Aldo DiCarlo

Town looks to arbitration to settle dispute with WECDSB over St. Bernard School

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Frustrated over talks to buy the former St. Bernard School, the town of Amherstburg is looking to have the matter settled by an arbitrator.

As the result of an in-camera session Monday night, town council agreed to have CAO John Miceli pursue the matter as the town and the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board have been unable to finalize what the fair market value for the former school building, located at 320 Richmond St., should be

The town has been looking to purchase the school building after it was declared surplus by the Catholic school board, said Miceli, with the intention of using it as a “community hub” centred around senior citizens.

Miceli said the WECDSB’s counteroffer to the town was $100,000 more than the $650,000 that the board had it appraised at. A subsequent offer came in at $25,000 higher than the appraisal.

“It’s been extremely exhausting working with the Catholic school board. When you look at bargaining in good faith between public entities, I find this very difficult especially when there’s a community use and a community benefit,” Miceli stated.

The town is interested in purchasing the former St. Bernard School but are locked in a dispute with the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board on what the fair market value is.

The CAO believes there is “a total disregard for the town of Amherstburg and its residents.”

A master seniors plan has been included in the 2018 budget, Miceli noted, and the community hub proposed for the site would help to address seniors needs and issues.

“All of the plans we have for the property are supported by our community strategic plan,” said Miceli.

The town is trying to protect the ratepayers of Amherstburg through this process, he added, with both he and Mayor Aldo DiCarlo pointing out the property has been public for years with public tax dollars maintaining it. Miceli added the town is taking “a very strategic approach” to acquiring the land and has followed the process “to a T.”

There is a plan on how to fund its purchase, should it occur, he added but couldn’t release it at the present time as there are other issues in play that can’t be disclosed publicly at this point. He did state there are “synergies” between the proposal for the St. Bernard School site and the possibility of a new public high school being built next door at Centennial Park.

“As soon as the school became available, we came up with a plan to benefit the community,” said DiCarlo. “We found a way to re-purpose (the school building) so it can continue to be beneficial to the community.”

DiCarlo said it has been a “frustrating” process in working with the Catholic board and trying to realize the town’s vision for the property.

Stephen Fields, communications co-ordinator with the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board, said the Education Act calls for property matters to be discussed by the committee of the whole board and stay confidential.

“As a rule, we do not discuss property matters in public,” said Fields. “Those are the guidelines we operate by.”

Asked for reaction on the town’s stance on the matter, Fields reiterated the board does not comment on property matters.

“There’s a process for all negotiations and we followed the process,” said Fields. “Part of the process is maintaining confidentiality.”

OPP does not give police costing to Amherstburg

 

By Ron Giofu

 

If the town switches from its current police service, don’t look for the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) to be the service they go to.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo confirmed that the town did not actually get a costing from the OPP and only received a costing from the Windsor Police Service.

“Instead of getting a costing from the OPP, we got a letter saying they are not going to follow our guidelines,” said DiCarlo.

DiCarlo said it was “definitely disappointing” that the OPP took that position, but said he was aware of how costing proposals are presented. The town had guidelines on what it wanted in terms of policing and believed the OPP was unwilling to provide the details the town wanted in a costing whereas Windsor was willing to do so.

 

 

“Our position as the people responsible for the taxpayers dollars is that we don’t have to know every last detail, but someone has to confirm what the taxpayers are paying for,” said DiCarlo. “The OPP refuses to give that information.”

The OPP “basically said no” when asked for the details the town wanted, said DiCarlo. He said it was “incredibly disappointing” the OPP didn’t want to work with the town’s guidelines, adding it was also “very frustrating” that while Windsor was willing the OPP “couldn’t be bothered.”

DiCarlo didn’t doubt the OPP provides an excellent police service, he said he didn’t understand their costing model. He said while the town understands it would get “adequate and effective” policing from the OPP, “they won’t tell us exactly what that means.”

The town will now move forward with the options of switching to the Windsor Police Service or sticking with the current Amherstburg Police Service. That process, including public consultation, should continue early in the new year.

Town’s 2018 budget could see tax rate and levy increases

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Town council got its first look at the proposed 2018 budget and it contains possible increases to the tax rate as well as the two capital levies.

As it stands now, the proposed increase in the municipal tax rate is two per cent with another 0.75 per cent increase recommended for each of the capital replacement levy and the capital reserve levy. A two per cent increase would translate into a $36.77 increase on a $200,000 home while the increase in levies would amount to a $29.66 increase for municipal coffers.

The town projects that when county and education rates are factored in, it would lower the proposed increase to 1.52 per cent. The town also forecasts a 2.37 per cent increase in assessment growth.

The net capital budget request is about $41.3 million with the funding sources the town has available to deal with this request without additional debt being nearly $4.2 million. All 2018 capital will be financed in cash, the town states.

The town will spend about $1.4 million to upgrade its roads however, the municipality still faces an infrastructure gap of about $37.1 million.

The budget was presented at a special council meeting Monday night by chief administrative officer (CAO) John Miceli and director of corporate services/treasurer Justin Rousseau. Miceli pointed out this is the final budget in this term of council and compared the town’s finances from three years ago to now.

The CAO believed it was “important to note to our residents the progress we have made” in relation to the town’s finances. Miceli read headlines and quotes from Windsor media outlets from 2013 and 2014 and contrast it to today, believing the town has made strides from the “mismanagement” that occurred previously.

Miceli highlighted such progress as dealing with the Deloitte report recommendations in 18 months, filling a number of key positions, redoing Texas Road, holding staff accountable on a yearly evaluation basis, moving towards a “pay as you go” infrastructure system and the introduction of the levies among the list he recited. Accomplishments the CAO listed for 2017 were the demolition of Duffy’s and the former AMA Arena, completion of the Meloche Road project, Communities in Bloom, the Canuck it Up! Festival, sidewalk improvements, the correction of mechanical issues at the Libro Centre and new housing development.

“The list goes on and on and on,” said Miceli. “In my opinion, council’s public record speaks for itself.”

Among the possible positions that could be filled include a policy co-ordinator on a one-year contract, a communications officer, a financial analyst, additional tourism co-ordinators, a part-time bylaw officer, a supervisor of road and fleet and an engineering technician.

Rousseau said the 2018 budget “is like no other the town has seen before” in that every increase or decrease has a budget issue paper. Levies, he recommended, should be increased to meet future capital needs.

“The 2018 budget is proposing an undertaking of capital projects in the amount of $5,062,130,” said Rousseau.

Amherstburg has $11,352 in assets per capita, Rousseau noted. That is the highest in the region.

“Amherstburg has over $4,000 per resident more than the next nearest comparator in Essex County,” he said.

Miceli believed the town has made “significant, significant strides” in managing the town’s finances and told town council they have a choice of making decisions that are beneficial politically or make tougher decisions and stay the course.

“Now I suggest is the time to lead and send a message to future councils that we don’t want to go back to the financial difficulties we had,” the CAO stated.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo believed the proposed budget is in line with what council requested and said the number may come down based on what council members want to do. He suggested funds may also be reallocated to address infrastructure needs.

DiCarlo agreed the town has made progress during this term of council.

“It was a painful start but we’ve had three years of growth over growth,” he said.

The mayor believed it’s not so much a case of increases, but a question of whether people want to pay for things now or later. While a tax increase was expected, DiCarlo said they will still be middle of the pack taxation wise in the region.

There will be a public meeting on the budget Nov. 18 from 1-3 p.m. in the community room at the Libro Centre. Budget deliberations are scheduled for Nov. 28 from 6-10 p.m., Nov. 29 from 2-8 p.m. and, if necessary, Nov. 30 from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Should all go according to plan, the 2018 budget could be passed at the Dec. 11 town council meeting.

Concession 2 North bridge to be torn down, replaced

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The bowstring arch bridge located on Concession 2 North over the Long Marsh Drain is going to be torn down and replaced.

The bridge, located near River Canard, will be replaced at a cost of approximately $1.2 million with replacement being the recommended option from town administration. According to a report from manager of engineering and operations Todd Hewitt, the new bridge will have a standard design and a 75-year design life.

Town council had two other options – replacement of the bridge with one of a similar design or repairing the current bridge – but opted for replacing it with a standard design. To repair the current bridge would have cost $927,000 but Hewitt said drawbacks of that option would be a 25-30 year probable service life and the fact bridge weight restrictions and width would remain restricted.

To build a new bridge that would look similar to the current bridge, it had a cost estimate of $1.8 million as it is “an extremely complex design to build” and would carry increased lifecycle and maintenance costs.

The issue over the fate of the Concession 2 North bridge arose earlier this year, when costs to maintain the current bridge came in higher than anticipated.

Town council has elected to tear down and replace the Concession 2 North bridge with a new bridge of modern design.

“The 2017 Capital Budget included $364,000 for the rehabilitation and repair of the existing bridge based on the estimate provided in the 2016 Bridge Inspection Report received from Keystone (Bridge Management). Based on a recommendation included in the 2016 Bridge Inspection Report, administration contracted Stantec Consulting to complete a detailed condition report of the existing structure with rehabilitation recommendations. The detailed condition report also included an estimated cost to complete the required rehabilitation work. The estimate in the report from Stantec Consulting was $842,000 plus engineering fees,” said Hewitt, in his report to council.

An RFP was issued and the matter was to be discussed at the May 23 council meeting, however Hewitt noted the town was offered pre-cast bridge beams at a “significantly discounted cost” so the matter was delayed while that option was investigated.

“Through this analysis it was determined that the beams could be used for the bridge structure but that additional work and costs would be incurred by the municipality to use the beams which would result in an overall increase to the RFP contract,” stated Hewitt.

Some of the reasons he listed for the additional costs were the because size of the footing and abutments would need to be increased significantly; the overall excavation would be larger, requiring more sheet piling; the deck surface would be increased resulting in increased materials to

treatments for the deck; the entire bridge would be 300mm higher resulting in additional roadway works and guardrails and that the banks and shoreline of the drain would need to be reshaped.

“This would result in additional costs and possible delays to receive approvals from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF),” Hewitt said. “Based on the information regarding the donated beams administration determined that accepting the donated beams was not a prudent decision that would benefit the town.”

Sisters Carmel and Patricia Ravanello, whose family owns property nearby, had pressed for the preservation of the existing bridge.

A portion of the Concession 2 North bridge is shown decaying.

“I can’t believe that it would have cost $1.2 million to repair/refurbish the existing bridge,” Carmel said in an e-mail to the River Town Times. “I am disappointed with this news not only as someone trying to preserve the history and heritage of River Canard but also as a taxpayer.”

The Ravanello sisters believe it is a historic bridge, with Patricia telling the RTT earlier this year that her research shows it was built in 1938 by the R.J. Blyth Co. She said they had placed an advertisement in The Amherstburg Echo around that time period.

They pointed out the significance of the bridge ranks seven out of ten on a national and local level according to the website www.historicalbridges.org and were hopeful of new ideas. They offered suggestions such as performing “basic maintenance” on the bridge, using it as a pedestrian and cycling bridge and build another bridge next to it for vehicles, close Concession 2 North to through traffic and have no bridge at all.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo believed the option of replacing the bridge with a current design was the most financially prudent way to go. DiCarlo did sympathize with heritage concerns noting he tries to support heritage in Amherstburg, citing the town’s purchase of Belle Vue as an example.

“The bridge was never designated heritage,” he said, adding the town is not in a position financially to spend the extra money to design a new bridge with the look of the current one.

DiCarlo added that refurbishing the old bridge was slightly cheaper but the bridge still would have had the width and weight restrictions plus a reduced lifespan.

“It seemed like a lot to saddle future generations for them to do it again in that short period of time,” he said.

The new bridge will be wider and have more room for pedestrians and cyclists and “I think that’s important to people,” said DiCarlo.

Based on the cost of bridges and culverts not just in Amherstburg but around Essex County, DiCarlo said $1 million “seems to be the going rate.” He added that environmental protections around River Canard may have contributed to the costs of the new bridge as well.