.

DiCarlo said once the contract is completed, the hope is to bring it out publicly and “instill confidence that we will get what we said we’d get out of the deal.”

Aldo DiCarlo and Glenn Swinton went back-and-forth discussing issues at the second of two “Meet the Candidates” Nights that were presented by the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce last week.

On the issue of transparency and accountability, Swinton believed the same issues are around as when he first ran eight years ago. He said unless there is a legal requirement, council should not go in-camera.

If people take time to come to a meeting, they should be able to watch and hear what is going on, Swinton said.

DiCarlo said accountability is justifying the reasons behind a decision while transparency is acting with no hidden agendas.

“I believe I have acted in good faith this entire term of council,” said DiCarlo.

DiCarlo added that if the public hears something they should not legally be hearing, it could come back to cost taxpayers money.

Swinton indicated there are Ombudsman reports which show violations and that people still aren’t being told everything they need to be told regarding the policing issue, and re-iterated the news about the deputy chief.

On the matter of town purchases, DiCarlo said he supported Belle Vue and suggested it ties into plans for a hotel. There is a need for more year-round activities, he said, and that there is a plan to use Belle Vue as a conference centre. It is an 8.3-acre property next to a creek, he added.

“It is not the HMS Detroit all over again, as some would say,” said DiCarlo.

Swinton called Belle Vue “a horrible investment” and that it is limited as to what could be done there. Tax dollars being collected by the former owner were traded for “a liability,” he stated.

“No one was purchasing the property for a reason. It’s worth nothing,” said Swinton.

Duffy’s is also “a liability,” he believed, and now the town has to figure out what to do with it. The seniors hub at the former St. Bernard School is “going to cost your tax dollars to make it happen.”

Meanwhile, Swinton said levies were increased to 2.75 per cent.

“I don’t know what you want to do with the property but we’re going to have to figure it out because you own it now,” said Swinton.

Closing streets in the downtown core on a regular basis would limit access to local businesses, Swinton said in response to the next question, but DiCarlo said “a big rubber duck brought 80,000 people to the Town of Amherstburg when we closed the streets.” He added the Amherstburg Uncommon Festival drew 35,000 people and added he supported more closures.

Swinton responded that “a half-inflated rubber duck did bring substantial crowds, I’m not sure why” and that he was not in favour of shutting down access as he wants to treat all businesses equally.

DiCarlo said he supported the re-branding efforts and said that more feedback is still being gathered. He disagreed with the suggestion that high school students could do the work.

“If we are going to compete on a provincial and national level, we have to do so in a professional manner,” he said.

“Before we can brand the town, it has to have a product,” said Swinton. “If there is nothing to put the brand on, you are wasting money. We need something to put the brand on.”

Swinton added: “You can say Coca Cola, but if there isn’t anything in the can, there’s nothing.”

DiCarlo stated it is more than just a logo, but a new website and a greater focus on tourism. He said the town has “a considerable amount to offer” and that a way has to be figured out to use the brand to attract more people to town.

On the issue of a retail outlet for cannabis, Swinton was supportive stating it will be a legal product.

“It is another business, another product. I say bring it in. It’s a legal product,” he said.

DiCarlo did not answer, instead asking for another break and again stepping out due to illness.

In closing arguments, Swinton urged people to get out and vote as it is up to the voters to decide who they want on council to get the results they are looking for. DiCarlo continued with his opening remarks, adding that while more work is needed on roads, the town has invested millions this term on them. He touted the “Talk the Burg” online engagement platform and the new Community Strategic Plan.

Development, including a new high school, is rising and DiCarlo added that an announcement on a hotel could come soon.
“I expect to announce a location in the very near future. It will likely be sooner than you think,” he said. “Stay tuned.”

DiCarlo also spoke about engaging seniors and youth as well as the ongoing fibre optic internet project being done by Bell.

Councillor candidates try to differentiate themselves at “Meet the Candidates” night

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The first of two “Meet the Candidates” nights was last Wednesday evening at Western Secondary School with all 14 councillor candidates trying to separate themselves from the pack.

Each candidate was given a chance to make opening and closing statements with questions posed at random in between. The evening was moderated by Teresinha Medeiros from AM800. The event was hosted by the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce (ACOC).

Frank Cleminson noted he has been an Amherstburg resident since 1997 and “I’ve been very involved with a lot of activities in town” during that time. Cleminson has coached minor sports and served on the Amherstburg Police Services Board (APSB).

“I really enjoy giving back to the community in different ways,” said Cleminson.

Asked about his vision for the Duffy’s site, Cleminson said the town needs a transient marina, parking and a ramp for boaters. However, he said he was not willing to put the town in debt to achieve it.

“I’m listening to the people,” he said. “It’s not just me.”

Cleminson added there is a need for grant funding as well to develop the site, but it is important to have access to the water.

Relating to the sign bylaw, Cleminson believes “a total review” was needed and that the needs of the business community have to be met as well. He suggested possibly streamlining the process but reiterated the bylaw should be reviewed.

The town has upwards of 287 km of roads, he added, and that liabilities must be addressed.

Cleminson said he will address every issue with the same passion that he approached the policing issue with, and that he wants to get things accomplished for the town.

Peter Courtney described himself as “hometown proud” and that he has spent his entire life in Amherstburg. Courtney said he has coached minor sports in the community and wants to take giving back “to the next level.”

Questioned about the policing decision, Courtney said the Joint Police Advisory Committee (JPAC) did its job and took it to the people. He noted that many at the public meetings said there was “too much grey area” in the Windsor police proposal. If it becomes reality Jan. 1, “we need to be on board” but believed the issue has divided the town.

Regarding Belle Vue, Courtney said Amherstburg may have “missed the boat” because the home is “so far gone.” He supported not having tax dollars go towards the building and while it could make for a wedding or conference venue, he questioned how many millions would have to go into the building before that vision is realized.

Courtney said projects have to be done right the first time and that “it’s all about budgeting” and ensuring needs are taken care of before wants.

Courtney added that he wants residents to be kept informed and that “your gains are my gains.” He said he will answer every call and e-mail, if elected.

Pauline Gemmell believes she has skills that are useful to the town, noting the town is a large corporation. Gemmell is the executive director of the Essex County Nurse Practitioner-led Clinic and that efforts are being made to expand it to Amherstburg. She added she submits financial statements to her board of directors and the auditing of her statements show them to be correct. She said she has a collaborative leadership style and tries to gather input from others before a decision is made.

The public needs people who know how to work with large budgets, she added.

On the issue of Centennial Park and its remaining 12 acres, Gemmell believed it should remain recreational and used to benefit children in the community. She didn’t like the idea of relocating a pool at the Libro Centre.

“As a taxpayer, I don’t think we could take services away from children,” said Gemmell.

Marijuana will come to Amherstburg “no matter what” and she is in favour of establishing legal retail outlets.

“It’s going to be here anyway,” said Gemmell.

More mid-range housing is needed in Amherstburg, she added.

Libby Keenan said she has served on numerous boards of directors in addition to her teaching riding and dressage for 35 years.

“I believe I can help the town with a lot of new ideas,” she said.

There are many different communities within Amherstburg and Keenan added she wants everyone to feel a part of Amherstburg.

Keenan said it is fine to have healthy debates and arguments on issues, but there has to be a willingness to compromise. People are entitled to their views but the will of the majority has to be respected.

Keenan was supportive of street closures for downtown festivals, saying vendors could be brought in and sidewalk sales could be had.

“The biggest question is if people come in, where are you going to put them?” she asked, suggesting a shuttle service from other points in the municipality.

Keenan also promoted an economic development officer and that someone is needed to go on the road and “sell” the municipality.

Emphasizing she has a lot of new ideas, Keenan added she will give “150 per cent” to the job.

Jason Lavigne, the only incumbent running for re-election as a councillor, said the last four years have been “quite a ride.”

“I can honestly say we did our best,” said Lavigne, of the current council.

Lavigne said he has “changed dramatically” since his first election – the 2018 race actually being his third election – and that being a councillor has shown him “there’s more to this than meets the eye.”

The legalization of marijuana and the location of retail outlets in Amherstburg was something that can’t be ignored, Lavigne stated.

“It’s coming whether we like it or not,” he said. “It’s here and we have to deal with it.”

Council can’t be left in the dark on the issue and people don’t have to like it or don’t like it.

Lavigne said transparency and accountability have improved over the last four years, where people can now be recognized from the gallery instead of always having to go through a process to get on the agenda. He added council was “closed for a long time.”

In order to get involved in politics, people have to be ready to be open and transparent, he added.

Council is already trying to promote economic development, he said, and that the General Chemical lands have been with a licensed broker for many years.

Lena Lazanja noted she has lived in Amherstburg for 12 years and that she has worked as general manager of the ACOC, worked at Amherstburg Community Services, is a current employee at Royal Canadian Legion Br. 157 and is a former Rotary Club of Amherstburg president.

Lazanja said she outlined her experiences to let the public know “I’ve had my toe in every pool in Amherstburg” and that she has dealt with people at various levels in the community.

Lazanja believed a pool could be of use at the Libro Centre to draw more people there. She said Rotary looked at the issue but “the cost was insurmountable for our club.”

Property taxes have risen $1,200 over six years in her neighbourhood alone and that needs must be looked after before wants.

“I don’t think there’s a simple answer to fixing our property tax rate,” she said.

Lazanja also promoted a strong downtown core, stating those businesses are helping to sustain the town with new businesses also welcome. She added she is a single mother who is no stranger to scrubbing toilets so she knows how to work and wants to be a voice for the taxpayers.

Donald McArthur said he wants “to be a voice for all of Amherstburg” and that while campaigning has been gruelling, he also said it has been rewarding.

“We have so much momentum,” he said.

McArthur said he is a “fresh voice” and the former journalist said he will “do things differently” by being as open as possible. He also wants to engage youth and have a seniors’ advisory committee.

McArthur was asked about high water and sewer rates and he offered that expanding the tax base could be a solution. He believed an economic development officer was necessary and believed the current council “inherited a grim situation” but they “turned things around.” He said he wants to make smart decisions with money.

As for his vision for General Amherst High School after it moves to a new building, McArthur said there is a need for affordable housing, to improve residential density not to mention a hotel.

McArthur said he will speak out for constituents and that he will never disparage the town, adding he wants to be positive.

“It’s OK to have disagreements,” he said. “It’s not always pretty.”

McArthur added he wants to be “honest, open and transparent” and that Amherstburg is “a beautiful town with an amazing story to tell.”

John Menna believed tax dollars need to be managed better and that the current council spends like a big city. Roads are terrible, Menna added, and that Concession 2 North needs more than patchwork and that Angstrom Cr. “looks like it belongs in Afghanistan.”

Menna said the downtown core is beautiful and that water and hydro rates need to come down. He said economic development is a tough issue, noting that the former General Chemical site has been vacant for about two decades.

“It’s going to be a tough go,” he said.

Too much money was spent on rebranding and “I don’t think that was the way to go.” He proposed a “think tank” on the matter.

Menna also said there are other issues to fix, including lighting on Front Road North and a light at Alma St. and Howard Ave. He was also supportive of Centennial Park staying as parkland, but thought the new public high school should be on the north side of the park. He also voiced concerns with “red flags” that related to the Belle Vue property.

The town can’t say no to projects like Wendy’s, Menna added, and that “for the future of Amherstburg it means better choices. It means being open for business.”

Gregory Moore said he has a “common sense” approach that he feels people can relate to, including not purchasing things that aren’t needed.

“You don’t spend money you don’t have,” said Moore, noting he comes from a background where he didn’t have a lot of fancy things.

Moore noted he is a volunteer at his church as well as a musician.

Moore said many of the roads “look like Detroit” and that the town has to stop spending money on its wants and focus more on its needs. He believed businesses owners need to come together and gather ideas and advise council.

Moore also disagreed with spending $75,000 on rebranding, suggesting high school students could have been utilized.

“We could have saved ourselves a bunch of money,” said Moore.

Moore believed that more attention also has to be made to the former Anderdon and Malden townships. He added that he wants Amherstburg to be the best and “I’m a winner because I choose to win. Amherstburg can choose to win too.”

All 14 councillor candidates were on stage last Wednesday night at Western Secondary School. It was the first of two “Meet the Candidates” nights that were presented by the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce.

Michael Prue said he has a lot of experience in politics in the Toronto area but noted he is a “transplant” to Amherstburg.

“If anyone knows about politics in Ontario, it’s me,” said Prue.

Prue said he knows how to fix roads, deal with upper levels of government and work with council members and staff. He believes economic development is the key to this election.

Prue said meetings should not always be held at town hall, as there are many who don’t live in the downtown core. Decisions should be made with everyone taken into account and that people have to be shown their tax dollars are being used fairly.

There is “absolutely no question” the town needs a new pool, as children should have the opportunity to learn to swim in a safe environment. He suggested getting service clubs involved with such a project.

Asked about Belle Vue, Prue noted he is treasurer of the Belle Vue Conservancy and voiced his belief that it could be used as a conference centre with the ability to draw people to town, which in turn would help with a hotel.

Prue said as mayor of East York, he removed a lot of red tape and that led to industrial growth. They also got fibre internet and grew the municipality without growing taxes and believed that can be done in Amherstburg.

Marc Renaud said he has served extensively in the community and through his union, Unifor Local 200. The minor hockey president said he believes council could be more accountable and responsible to residents. If the “math doesn’t add up” or if a project doesn’t benefit all residents, he said he would say no to such things.

“I believe council can serve the people better,” said Renaud.

Renaud said he believes in tourism and supports a strong downtown core. A strong downtown helps provide jobs and aids economic development.

There is still a need for levies, Renaud added, as they focus money on where it needs to go such as road projects.

Renaud was one of the candidates who spoke in favour of live streaming council meetings. He said he attends most meetings and it is different to watch a meeting in person and see reactions and discussions among council members.

Working with recreational stakeholders is also key, he said, and that they can work together to benefit themselves and to keep costs down.

Patricia Simone said she is prepared to make a positive impact on the community and believes she has the experience to do the job well.

“I want to help make a difference in my community,” she said. “I am a problem solver and hard worker. I will fight hard for the residents of Amherstburg.”

Fixing roads and growing the local economy are two items on her list of priorities. She added that the town gave away its police force and “this is a big loss for our town.”

Simone said a further review of whether boats and trailers should be allowed long-term on residential properties and while she said it is fine to enjoy recreational activities, “if it’s impacting your neighbours, it does need to be looked at.”

The town has to be promoted as a place to live, work and play and she added the “future is bright for Amherstburg” and that she has ideas that will “put us on the right track.”

As for her vision for Duffy’s, she said the taxpayers are the ones that need to make a decision.

Ron Sutherland said his platform is about “common sense, not endless politics” and “that is what Ron Sutherland stands for.”

Sutherland touted his background, which includes chairing the Amherstburg drainage board and being one of the town’s two representatives on the Essex Region Conservation Authority’s board of directors. He was also deputy mayor from 2010-14.

Sutherland said “taxes are a necessary evil” but collaboration has to be held and the new council has to take a strong look on how tax dollars are spent. Sutherland said he is open to suggestions from residents on what they want.

Sutherland said “we don’t know what the final costs are going to be” with regards to policing and that people were allowed to choose the car designs, but not who is actually going to deliver the service. He said he heard few that were in favour of switching to Windsor.

As for a ward system, he said he has never lived in a municipality with a ward system and wondered if it would be useful everywhere. He also wanted a more humane program for the treatment of animals and supported getting rid of a $180 portable sign tax.

Lori Wightman said her job at the Essex County Library is where she learned that listening is a strong tool. Wightman, who has served as unit chair for CUPE Local 2974.0, said that role has taught her how to compromise, negotiate and move forward.

“If we can find common ground, we can move forward. If we move forward, we can find success,” she said.

Wightman spoke against a ward system as council members should be considering the needs of all residents. She said she is “leery” about a ward system and that believes it could divide the community.

Regarding the sign bylaw, there needs to be fewer “barriers” for businesses and that she also recognizes the need to have an aesthetically pleasing community.

The town needs to attract business and industry to town and that they need to work with developers. Infrastructure needs to be taken care of and the town must be accountable and transparent in the process, added Wightman.

 

(EDITOR’S NOTE – In the original version of the story, we inadvertently said Peter Courtney stated that the town should put wants before needs. We have corrected the online version to reflect that he said that needs should be placed before wants. The RTT apologizes for this error.)

 

Election season ramping up, time to get to know the candidates

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Election season is ramping up and a pair of organizations are gathering the candidates in one place so that voters can hear what they have to say.

The Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce (ACOC) is hosting a pair of “Meet the Candidate” nights, both to be held at Western Secondary School. Both will have a similar format, with the 14 councillor candidates to be the focus of the Oct. 3 evening while the four deputy mayor candidates and two mayoral candidates will be the focus Oct. 4.

There will be a meet and greet with the candidates starting at 6 p.m. with introductions to follow at 6:30 p.m. A question and answer period will come after introductions with closing statements to follow. The evenings are scheduled to conclude at 10 p.m. with the same format both nights.

According to ACOC treasurer Chris Gibb, the councillor candidates will each get five questions while deputy mayor candidates will face 5-10 questions. Candidates for mayor will receive 10-15 questions.

A pair of AM800 reporters will moderate the evenings. Teresinha Medeiros will moderate the Oct. 3 evening with the councillor candidates while Patty Handysides will moderate the Oct. 4 evening with the deputy mayor and mayor candidates.

Gibb said it is an “added plus” to be holding the event outside of the core of Amherstburg noting that it “helps remind people and candidates that Amherstburg is a very big township and sometimes the people in the core and our politicians need to be reminded of that. Also, it is good to remember Amherstburg has two high schools, we can sometimes forget about that.” Gibb added: “The location is fully accessible, has plenty of parking, and is a great facility that many residents have never been in.”
It is important for the ACOC to hold such “Meet the Candidate” events, Gibb noted, as decisions made around the council table impact chamber members and the public at large.

“The people who get elected make many decisions that affect the livelihood of our members and an event like this is the best way for our members and the public to get to know their candidates,” said Gibb.

Western Secondary School is located at 5791 North Town Line (County Road 8), but the entrances are off of Concession 6 North.

The Amherstburg Citizens for Responsible Government (ACRG) is also bringing back its own version of a candidates night, with that returning to the AMA Sportsmen Club. That will be held Oct. 11 from 7-10 p.m. with ACRG representatives John McDonald and Beth Hobbs describing it as an informal way to get to know the candidates.

McDonald noted that candidates will be set up in alphabetical order, not in order of the office they are seeking.

“We had an all candidates night at the very same location four years ago,” McDonald stated. “It was very successful. We were very encouraged by that.”

The evening will be apolitical, said McDonald.

“We’re not backing any potential candidate or a political issue,” he stated.

The event, he continued, will be a chance to meet face-to-face with candidates and address the issues and concerns they have. While it will be an informal event, the ACRG is asking that “hometown courtesy” be exercised.

“The idea is to have a free flow of ideas,” McDonald stated, adding the candidates will be able to go “eyeball to eyeball” with people to talk about their issues.

Hobbs added that candidates will be invited to distribute their own literature that night. McDonald pointed out that the “vast majority” of candidates have agreed to come out.

“It’s very informal,” added Hobbs. “It was very successful in 2014 and we’re hoping for the same thing this year.”

The AMA Sportsmen Club is located at 468 Lowes Side Road.

Also, a reminder that the River Town Times will be publishing a special section with the candidates in the Sept. 26 issue. Candidates were sent the same five questions with all five to be published in the Sept. 26 paper for mayor and deputy mayor candidates.

Due to space limitations, three of the five answers for the councillor candidates will be published in the print edition while all five answers will be online at www.rivertowntimes.com.

ACOC recognizes business community at Business Excellence Awards

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

In what was the largest Business Excellence Awards (BEA) yet, the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce (ACOC) recognized some of the top business owners and operators in town.

“It’s a record-breaker tonight,” said ACOC board member Dan Gemus during last Friday night’s BEA’s. “We have over 220 people seated.”

There were 11 awards handed out with ten of the winners not knowing they had won until their name was revealed during the ceremony.

“It’s a huge honour to be recognized by your community, your clients and your peers,” said Gemus.

ACOC board president Carolyn Davies said it was “exciting to see so many dynamic businesses” and that the Chamber is trying to foster economic growth in Amherstburg.

“It has been a very busy year for the Chamber of Commerce,” said Davies.

The winners of the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce’s (ACOC) Business Excellence Awards gather for a group photo after the April 27 awards banquet at Pointe West Golf Club.

Davies said the ACOC partners in community events, holds networking events, works with town administration, holds quarterly meetings with Mayor Aldo DiCarlo and focuses on directly supporting local businesses.

The ACOC plans to host all candidate nights in advance of the Oct. 22 municipal election, she added.

Currently, the Chamber has 158 paid members.

“The Chamber of Commerce’s strength is in its members and its focused planning,” said Davies.

Davies also endorsed the town’s recent takeover of the River Lights Winter Festival, believing the festival will grow and prosper with the town’s resources behind it.

The award for Excellence in Customer Service went to Pittao’s AutoCare, with Mark and Heather Pittao thanking their staff and customers as well as the ACOC for the award.

The Fort Fun Centre captured the Most Attractive Improvement Award for the total redesign of what was the former Verdi Club. Co-owner Brad Hearn commented that they appreciate “everyone who comes to visit us.”

The Customer Service/Community Involvement Award was won by Amherstburg Chevrolet Buick GMC, with dealers Scott Elliott and Mike Bezzoubkin accepting the award and pledging to continue to give back to the community.

The Growth and Expansion Award went to Lights Sound Action Entertainment Services, with thanks given by Mike Chase when he accepted the award.

The Investing in a World Class Workforce Award was won by Amherstburg Home Health Centre with owner Luigi DiPierdomenico thanking not only the ACOC, but family, friends, supporters and the medical team that works out of the Sandwich St. S. facility.

The Eighteen 12 Poutinerie captured the Excellence in Food Service Award. Owner Shannon Pelletier said they want their employees to enjoy coming to work and for their customers to feel welcome and at home when they go there.

The Welcoming Accessibility Award was captured by Amherstburg Community Services (ACS). ACS executive director Kathy DiBartolomeo said the staff is happy to carry on the legacy that began 45 years ago. They have over 100 volunteers that help offer the various programs that ACS provides.

“We love what we do,” said DiBartolomeo.

The Business Legacy Award was presented to Paul and Sharon Jones, former owners of the Towne Shoppe. Paul said Amherstburg has been a great place to run a business and is also a great place to live. He added their thanks to their customers and staff, and pointed out they have since sold the business to Mackie Jones.

The New Business of the Year Award was won by the G.L. Heritage Brewing Co. Co-owner Jen Desjardins-Grondin thanked those who helped them launch the Howard Ave. craft brewery and noted they are extremely proud to be in Amherstburg.

The Business of the Year Award was won by Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery. President Steve Mitchell said they are excited for what lies ahead for Amherstburg and that the area’s wine industry will also boom as it is surrounded by six million people.

“I’m really excited about the prospects for Amherstburg,” he said.

The Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce Director’s Choice Award was given to the Amherstburg Freedom Museum this year. Board president Monty Logan accepted the award, pointing out museum attendance increased 35 per cent in 2017.

“It’s an honour for the museum to be recognized for the work we do in the community,” said Logan. “We truly appreciate the support Amherstburg has shown us. We are proud to call Amherstburg home. We feel loved.”

For more photos, visit our Facebook album.

Town to take over River Lights Winter Festival

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The River Lights Winter Festival is now going to be run directly by the town.

While a volunteer committee oversaw the festival for its first decade in existence, the town will now take it over after the request was made by the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce. According to a report from manager of tourism and culture Anne Rota, River Lights draws over 20,000 people annually to the downtown core and the volunteer committee has raised over $550,000 for the festival.

“Administration has met with the Chamber and its subcommittee on a number of occasions related to the above request. The basis for the request lies in the limited ‘go forward’ capacity, in terms of resources, of the Chamber to continue to deliver the festival,” Rota stated in her report.

There are 109 displays that are being transferred to the town, valued at approximately $100,000, with the River Lights committee also having about $25,000 cash in the bank and $25,000 in investments. Rota’s preliminary forecast for 2018 calls for $70,000 in revenue and expenses totalling $65,000.

The River Lights Winter Festival drew an estimated crowd of 28,000-30,000 people in 2017-18.

The town historically has committed $5,000 under the approved base budget “however, if event costs are covered by revenues from third parties and the town is directly operating the request, no further town contribution may be required,” Rota wrote.

Rota added the parks department labour costs have traditionally be donated in-kind. The 13-member volunteer committee, she added, would be interested in continuing to assist.

Councillor Diane Pouget said she supported the request.

“It’s the only way we can keep it,” she said. “We have to agree to take on the project.”

CAO John Miceli said he believes the festival will be enhanced. Miceli was questioned by Councillor Leo Meloche as to whether this will be a line item in the budget, and Miceli answered in the affirmative.

The River Lights has been named a “Top 100 Festival in Ontario” eight times by Festivals and Events Ontario (FEO).