Aldo DiCarlo

Budget set for final approval

 

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an updated version of a story that was published online last Wednesday night.)

By Ron Giofu

 

While it won’t be formally approved until the Dec. 11 town council meeting, it is now clear what the tax rate increase will be.

Amherstburg taxpayers will see their taxes go up 2.29 per cent this year, meaning a home assessed at $200,000 will see a $43.29 increase. The tax rate increase itself was whittled down from the original two per cent to 0.83 per cent with the two per cent levies being increased by 0.75 per cent increase.
Treasurer Justin Rousseau said the increase to the levies will allow for an additional $300,000 to be placed into the town’s reserves for capital infrastructure projects.

When school board and county taxes are factored in, the tax increase would be 1.69 per cent, Rousseau added, or $54.31 on a $200,000 home.

Among the big ticket capital items is the reconstruction of Creek Road. Approximately $1.4 of the estimated $1.7 million cost to rebuild that road from Meloche Road to County Road 20 is expected to be paid out in 2018.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo was pleased with how deliberations went.

“Yet again, council found a very reasonable balance between what the town needs and what the residents thought was affordable,” said DiCarlo.

DiCarlo noted that not everyone gets what they want at budget time and while a series of positions – Councillor Rick Fryer said eight – were approved, a number of other jobs were not. The mayor noted that some costs did go up for the town and that has to be passed along.

“If bills go up at home, they go up at town hall and we have to compensate for that,” he said.

An increase in growth requires additional resources, the mayor added, and “at the beginning of that growth, there has to be investments. I think that’s where we’re at now.”

The roads needs study makes a lot of the decisions on capital projects easy, DiCarlo stated, as it shows what roads need resources. Creek Road was “not a big surprise,” he added.

The town added resources in places where he believed they are needed. Some of the new positions include a financial analyst, a engineering technician, 1.5 new people for the tourism department and a part-time policy co-ordinator.

Others were rejected including a communications officer, a part-time committee co-ordinator an a supervisor of roads and fleet. The latter had been approved Wednesday afternoon but later cut when council resumed after a dinner break as three members of the six present believed there were too many management positions to oversee the six employees.

Even with the new positions, DiCarlo was happy the tax rate itself came in under one per cent.

“That’s nothing short of amazing to me. That was no small feat. Council deserves some credit for that,” he said.

The levy increases were at roughly the same rate as the cost of living and “that’s unbelievable,” the mayor added.

“The big thing for me is the big picture,” said DiCarlo. He said year over year, the tax rate keeps coming down, reserves and capital investment increase while long-term debt is decreasing.

“Those are definitely heading in the right direction,” he said.

Among the grant requests approved in principle were $5,000 for Amherstburg Community Services (ACS), $1,500 for Amherstburg Food and Fellowship Mission, $6,500 for the Amherstburg Freedom Museum and $8,500 for the Park House Museum. Grant requests for the Cat Assistance Team (CAT) and SNAP for Cats will be addressed after administration comes back with a report.

Town council also agreed with Rose City Gymnastics request to waive over $12,000 in rental fees for next year’s Ontario Provincial Artistic Gymnastics championships at the Libro Centre, an event that is expected to draw 1,200 participants and 5,000 visitors to Amherstburg. However, that has already upset user groups who already use the Libro Centre, particularly in light of town council sticking with its own surcharge option and not going with the one user groups presented Nov. 27.

Other than Creek Road, other capital projects include resurfacing of Pickering Dr. from King St. to Fryer St., complete reconstruction of the Concession 2 North bridge over the Long Marsh Drain, a new sidewalk from Seasons Amherstburg to Lowes Side Road including storm drainage, the replacement of more interlocking brick sidewalks with concrete, the first $135,000 towards the Duffy’s property redevelopment, two vehicles for the fire department, new police patrol vehicles and $80,000 for rebranding the town.

Jen Ibrahim, tourism co-ordinator, said while the town’s website is effective for municipal purposes, “for lack of a better word, it’s not sexy.” Creating a tourism-friendly website and a new town logo would make up what some of the money would be used for.

“The town’s crest isn’t a marketing tool,” said Ibrahim.

Councillor Rick Fryer believed Amherstburg “is on the cusp” but believed the town should go further to rebrand itself as a tourism destination.

Regarding the sidewalks, Fryer also noted the accessibility committee is in favour of removing interlocking brick and replacing them with concrete.

Town agrees to new positions, decides against others

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

There will be new positions in Amherstburg, with some positions garnering more debate than others during budget deliberations.

Amherstburg town council agreed to fund an additional 1.5 bodies in the tourism department at a cost of $88,552 with CAO John Miceli noting there was a “significant amount” of increase programming on the horizon. Tourism co-ordinator/visitor information centre Jen Ibrahim noted the town’s new strategic plan states the department is “poised for growth” and that “tourism numbers increased year-over-year” for the last decade. She told town council that there has been a 38 per cent increase since 2016.

Ibrahim further told town council that numbers need to increase to justify a hotel coming to Amherstburg.

The department is currently staffed by Ibrahim and manager of tourism and culture Anne Rota – the latter missing the budget deliberations due to a family emergency – and Ibrahim said it has led to seven-day-a-week workloads. “Exciting new initiatives” such as the Duffy’s development and Belle Vue property will require time and resources to help write grants, she said.

Tourism staff are also looking at another major festival for the Civic Holiday weekend in 2018, she indicated.

“We want to keep Amherstburg top of mind,” said Ibrahim, telling council a risk of not hiring additional bodies hinders succession planning.

“We’re just looking for sustainable work years ahead,” she added.

Councillor Rick Fryer noted his daughters made a video documenting the “Canuck it Up!” Festival and touted its success. Fryer made the motion to bring in 1.5 new positions and told Ibrahim “we really appreciate the work you do.” Councillor Leo Meloche said he was fine with one new position, but didn’t favour 1.5.

The public works department will be getting one new position, and came close to a second. An engineering technician, a position that carries a cost of $90,726 including salary and benefits, was approved but a supervisor of roads and fleet position – valued at $113,408 – was eliminated roughly 90 minutes after it had been approved.

Council emerged from its dinner break Wednesday evening with Fryer making the motion to reconsider the previous motion that approved the position.

Fryer believed there would be three management positions for six employees, a concerned shared by councillors Diane Pouget and Jason Lavigne.

“It would be hard to justify this position to the public,” said Pouget. “We need more people working, not overseeing.”

Public works administration argued that it wasn’t actually three management positions in roads and fleet as there is only one manager there. The others are contained within other aspects of the department, PWD officials added.

The motion to approve the public works budget without that position failed on a tie vote with Pouget, Lavigne and Fryer in favour and Mayor Aldo DiCarlo, Councillor Leo Meloche and Councillor Joan Courtney opposed. Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale was absent for Wednesday’s deliberations.

DiCarlo noted that even though the motion lost, the position still won’t be created as it was no longer approved and didn’t exist in Amherstburg to begin with.

The position of financial analyst, the cost of which is $95,644 including salary and benefits, was approved by town council with Miceli and treasurer Justin Rousseau strongly advocating for the position. Rousseau said it was the fourth time requesting the position, one that was recommended in the Deloitte report.

While Rousseau stated the finance department has made “leaps and bounds in the last few years,” the department is not at the “mature” status as recommended in the report. He said they can’t do business reviews and other functions in as timely of a fashion. A financial analyst would assist the department in finding additional savings.

“In my professional opinion, this is a required item to get to the level of reporting that a corporation of this size should have to its council,” said Rousseau. “We are doing more than ever but doing it with the same people. To not make this investment would not serve the community well.”

DiCarlo said he questions during hiring debates whether the job would pay for itself and whether the work is not getting done and Miceli was emphatic that the position was a necessary one in his opinion.

“This position will pay for itself,” said Miceli.

The CAO recalled that in his former position as executive director of parks and recreation in Windsor, financial analysts helped turn things around from a deficit to a surplus. The hiring of a financial analyst would be a “minimal investment for council to make,” he said, adding “I believe it will provide excellent benefits to the town. It will pay for itself.”

In a recorded vote during Tuesday’s budget deliberations, six of the seven council members voted in favour with Fryer being the lone vote in opposition.

While not the full-time position administration had put in for, town council did approve the policy co-ordinator job on a part-time basis. The original request of $76,238 was cut in half.

Council made progress on updating its policies earlier in the term but Miceli noted no progress has been made since as the person that had been working on them is no longer with the town. A total of 122 policies still need to be reviewed, he said, adding the request was for a one-year contract position.

The town got itself “in trouble” because of a lack of policies to address the decisions of council, the CAO stated, but Pouget disagreed. She said there were policies in place but she accused councils of the day for not following them.

“The policy is only good if council is following that policy,” she said.

DiPasquale believed it to be an important position, stating the policies are “one of the most important things that need to get done.” Rousseau added there are legislative changes coming and that there is still more “heavy lifting” that need to be done.

Meloche didn’t believe in hiring a person from the outside to update policies as they don’t know the town well enough.

“I think we have to look at a better approach in the long-term,” he said.

Lavigne also disagreed with a full-time position, stating that Rousseau had helped create or update 23 policies in two years. He did note that upper tiers of government, such as the province, should help municipalities as legislation is creating more work.

Pouget said university students are looking for placements and suggested the town engage a student to do some of the work, but DiCarlo didn’t think that would be feasible. The mayor, who is also a physics lab co-ordinator at the University of Windsor, said the goal of the co-op department is to give students experience but supervision is still required.

“You will still tie up a full-time position,” said DiCarlo.

DiCarlo said he was OK with not approving the position as long as council understood that policies would not get done or be updated “very slowly.”

Town council also approved a part-time bylaw officer at a cost of $33,452. Meloche said they have been hearing bylaw-related issues over the past few years and advocated for the position further by stating that new bylaws will need monitoring as well.

“It’s time we match the resources with the requirements,” said Meloche.

After Pouget raised concerns about issues she believed had to be dealt with, council went in-camera Wednesday afternoon for a 45-minute session after which Miceli reported out that it had to do with a motion made in January 2016 about council wanting $100,000 in savings. Those savings were achieved, according to Miceli, through the amalgamation of the bylaw and building departments.

While some positions were approved, others were denied. A part-time policy co-ordinator position will not be hired in 2018, though some council members suggested it could be reconsidered for 2019. Streamlining committees were cited as a reason that it isn’t necessary in 2018 with Lavigne noting some committees were also eliminated as the committees were “not following procedures.”

A part-time committee co-ordinator carried a cost of $29,517.

There also won’t be a communications officer hired in 2018 as council didn’t approve the $95,644 cost that came with it. Miceli said he had a concern over messaging that “we want to bring forth in the community” and that messaging through social media is important and has to be accurate.

“I feel very strongly this is a position that brings merit,” he said, noting similar positions exist in Lakeshore, LaSalle, Leamington and Essex.

Council did not agree.

Lavigne said council uses the mayor as its “voice box,” adding “he does a tremendous job.” He didn’t believe there were enough people using the Talk the Burg website to warrant a new position.

“It says to me people are content and happy living in Amherstburg,” said Lavigne.

Meloche agreed that the mayor and CAO are doing a good job representing Amherstburg. DiCarlo joked that his Facebook account “blows up” on occasion but said he will try and stay on top of issues. The communications officer position can wait, he believed, as “we’ve got other bills to pay.”

Town approves 2018 budget in principle

 

By Ron Giofu

While it won’t be formally approved until the Dec. 11 town council meeting, it is now clear what the tax rate increase will be.

Amherstburg taxpayers will see their taxes go up 2.29 per cent this year, meaning a home assessed at $200,000 will see a $43.29 increase. The tax rate increase itself was whittled down from the original two per cent to 0.83 per cent with the two per cent levies being increased by 0.75 per cent increase.
Treasurer Justin Rousseau said the increase to the levies will allow for an additional $300,000 to be placed into the town’s reserves for capital infrastructure projects.

When school board and county taxes are factored in, the tax increase would be 1.69 per cent, Rousseau added, or $54.31 on a $200,000 home.

Among the big ticket capital items is the reconstruction of Creek Road. Approximately $1.4 of the estimated $1.7 million cost to rebuild that road from Meloche Road to County Road 20 is expected to be paid out in 2018.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo was pleased with how deliberations went.

“Yet again, council found a very reasonable balance between what the town needs and what the residents thought was affordable,” said DiCarlo.

DiCarlo noted that not everyone gets what they want at budget time and while a series of positions – Councillor Rick Fryer said eight – were approved, a number of other jobs were not. The mayor noted that some costs did go up for the town and that has to be passed along.

“If bills go up at home, they go up at town hall and we have to compensate for that,” he said.

An increase in growth requires additional resources, the mayor added, and “at the beginning of that growth, there has to be investments. I think that’s where we’re at now.”

The roads needs study makes a lot of the decisions on capital projects easy, DiCarlo stated, as it shows what roads needs resources. Creek Road was “not a big surprise,” he added.

The town added resources in places where he believed they are needed. Some of the new positions include a financial analyst, a engineering technician, 1.5 new people for the tourism department and a part-time policy co-ordinator.

Others were rejected including a communications officer, a part-time committee co-ordinator an a supervisor of roads and fleet. The latter had been approved Wednesday afternoon but later cut when council resumed after a dinner break as three members of the six present believed there were too many management positions to oversee the six employees.

Even with the new positions, DiCarlo was happy the tax rate itself came in under one per cent.

“That’s nothing short of amazing to me. That was no small feat. Council deserves some credit for that,” he said.

The levy increases were at roughly the same rate as the cost of living and “that’s unbelievable,” the mayor added.

“The big thing for me is the big picture,” said DiCarlo. He said year over year, the tax rate keeps coming down, reserves and capital investment increase while long-term debt is decreasing.

“Those are definitely heading in the right direction,” he said.

Among the grant requests approved in principle were $5,000 for Amherstburg Community Services (ACS), $1,500 for Amherstburg Food and Fellowship Mission, $6,500 for the Amherstburg Freedom Museum and $8,500 for the Park House Museum. Grant requests for the Cat Assistance Team (CAT) and SNAP for Cats will be addressed after administration comes back with a report.

Town council also agreed with Rose City Gymnastics request to waive over $12,000 in rental fees for next year’s Ontario Provincial Artistic Gymnastics championships at the Libro Centre, an event that is expected to draw 1,200 participants and 5,000 visitors to Amherstburg. However, that has already upset user groups who already use the Libro Centre, particularly in light of town council sticking with its own surcharge option and not going with the one user groups presented last Monday night.

….MORE TO COME….

Fibre optic internet service coming to Amherstburg

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Internet speeds in Amherstburg should be getting a lot faster within the next few years.

Bell Canada will be investing millions into bringing fibre optic Internet to town with construction to begin as soon as the second quarter of 2018. Calvin DeLeavey, senior manager of Bell Canada’s “Fibre to the Home” (FTTH), said they are planning to invest “north of $12 million” into bringing FTTH to every home in Amherstburg.

DeLeavey pledged it will be privately funded by Bell and not require financial investment by the town, though the town will work with Bell to expedite the process, streamline the permit system and let work begin as soon as possible.

“It’s fibre optic all the way to the home,” said DeLeavey. “It will deliver speeds that are unparalleled. Fibre is still the best technology out there today. It really is a network of the future. As we update electronically, it will continue to remain unparalleled.”

DeLeavey said it is possible to connect all homes in Amherstburg to the high speed system in an 18-24 month time frame.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo was all smiles during and after the meeting when talking about the subject, saying it’s “huge” for Amherstburg. He said he now can tell potential developers their communications concerns will be a thing of the past.

DiCarlo said he knows of people wanting to build $1 million homes in town but backed off due to a lack of reliable high speed Internet. He believed it is a lot better option than the SWIFT initiative that has been discussed at the Essex County council table.

Aaron Kovacs from Bell Canada, Mayor Aldo DiCarlo and Bell Canada senior manager Calvin DeLeavey were all smiles after DeLeavey announced Bell Canada is bringing fibre optic internet service to Amherstburg.

“It’s a far cry from being swift as that’s 20-30 years away and not to the home,” said DiCarlo.

The mayor said they have been working on the issue for the last several months with Bell and that the town is “excited to be working with Bell.” He said there may be some hurdles in rolling it out in terms of having to do core drilling in some areas, but was confident Bell will meet their timetables. While work will start in the core area, he said it will spread out and the town will bring “fibre to the farm.”

“By 2020, the whole town will have access to high speed Internet,” said DiCarlo. “That’s huge for us.”

Noting he has been fielding several complaints from residents the last few weeks, DiCarlo admitted frustration at having to wait to tell them about the plan.

“This is essential,” he said. “This issue isn’t about just watching videos and movies. Communication is it. This is a key driver for us. Let’s bring business to Amherstburg.”

Councillor Jason Lavigne said the announcement shows the residents that their concerns have been taken seriously and addressed.

“It’s going to be a big thing for Amherstburg,” said Lavigne. “This is going to be an opportunity for everyone in Amherstburg whether you live on a concession or in the core.”

Councillor Rick Fryer also agreed it could bring business into Amherstburg, and even remarked that large companies like Amazon could find Amherstburg a “perfect” place for smaller hubs. Councillor Diane Pouget wanted to know if it would be a costly service and DeLeavey said Bell “has to be competitive in the marketplace.”

DeLeavey emphasized that the project “is on Bell’s dime, for sure.”

“It is welcome in the town and a great enhancement for the community,” stated Councillor Leo Meloche.

“It’s great news for our town,” agreed Councillor Joan Courtney.

Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale said there have been previous attempts at such a project that didn’t come to fruition and encouraged Bell to “keep up the good work.”

DiCarlo added that the town had been looking at doing the work themselves when they started talking with Bell Canada. He said the new agreement allows for high speed Internet in a quicker time frame.

“We are very happy to be working with them,” said DiCarlo.

Rumble strips headed to Alma St./Howard Ave. intersection

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Both sides of Alma St. will feature rumble strips at the Howard Ave. intersection with the aim of improving safety in the area.

Councillor Leo Meloche brought the issue forward at the last town council meeting after having it addressed the intersection’s safety previously. Statistics were available at the most recent meeting from the Amherstburg Police Service.

“We average about an accident a year, sometimes none,” said Chief Tim Berthiaume. “I am working with Mr. (Mark) Galvin on improving safety in the area.”

Berthiaume suggested one measure could be flashing lights on the stop signs.

Mark Galvin is the town’s manager of planning, development and legislative services.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said statistics show that, between 2008-17, either there were no collisions at the Howard Ave./Alma St. intersection or there were none. The exception was 2015, when there were four collisions. Some of the accidents are rear-end collisions, he added.

“The data says it is not an excessive accident area,” said DiCarlo.

Galvin said they have to “peel the onion” and examine all factors in the accidents as well as determining whether there is commonality among the accidents. The solutions the town come up with should include measures that address the accidents that are actually happening.

The town resolved to ensure rumble strips are carved into the roadways on both sides of Alma St. to ensure drivers know they are approaching the intersection.

An two-vehicle accident in late-September at that rural intersection claimed the life of a 58-year-old Harrow woman.