CWATS

Essex County council approves “progressive and financially responsible” 2019 budget

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Essex County Council passed what it describes as “a progressive and financially responsible budget” Wednesday night that the county states supports the proposed new mega-hospital, promotes continued improvements to roads and an expanding trail network, and provides a much-needed boost to the region’s affordable housing stock.

The budget will result in a 1.43 per cent tax increase to the county portion of tax bills, which translates into a $13.63 increase on a home assessed at $200,000.

Warden Gary McNamara thanked administration for its work on the budget during the county’s budget meeting last Wednesday night.

“This is not an exercise that takes four hours to do,” said McNamara. “This is a very prudent budget and a very defensible budget.”

McNamara, also the mayor of Tecumseh, called it “a status quo budget” and he believes both the county and lower tier municipalities are in good financial positions. The warden pointed out the contribution to the county’s $100 million share towards the mega-hospital and the ongoing contributions for capacity expansion.

“We need to ratchet that up to the point where we can add expansion at the times when we need to,” he said of the capacity budget.

Specifically, Essex County council agreed to a 1.5 per cent – or $1.4 million – boost to the capacity expansion budget. More than $30 million in road construction and rehabilitation projects are planned for 2019 while the County-Wide Active Transportation System (CWATS) will see a $100,000 increase in base funding. CWATS will also undertake eight paved shoulder projects around Essex County that will total 12.1-kilometers and cost $2.2 million.

The contribution this year to the mega-hospital in 2019 will be $3.89 million, a boost of $1.2 million. The warden said the hospital funds means the county is “investing in the future” and that the new mega-hospital will “dramatically improve health care for Essex County residents for generations to come.”

Also on the health care front, Essex-Windsor EMS will receive funding to introduce electronic tracking technology to auto-locate equipment in emergency vehicles.

“This budget lays the foundation for future growth and development, positioning the county as an attractive place for businesses to invest and for families to live,” said McNamara. “It is a financially sustainable plan that builds on the county’s excellent credit rating and promotes quality of life issues that matter to residents, like roads, active living and health care.”

The budget also places an emphasis on improved communications, both internal and external, and enhanced training to promote health and safety in the workplace along with the recruitment and retention of professional staff.

McNamara also was happy to see that the county was taking steps to shore up its stock of affordable housing, which is aging and in need of repairs. More than $1 million is being directed toward affordable housing improvements in 2019 as part of a five-year plan to address this pressing regional need.

“We have an obligation as a caring, compassionate community to provide support to those who need it,” said McNamara. “The affordable housing crunch is a province-wide problem, but it is one the county is committed to addressing.”

Essex County is also free of debt, McNamara pointed out, and that he believes they may be the only county in Ontario with a AA+ credit rating. He said they have learned from past councils and ensure residents are well served by the county.

“The county has a great story to tell and we need to continue engaging with residents while fostering a dynamic workplace culture focused on continuous improvement and the delivery of top notch services,” added Essex County CAO Robert Maisonville.

 

CWATS Celebration held in Amherstburg

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Children and adults alike are being urged to limit their screen time and get some exercise and one of the ways to do that was celebrated recently.

The County-Wide Active Transportation System (CWATS) held its fifth annual celebration in Amherstburg with students from Amherstburg Public School joining town and county representatives in walking through Toddy Jones Park and Fort Malden National Historic Site.

Jane Mustac, manager of transportation planning and development with the County of Essex, noted one of the partners is the Healthy Kids Community Challenge and that the CWATS Celebration falls in line with the current goal to “power off and play.”

The aim is to have people “rediscover bikes and the outdoors and limit their screen time.”

Const. Steve Owen of the Amherstburg Police Service conducts a safety demonstration with Amherstburg Public School students during the recent CWATS celebration in Toddy Jones Park.

There has been a lot to celebrate over the past five years, she believed. Some of the recent initiatives that have been undertaken in Amherstburg have included trails and bike paths on Meloche Road and Texas Road and paved shoulders on County Road 18 from Meloche Road to Howard Ave.

The County Road 18 will eventually see paved shoulders all the way to Walker Road, said Mustac.

“This is stop six,” Mustac added, as CWATS presentations were also held in Tecumseh, Kingsville, Leamington, Essex, LaSalle and Lakeshore.

Other partners included ERCA, Bike Windsor-Essex, Tourism Windsor-Essex Pelee Island, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, all local municipalities, Amherstburg police, Ambassador Bicycles and Communities in Motion.

“Everyone is here for the same mandate,” said Mustac.

People in attendance in Amherstburg also learned how to maintain their bicycles and how to safely ride them with healthy snacks being served at the walk’s conclusion.

CWATS celebration tour comes to Amherstburg

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

An annual celebration of Essex County’s trail and paved shoulder network ended with a bang in Amherstburg.

Amherstburg was one of the stops on the County-Wide Active Transportation (CWATS) celebration tour with every municipality in Essex County participating. The celebration in Amherstburg occurred last Thursday afternoon in Toddy Jones Park with Mayor Aldo DiCarlo, members of both county and town administration and Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) officials helping to lead the walk. The walk left Toddy Jones Park, went through Fort Malden National Historic Site, proceeded south on Laird Ave. and returned to the park.

Const. Steve Owen instructs local students on bicycle safety as part of the County-Wide Active Transportation System (CWATS) celebration. It started and ended at Toddy Jones Park with a walk through Fort Malden in between.

Const. Steve Owen instructs local students on bicycle safety as part of the County-Wide Active Transportation System (CWATS) celebration. It started and ended at Toddy Jones Park with a walk through Fort Malden in between.

“It’s great to be here to reinforce active transportation through CWATS,” DiCarlo told the crowd of roughly 300 students that participated.

Students came from both Amherstburg Public School and General Amherst High School.

DiCarlo outlined paved shoulders and trails that have been installed in Amherstburg in recent years, including paved shoulders on County Road 5 (the portion of Concession 2 North between Middle Side Road and Texas Road), County Road 18 and the launch of the Cypher Systems Greenway.

“All of these will support cycling, walking and more active transportation in Amherstburg,” said DiCarlo.

Jane Mustac, manager of transportation planning for the County of Essex, said it was a chance to celebrate with their partners including the seven county municipalities, ERCA, the WECHU, Ministry of Transportation and others.

Students from General Amherst High School walk through Fort Malden during the June 8 CWATS celebration in Amherstburg.

Students from General Amherst High School walk through Fort Malden during the June 8 CWATS celebration in Amherstburg.

There are approximately 150 kilometres of trails in Essex County, said Mustac, noting that it took since 2012 to create that much. The widening of County Road 18 from Meloche Road to Concession 6 South to include bike lanes means people can get from the Willowood campground to Fort Malden on bicycle, Mustac pointed out.

The County of Essex dedicates about $1 million per year towards CWATS and partners also contribute. Not only does it go towards infrastructure, but education and outreach are included. The celebration in Amherstburg was the largest, Mustac added.

Students participating in the CWATS celebration walk along the Detroit River inside of Fort Malden National Historic Site last Thursday afternoon.

Students participating in the CWATS celebration walk along the Detroit River inside of Fort Malden National Historic Site last Thursday afternoon.

“We went out with a bang,” she said. “This is our last stop and they made it count.”

Mustac encouraged people to get out and use the trails.
“Try them out,” she said. “Let us know what can be improved. We are looking forward to the next phase.”

For more information on the County-Wide Active Transportation System, visit www.cwats.ca.

County debates CWATS projects

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Essex County council decided to move ahead with a portion of its 2017 County Wide Active Transportation System (CWATS) but not before they debated whether they were jumping the gun or not.

County council had a lengthy discussion at their meeting at its Jan. 18 meeting whether or not to proceed with the program, with some – including representatives from Tecumseh, LaSalle and Leamington – questioning whether they should approve projects prior to discussing updating the road network plan.

CWATS improvements slated for Amherstburg include contributing $201,960 towards the $459,000 trail planned for Meloche Road between County Road 18 and Alma St.

Jane Mustac, the county’s manager of transportation planning and development, told county council that 37 per cent of the program has been completed. She added that “people are excited across Ontario” with people and municipalities asking questions about it.

PowerPoint Presentation

“The public told us its important and continues to tell us it’s important,” said Mustac.

Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara believed the roads needs study should be completed before they talk on the CWATS program, believing they were “putting the cart before the horse.” He said the last comprehensive study on roads was done in the 1990’s.

“(The roads needs study) will make a difference in how we fund this,” said McNamara.

Kingsville Deputy Mayor Gord Queen didn’t want to wait for a study, believing active transportation is critical. He said CWATS helps Essex County achieve its active transportation goals.

“I can not do anything but support the CWATS recommendations,” said Queen.

LaSalle Mayor Ken Antaya said no one was against the CWATS program but also believes the roads study should come first. He also questioned how the success of the program is evaluated, noting some trails are not used because they are on “high speed, high volume roads.” Antaya cited Huron Church Line as an example.

Other projects that could be on the way to Amherstburg in the future include paved shoulders along County Road 8 between River Canard and Howard Ave. and Meloche Road between County Road 18 between Alma St. Those projects would be done in different phases should funding be put in place.

Town to pursue Canada 150 grant funding to offset CWATS costs

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Town council has voted to pursue funding under the Canada 150 grant program for future County-Wide Active Transportation System (CWATS) projects.

Council members opted for CWATS projects by a 6-1 vote instead of refurbishing tennis courts in the former Anderdon and Malden townships but CAO John Miceli indicated his plan could still see work done at the tennis courts.

Voting in favour were Mayor Aldo DiCarlo, Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale and councillors Joan Courtney, Rick Fryer, Jason Lavigne and Diane Pouget. Councillor Leo Meloche was the lone opposing vote.

Meloche said he voted against because he wanted to see proper maintenance and upkeep of existing infrastructure in Amherstburg.

“We have to start addressing our ailing infrastructure,” said Meloche.

Over the next two years, council is looking at for $381,618 for CWATS projects, specifically the paved shoulders planned for Concession 2 North (County Road 5). Miceli said if the town were successful in its grant request, it would cover $125,933 of that total.

The town is pursuing funding under the Canada 150 grant program to cover a portion of its share for the CWATS paved shoulder project on Concession 2 North between Texas Road and Middle Side Road, the stretch also known as County Road 5.

The town is pursuing funding under the Canada 150 grant program to cover a portion of its share for the CWATS paved shoulder project on Concession 2 North between Texas Road and Middle Side Road, the stretch also known as County Road 5.

The savings could then be used to start repairs to the Malden and Anderdon tennis courts, Miceli stated. He believed that to be the “responsible way” of handling the situation.

Fryer initially indicated a willingness to seek funding for the tennis courts as CWATS was already budgeted and “I wouldn’t want to mess with our budgets.” However, Miceli pointed out the tennis court repairs are currently unbudgeted.

Lavigne spoke in favour of pursuing CWATS funding, stating it would be better for a positive variance for that than a negative variance for the tennis court repairs due to the latter not currently being in the budget. He added it is a “cut and dry” issue for him as council already decided to pursue CWATS projects in their budget discussions.

Pouget asked about the tennis courts at Centennial Park but Miceli noted discussions about a new General Amherst/Western high school involve Centennial Park or the Libro Centre and “we don’t know where we’re headed yet.” Pouget also was concerned over having to pay the town’s share, noting a recommendation in the Deloitte report not to overspend.

The CWATS option was also recommended because the strategic plan is not yet complete and neither is a recreation master plan. Miceli said priorities may change based on what the town wants.

“Is the parks system what the community wants to see in the five to ten years?” he asked.

Manager of engineering operations Todd Hewitt said the County Road 5 project will see a paved shoulder on the east side from County Road 10 (Middle Side Road) to Texas Road at which point it would tie into the existing pathway from Texas Road to Alma.

“On the west side the shoulder will run from County Road 10 to the future ERCA greenway trail,” said Hewitt.

The town had pre-committed funds in both the 2016 and 2017 budgets for the CWATS project.