deliberations

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.”

Two budget meetings rescheduled, one stays as is

 

Amherstburg town council

Amherstburg town council

By Ron Giofu

 

It took nearly 90 minutes of debate, but town council has modified its schedule for the three days it proposes to hash out the final budget once and for all.

Town council went ahead and held its first budget session Tuesday, which concluded after the print edition went to press, and will give clerk Paula Parker their respective availability in order to schedule two more sessions. The motion was the third one council voted on after the first two had failed.

The votes took place after a delegation by local resident Brenda Kokko, who said she agreed with people she spoke with that Mayor Aldo DiCarlo should be in attendance. Three meetings had been scheduled, with others originally being today and next Tuesday, with DiCarlo stating he was unavailable for the daytime sessions due to his work schedule.

DiCarlo is a physics lab co-ordinator at the University of Windsor with university students currently writing exams.

Kokko said there is a sense of “outrage” and “disappointment” in the town and said it is time to move forward and that includes the mayor. She said the mayor’s role is to provide leadership as the head of council and that he should be in attendance during budget deliberations.

“Would you have your open heart surgery without your surgeon present?” she asked.

Many other residents would be unavailable during the day, Kokko added, as they work as well. She said there is “a huge outcry to have the mayor at some of the meetings.”

Kokko also feared council was becoming divided, and said they were not elected to have that occur.

“A divided council poses serious issues for our town,” she said. “Decisions made by this council directly affect us, the residents of Amherstburg.”

Councillor Jason Lavigne said there was no attempt to exclude DiCarlo and that the meetings were set by Parker after she canvassed members of council for their availability.

“This was the second attempt at meeting dates,” said Lavigne.

Lavigne indicated he was willing to be flexible with his own schedule to get the budget finalized.

“I’m more than willing to compromise,” he said. “It morphed into (a controversy). It wasn’t my or council’s intent for this to happen.”

Some residents work afternoon or midnight shifts, he added, and said council needs to represent those people as well so nights aren’t always an answer.

Councillor Diane Pouget agreed with Lavigne that no attempt was made to exclude DiCarlo and that she didn’t know he was unavailable due to the university’s exam schedule. Pouget insisted the Tuesday meeting go ahead as scheduled due to it being advertised and that staff were told to attend. She noted staff had already given up weekend and evening hours during the budget open houses and believed daytime sessions were better for them. In the process, she said the public were accommodated.”

“We are being very, very fair,” she stated. “We are bending over backwards to accommodate people.”

Evening meetings would stretch out the process longer, Pouget added, believing it would take six evening sessions to do the work of three all-day meetings.

DiCarlo said that no previous meetings had been cancelled, but Pouget stated April 8, 9 and 10 were proposed but an e-mail from DiCarlo held those dates. She said DiCarlo had stated as long as the majority of council could attend, meetings could proceed.

“All of a sudden, because he can’t attend, it’s an issue,” said Pouget.

Councillor Leo Meloche said DiCarlo, as mayor, is the CEO of the town with Meloche stating business meetings he has gone to, the CEO is always there.

“From that perspective, we may have erred by the fact we allowed meetings to be scheduled without the mayor,” said Meloche. “We have to understand and be respectful to the mayor.”

Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale said he was in favour of adjusting dates to accommodate both DiCarlo and the general public, adding that council can’t let themselves get divided over this.

“People are expecting good things out of this council,” said DiPasquale. “We have to move on and we have to move forward.”

DiPasquale added the calls he received supported having the mayor in attendance, with many saying they don’t know of a municipality that went through budget without the mayor.

“He is our leader of our community. He was elected by the people,” said DiPasquale. “We need our mayor there.”

“I think somewhere, something went wrong,” added Councillor Joan Courtney. “Somewhere along the line, something got skewed.”

Courtney believed the line of communication to have been impacted, adding that she didn’t know until “after the fact” that DiCarlo could not attend the previously scheduled dates. Her motion to reschedule the second and third dates to this Saturday and next Monday night was defeated.

Councillor Rick Fryer, who noted he was not available this Friday, said “to set the record straight,” that he made the motion at the March 31 meeting for three all-day sessions. He noted a petition was given to Parker to ensure the meetings were called, claiming “the mayor wouldn’t call the meetings.

DiCarlo said he communicated with council through e-mails and said from the start he would not be available during the day for the time being, though later noted he may be more open to day sessions once university exams conclude.

“I made it clear I was not available during the day,” he said.

DiCarlo and Lavigne had a brief disagreement over the number of e-mails sent to council, with DiCarlo stating it was “three or four” with Lavigne stating it was one.

“The past is the past,” Kokko interjected. “The people want the mayor in attendance.”

The other two yet-to-be scheduled dates will occur at either night or on the weekend with DiCarlo stating after the meeting he “remains committed to working through the budget with this council.” He said he will work through it as best as possible and that he will work with whatever budget ends up being approved.