Donald McArthur

Some new positions approved, others shot down during budget

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The tourism department had its staffing request approved during the 2019 budget deliberations but you won’t get that news from a communications co-ordinator.

Town council opted to convert 1.5 contract positions in the tourism department to two full-time positions as part of their budget deliberations last Wednesday, a move that the town estimates will cost an additional $58,000. Manager of tourism and culture Anne Rota said her department brings in revenue and helps economic development. She also told town council that the tourism department came in 23 per cent under budget.

Councillor Peter Courtney said that while the tourism department does good work, many residents don’t see a direct benefit to their work and he wanted to see a status quo on staffing levels as compared to 2018.

“We’re all supposed to be bending and twisting. Our infrastructure is terrible,” said Courtney. “I’m not convinced we need four full-time all-year personnel.”

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said he knows first-hand the work that goes into planning events and that he also attends festivals for the duration that they are on and that work has to occur for many months on them. Rota added that both tourism co-ordinator Jen Ibrahim and herself work 50-60 hours per week in the spring and summer and “we can’t do it anymore. For the first time, we’re coming here and saying we need your help.”

Deputy Mayor Leo Meloche believed that tourism “is a large component of the business strategy of the town” and that it is in the town’s best interest. Councillor Patricia Simone questioned whether grants could help offset increased staffing costs.

Simone added that while she supported the tourism department’s work, she didn’t support the staffing request this year.

Rota added that sponsorships went up in 2018 and that her department also meets with hotel operators.

“Why do you think they came here?” she said of the hotels. “It was because of tourism. This department is more high level than people think.”

Councillor Donald McArthur said he believes in the economic spinoff of tourism and that he wanted the town “to send a strong message on supporting tourism.” He believed that local businesses benefit from the tourism department’s work and that it leads to local jobs.

“I think it benefits local commerce,” said McArthur.

Councillor Michael Prue supported making the additional tourism positions full-time and believed there are benefits to the town in doing so.

“I’ve never met such hard working women in my life,” said Prue. “I think they deserve full-time jobs.”

Councillor Marc Renaud said residents he spoke to while campaigning said festivals and events stood out to them. Helping support local businesses through festival leads to commercial taxes and jobs, he added.

The communications officer, estimated at $105,000 for salaries and benefits, fell by the wayside Tuesday night. Courtney was the initial council member to voice opposition with Meloche joining him. Meloche noted that with the initial tax increase projected at 2.65 per cent (since reduced to 1.87 per cent), that was an area that they could cut.

McArthur, himself the communications co-ordinator with the County of Essex, said he saw value in the position and that it would be a “missed opportunity” to eliminate it. McArthur said he recognized the need to trim the budget but “I don’t think this is the place to do it” as a communications co-ordinator could connect with residents and keep residents informed, adding the budget presentation on the Town of Essex’s website “puts ours to shame.

“A professional communicator can ensure people understand what is going on,” said McArthur.

Prue said the town needs to invest in parks and roads as well as an economic development officer and believed the cost of a communications officer was too steep right now.

Town council approved the clerk’s services budget and with it a full-time clerk’s co-ordinator position. The town had a part-time position in 2018. Total cost for 2019 is $83,321. The town also approved $15,000 to hire a new assistant in the fire department to accommodate a person with an intellectual disability. Chief Bruce Montone said that would allow someone with a disability to get a sustainable job and to help that person contribute to the community. The figure was reduced from its original $25,759.

“I want to think the rights they have are no different than the rights we all have,” said Prue, of those with intellectual disabilities.

Relating to a temporary HR position, that was kept in and that $94,765 position is expected to alleviate a “heavy” workload in that department this year, particularly as regular staff learn new software. Courtney wanted the position eliminated but CAO John Miceli outlined health and safety matters the town has faced in recent years and said the town want to be proactive in those situations. While supporting it this go-around, Prue said he expects the department to get caught up this year and doesn’t want to see the position in November when council deliberates the 2020 budget.

Town council reduced the $128,961 in salaries and benefits requested by the parks department as they wanted three part-time staff members but council would only agree to two. Manager of parks and facilities Annette Zahaluk said her department has fielded complaints about the appearance of some Amherstburg parks.

“It’s embarrassing, some of the parks, of the way we’ve had to let them go,” she said.

Students are only available May-August, she added, while staff has to help in the winter with River Lights set-up and take-down and with salting and snow removal.

“I’m hearing River Lights a lot,” said Courtney. “If not for River Lights, would we need three part-time people?”

Miceli noted that the town has always had some sort of involvement with River Lights even before the town officially took over the festival.

Prue added he hopes that department gets assistance from volunteers when it comes to cleanups and beautification.

Council to seek more “stirring” national anthem for meetings

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Town council started playing “O Canada” at the start of meetings during its last term, with the new members now looking for a “stirring” rendition.

Citing an e-mail that resident Marcie Graham sent to town council members, Councillor Donald McArthur brought the issue up at the most recent meeting of council.

“What if we wanted to get a new national anthem in here, one that’s more stirring?” he asked. “Can I get the ball rolling?”

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said he was open to such a suggestion.

“We have actually been looking for some time. It’s a question of picking one,” said DiCarlo.

McArthur said the current one the town uses is “not very stirring” and that he was willing to work on finding a new one. He suggested forming a committee to find one, and invited Graham to sit on it. Councillor Patricia Simone also expressed interest with clerk Paula Parker also agreeing to be involved.

“With the budget talks, how do we do more reports? Maybe you build a buzz in town,” McArthur suggested.

“Better visuals” that can play during the anthem were also suggested by McArthur as those could be acquired in the spring and summer.

“Definitely we can get better visuals and a better anthem,” he said.

Councillor Michael Prue pointed out the federal government produces versions of the Canadian national anthem, but noted whatever anthem the town chooses has to have the updated wording. Prue pointed out that wording includes “in all of us command.” He also said the anthem should be a bilingual version as well.

DiCarlo said while some anthems the town has found have been good, they have come across the issue of the old lyrics. He noted General Amherst High School students performed the current version but was open to choosing a new one and suggested methods such as a contest for the new anthem and visuals, noting the town had a photo contest several years ago that went well.

Appointments made to town committees

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The Town of Amherstburg’s committees are being filled out, though one still remains outstanding.

While the town deferred making appointments to the audit advisory committee, other committees saw members appointed at town council’s most recent meeting.

The committee of adjustment will be comprised of Josh Mailloux, David Cozens, Don Shaw, Sherry Ducedre and Terris Buchanan. Appointees to the drainage board include Ron Sutherland, Bob Pillon, Brad Laramie, Bob Bezaire and Alan Major.

Sutherland’s name was nominated to return to the Essex Region Conservation (ERCA) board of directors, but town council opted to have Marilyn Morrison be their lay appointee. Councillor Peter Courtney is the council appointee to the ERCA board.

The heritage committee will include Jennie Lajoie, Shirley Curson-Prue, Robert Honor, Stephanie Pouget-Papak and Simon Chamley, with Councillor Patricia Simone being the council liaison. The parks and recreation advisory committee includes Curson-Prue, Patrick Catton, Brinton Sharmon, Kennedy Laing and Wes Ewer with Councillor Donald McArthur and Courtney being the council representatives.

Councillor Michael Prue declared conflict during the appointments of the parks and recreation advisory and heritage committee members due to Curson-Prue being his wife.

The economic development advisory committee was expanded during the course of the meeting from being a five-person committee to a seven-person committee due to Simone expressing an interest in being on the committee. McArthur and Prue will also be council representatives on the committee, with laypersons including Carolyn Davies, Jack Edwards, Tom Crosson and Larry Amlin.

Councillor Marc Renaud was appointed to both the seniors advisory committee and the Amherstburg Accessibility Advisory Committee.

Deputy Mayor Leo Meloche was appointed to the Co-An Park committee.

Town council votes to opt in to allow for retail cannabis outlets

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Town council has voted to opt in and be open to allowing cannabis retail outlets in Amherstburg.

The vote at Monday night’s meeting saw only Councillor Peter Courtney vote in opposition. Courtney said while he wasn’t necessarily opposed to the idea of retail cannabis shops in town, now is not the time to do it.

There are stigma concerns, Courtney stated, but he also had issues with a lack of control the municipality would have over location and how many stores the town could receive. Courtney said he would have been open to possibly opting in during the second phase of the roll-out, assuming there was additional controls given to municipalities.

“I’m opting out to opt in later if more control is given to municipalities,” he said.

Even though Amherstburg has opted in, the town is not eligible for a store authorization due to the town’s populating being under 50,000. There will be 25 licenses issued across the province to those municipalities eligible in the first phase. Amherstburg would not be eligible until at least the second phase, meaning it would be no earlier than December 2019.

“The province has committed to provide $40 million in funding over two years to municipalities to help with the implementation costs of recreational cannabis legalization. Through the Ontario Cannabis Legalization Implementation Fund, the first round of payments was received by the Town Jan. 9 in the amount of $11,733,” manager of licensing and enforcement Nicole Rubli stated in her report to town council.

Additional revenues could be obtained if the provincial excise duty revenues were to exceed $100 million, she stated, as “municipalities that permit retail cannabis stores will receive a share of 50 per cent of the surplus. The province will also set aside a contingency fund in the amount of $10 million to assist municipalities that permit retail stores.”

Councillor Donald McArthur expressed confidence that the $100 million mark in excise revenues would be exceeded. He was in favour because it would “clamp down” on the black market for cannabis.

McArthur added be believed a cannabis retail shop could aid commerce in the town by creating spinoff revenue for other businesses within Amherstburg.

“I don’t think you can underestimate the spinoff benefits,” he said, adding that if people can buy recreational cannabis in Amherstburg, it could boost tourism as well.

Councillor Michael Prue agreed that it could negatively impact drug dealers and that regulated cannabis would be safer for users than cannabis from a dealer that could be laced with other drugs. Councillor Marc Renaud noted he was voting to opt in based on the experiences of a co-worker and the impact the drug had on the person’s family through being bought on the street.

The vote to opt in went against the recommendation of the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU), as the WECHU encouraged council to opt out. Health promotion specialist Melissa Valentik and director of health promotion Nicole Dupuis outline the health risks surrounding recreational cannabis use and regulations surrounding the issue, including that shops can’t be within 150 metres of a school. The rationale for the recommendation to opt out was that it would give more time for formal public and stakeholder engagement, integrate lessons learned from other Ontario municipalities, learn more about provincial regulations and to mobilize stakeholders to respond within the 15-day consultation window.

Deputy Mayor Leo Meloche said the county is “borderless” in many ways and that people regularly travel through other municipalities on a daily basis. Meloche remarked that he lives on Walker Road and could potentially cross the road into Essex and go to a cannabis shop should one ever be situated there.

Meloche noted there are billions in revenue generated in tobacco, gaming and alcohol sales and believed the same could hold true for cannabis. He said “the people want it” and it could translate into “pretty significant revenue” that he hoped would be shared with municipalities.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo agreed that “the residents want it” and “we’re here to represent them.” He said he was in favour of opting in but noted he was surprised the vote was as one-sided as it was.

“The vote surprised me,” he admitted. “I thought it would have been a little bit closer.”

Town talks about, but doesn’t reconsider development charges motion

 

By Ron Giofu

Town council talked about reconsidering a motion regarding development charges but in the end they stuck with the original motion.

A motion passed Dec. 15 regarding development charges deferral agreements called for the town to continue to offer deferrals and that administration be authorized to proceed with the use of letters of direction for the collection of the charges and that, based on an amendment suggested by Councillor Michael Prue, that administration be authorized to implementation an administrative fee of $275 per unit for each four month period until a unit is completed and sold. Prue stated in December that he believed that will “safeguard the taxpayers,” as Prue didn’t agree with the program overall from a residential perspective but did so from a commercial perspective.

Councillor Donald McArthur admitted he was nervous at the first meeting and asked at the Jan. 14 meeting if they could reconsider the motion so that additional questions could be asked. Prue said the public seems happy to have additional money in their pockets and believed that developers, whom he said are “very rich people,” have to pay the cost of doing business in a municipality and that includes paying fees.

“I thought it was a happy compromise,” added Councillor Peter Courtney, of the Dec. 15 motion.

Deputy Mayor Leo Meloche said administration came up with an agreement in partnership with developers and builders after the previous council requested that a meeting be arranged between the parties “yet this council decided to amend that.”

Meloche stated “it is incumbent upon us to have reasonable growth in our community” and he believed that can be accomplished with development charge deferral bylaw. The deputy mayor added that the Libro Centre is built to accommodate a population of 40,000 residents while the Amherstburg Wastewater Treatment Plant is built to accommodate 50,000 people.

“Our job is to make the town grow,” said Meloche.

Prue countered by stating that council passed an interim tax levy bylaw earlier in the meeting that penalized people for late payment on taxes.

“Why do developers get a special rate that our residents don’t get?” Prue asked. “How is that building a town?”

Meloche responded that the town should be providing incentives for developers to build in Amherstburg and said it is a “business approach” to defer development charges.

“I’m confident in the decision we made,” added Councillor Patricia Simone. “I don’t feel that we should be bringing it up again.”

Courtney, Prue, Simone and Councillor Marc Renaud voted against the motion to reconsider while Meloche, McArthur and Mayor Aldo DiCarlo were in favour.