Joan Courtney

Veteran politician announces retirement from elected service

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

After almost three decades of elected service, Joan Courtney is leaving politics.

The long-time political figure announced her retirement from politics via a letter to the River Town Times Friday afternoon. Courtney was elected as a town councillor in 2014 after 23 years as a Catholic school board trustee.

Joan Courtney has decided not to seek re-election. She has spent the last four years as an Amherstburg town councillor after spending 23 years as a Catholic school board trustee.

Courtney’s letter states:
“To the residents of Amherstburg,

After 27 consecutive years in politics, I have decided that it is time to retire. Having spent 23 years as an English school board trustee, I have been fortunate to represent the ratepayers of Amherstburg, LaSalle, Harrow and Kingsville. What a journey it has been!

“I was first elected in 1991, serving as a trustee with the Essex County Roman Catholic Separate School Board. After amalgamation, my territory became Amherstburg and LaSalle where I served on the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board. My years as a trustee were a true joy. I met so many people during that time and made friendships with fellow trustees, members of administration, teachers and taxpayers. I was treated with honour and respect and truly appreciate the loyalty I received. My fellow colleagues and I formed a bond each term and again I made lasting friendships.

“In 2014, I decided to venture into the world of municipal government. What a change! I’ve learned so much as a councillor and came to realize how much work it takes to make a town run smoothly. Many departments must work together and councillors have the obligation to meet the needs of their constituents.

“Once again, I have met many fine people and couldn’t have asked for a better group of councillors and administration as well as department personnel to work with. When I began my term in 2015, Amherstburg was in a bad place. Now, in 2018, I am so proud of what we have accomplished to turn our town around. We are looking to the future and have instituted many new ideas to move the town forward. I and  my fellow councillors as well as our administration have worked diligently to create a town of beauty and exciting new projects. I believe we have found our way back again and are back on the right track.

“Amherstburg is a town of history and has a bright and shining future. I want to take the opportunity to thank you, the residents of Amherstburg, for the trust and support you have shown me all these years. It has been an honour and a privilege to serve you as a trustee and a councillor. You have made this an experience I will never forget!

“Sincerely, Councillor Joan Courtney.”

Courtney becomes the second member of town council to officially declare they are not running in the Oct. 22 municipal election. Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale declared in May that he would not seek re-election.

Fishing in Navy Yard Park suggested by town council member

 

By Ron Giofu

 

While attending the Bob Meloche Memorial Fishing Derby on Father’s Day, a member of town council was asked if fishing along the shoreline could become a regular occurrence.

Councillor Rick Fryer brought those concerns and questions to the June 25 meeting, wondering if there was any interest in allowing fishing for a greater distance along the shoreline of the park. He suggested possibly allowing occasions monthly or every other month where people would be given permission to fish for a greater stretch.

“In Windsor, they do it all the way along,” said Fryer, “but in Amherstburg, we only allow it 42 or 44-feet.”

The idea of more fishing opportunities in Navy Yard Park was discussed by town council recently. (Submitted photo)

Councillor Joan Courtney agreed, calling it “wonderful” to see fathers and sons fishing together. She said there are those who love the park for its foliage and flowers but suggested maybe younger people could have a greater use of the park should more allowances be made for fishing.

However, Councillor Jason Lavigne spoke against the idea, preferring that the town wait until the new development at the Duffy’s site be completed before looking into fishing from the shoreline.

Lavigne said that he has learned of stories from bylaw enforcement officials of “thousands” of people lining the shoreline during silver bass season “and it was horrendous what was going on there.”

“They were using the lawn as a washroom. The garbage build-up was horrendous,” he said. “Hundreds and hundreds of people were lining up and people couldn’t enjoy the park. It was disgusting.”

As there was no motion on the floor or direction given by town council, the matter did not proceed any further.

Water and wastewater rates to see minimal increases

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Water and wastewater rates are on the rise in the Town of Amherstburg.

Town council has approved a five per cent increase to the water rate and a 1.3 per cent increase to the wastewater increase. Treasurer Justin Rousseau stated in a report to town council that the increases are in accordance with the long-term financial stability plan outlined in the town’s asset management plan.

The water rate increase would translate into an average annual billing increase from $458 to $467, or a $9 average increase. The wastewater increase would see bills rise, on average, from $779 to $785, or $6.

“Based on the recommended user rate adjustments, the average consumer of both water and wastewater in the town would see a household effect of $15 a year, or 4 cents a day,” Rousseau said in his report to town council.

Rousseau stated in his report that one of the main cost drivers for water is the operation and maintenance of the Amherstburg Water Treatment Plant.

“When our water costs are compared to other municipalities who operate their own plants (Essex and Lakeshore), we are actually the lowest of the three municipalities,” Rousseau stated in his report. “Our water distribution network is very large, servicing homes well into Essex, causing additional costs to provide standard maintenance.”

The Amherstburg Water Treatment Plant

The town is currently operating six separate wastewater facilities across the town, Rousseau added, with those all requiring operating and maintenance costs.

“The recent reconstruction of the Amherstburg Wastewater Treatment Plant has also added additional pressure to the rate,” he stated.

According to Rousseau’s report, when water and wastewater charges are compared to other municipalities around Windsor-Essex County, Amherstburg ranks fourth in water and second in wastewater. Rousseau used base charges and volumetric charges, the latter being based on 20 cubic metres per month.

However, Rousseau estimated the total billing amounts based on his figures, Amherstburg had the second highest billing total in the area.

The revenue and expenses for the water budget are $4,699,000 and $6,255,775 for the wastewater budget.

Councillor Diane Pouget said council is obligated to ensure the town has clean water, stating the Ontario Clean Water Agency (OCWA) and the town’s departments “do a tremendous job” keep the town’s water safe.

Pouget said the total amount of the increase is $15 per year.

The Amherstburg wastewater treatment plant.

“I think it’s a small price to pay to make sure our facilities are up-to-date,” she said.

Councillor Rick Fryer believed the town can be proud of the work that is being done, noting the feedback from people he receives is that “they love the taste of our water.”

Councillor Joan Courtney agreed, stating she can’t taste the difference between tap water and bottled water.

(EDITOR’S NOTE – The original story and the story in the June 6 print issue stated that Councillor Diane Pouget said it was a $15 per month increase. The online story has been changed to correctly reflect that Councillor Pouget said it was a $15 per year increase. The RTT apologizes for the error.)

Town council’s remuneration report for 2017 released

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

How much money were your elected officials paid in 2017?

The answer was revealed as part of the agenda for the March 19 town council meeting. Treasurer Justin Rousseau stated in his report to town council that municipal treasurers are required under Section 284 of the Municipal Act to provide their councils “an itemized statement of remuneration and expense payments in the previous year.”

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo’s total remuneration was $45,071.97 for 2017. That includes his salary at $32,506.70 with the remainder including his $7,040 in remuneration (salary, meeting fees and travel/mileage) from being on the Essex Powerlines board as well as his communication allowance, per diem, public reception and travel and mileage from the town. He also earned $1,200 for being on the Amherstburg Police Service Board (APSB).

Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale’s remuneration for 2017 was $22,430.90. The salary for being deputy mayor is $21,658.25 with the remainder being his legal fees, communication allowance, public receptions and travel and mileage.

All councillors earned a salary of $18,141.05.

The total remuneration for Councillor Rick Fryer was $22,303.87. That includes his salary, communication allowance and public receptions. Also included is Fryer’s remuneration for being on the ERCA board of directors, where he serves as the chair. His honorarium, per diem and mileage for being on the ERCA board totalled $2,767.

Councillor Joan Courtney’s total remuneration for 2017 was $22,071.56 That included her salary and the other associated expenses such as her communication allowance, training and conferences as well as her travel and mileage.

A total remuneration total of $21,533.09 was attributed to Councillor Leo Meloche for 2017. That included his salary plus his communication allowance, public receptions, training and conferences and travel and mileage.

Councillor Diane Pouget’s total 2017 remuneration was $19,869.39. That included her salary plus communication and legal fees.

Councillor Jason Lavigne had a total remuneration of $19,386.02. That includes his salary plus public receptions as well as his $1,200 honorarium for being on the APSB.

Also receiving $1,200 APSB honorariums were Bob Rozankovic and Patricia Simone. Ron Sutherland received $1,150.80 for his mileage and per diem being Amherstburg’s second appointee to the ERCA board of directors.

Appointees to the committee of adjustment who received $975 in 2017 included Sherry Ducedre, Duncan Smith and Donald Shaw while Michael Prue and David Cozens each earned $900. Simon Chamely and Shirley Curson-Prue from the heritage committee went to the Ontario Heritage Conference last year and their expenses were $1,511.94 and $1,668.14 respectively. William Whittal’s honorarium for being on the accessibility committee was $300 for the year while the honorariums, training and mileage expenses for the drainage board members – Robert Bezaire, Brad Laramie, Allan Major, Bob Pillon and Ron Sutherland – totalled $4,663.97 for 2016.

Town council votes to contract out policing services to Windsor

 

By Ron Giofu

 

In a decision that drew boos and catcalls from the audience, Amherstburg town council is switching its’ policing services to Windsor.

Town council voted 3-2 Monday night to enter into a 20-year contract with the Windsor Police Service in a meeting that lasted only about 30 minutes. Voting in favour were Mayor Aldo DiCarlo and councillors Leo Meloche and Rick Fryer.

Councillors Joan Courtney and Jason Lavigne were opposed.

Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale and Councillor Diane Pouget did not vote due to being in conflict. Pouget was there in person, declaring conflict due to her son-in-law being a member of the Windsor Police Service while DiPasquale was absent from the meeting.

DiCarlo said that “we’ve hit the second last stage of the process,” noting that the switch from the Amherstburg Police Service to the Windsor Police Service still has to be approved by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC). That could come by 2019, when the contract with Windsor is due to begin.

“Obviously, some things are going to hinge on the approval of the province,” the mayor stated.

The switch is believed to amount to over $567,000 in annual savings but DiCarlo said that could amount to $18-20 million over 20 years, including the long-term post-retirement benefits that Windsor taxpayers will now absorb.

DiCarlo said he heard from many residents that wanted to switch to Windsor and for the town to save money on policing. Cost savings and cost containment were the reasons he said he voted in favour of the switch, noting Windsor committed to cost parity and the savings “could actually go up” in the future.

A report from CAO John Miceli stated: “The Windsor Police will guarantee cost parity will exist between the annual operating budget of the Windsor Police Service and the cost of contract policing the Town of Amherstburg. This guarantee of budgetary parity would commence in year six and be honoured throughout the twenty year commitment for policing services, subject to renewal every five years.”

Many decisions the town makes are now looked at not just for the immediate future, but for 15-20 years down the road, the mayor said.

Acknowledging that he fielded threats from the public that warned they would not vote for him if he voted to switch, DiCarlo said he has never voted on an issue just to win votes regardless of what position he was in.

“I can honestly say I’ve never voted with the intent of getting re-elected,” he said.

While Windsor police will provide a wide array of services for free, DiCarlo said the OPP has changed their billing model and there was concern that the Amherstburg Police Service could start getting billed in the future if OPP services were needed.

“This was a couple of municipalities that saw the benefits for both of us,” he said of Windsor and Amherstburg. “For Amherstburg, we get the same level of policing for less money.”

DiCarlo balked when asked if this could lead to regional policing in Windsor-Essex County, but said he has heard that other municipalities in the area are “watching to see what happens.”

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo speaks to the media after the Feb. 26 vote that saw council vote 3-2 to contract policing services to Windsor. DiCarlo and councillors Leo Meloche and Rick Fryer were in favor. Voting in opposition were Councillor Jason Lavigne and Councillor Joan Courtney.

Lavigne said the issue has “consumed quite a bit of our lives” from both a council and administration perspective to the public point of view as well.

“It’s been a very difficult decision to have been placed on our shoulders,” he said. “I’ll respect the decision of council. I won’t criticize it.”

Stating that administration “did a good job” and calling the Windsor police proposal “sound,” Lavigne said he was opposed to switching because he didn’t hear from very many people who supported it. He said people want to keep the Amherstburg Police Service and he was going to listen to them.

“I was put here because of the people in the community,” said Lavigne. “People can claim silent majorities all they want to. The majority of people are saying to me that they don’t care about the costs, they want to support their local police.”

Lavigne said the town has spent money on property acquisitions and new hires this term but want to save money in the area of policing. Acknowledging he has been accused of bias because he is on the Amherstburg Police Services Board, he added that Amherstburg police is efficient and the community is safe.

“(The public) has told me they are comfortable with what we have,” said Lavigne.

Meloche said a lot of communities are struggling with police costs and he took the approach that the town’s financial sustainability has to be considered.

“That’s the direction I took,” said Meloche.

Pointing out the town’s status as one of the safest in Canada, Meloche said that isn’t just about the police department.

“We have the safest community in Canada, and no disrespect to the police, it’s because of the people here,” said Meloche, drawing boos and moans from the crowd. “Don’t sell ourselves short. We’re law-abiding, safe people.”

Courtney said she had to be “true to myself” and said she considered the issue carefully.

“I vowed I would listen to the people,” said Courtney.

Most of the comments Courtney said she heard were “we want to keep our local police service” and that was the “overwhelming message” she received.

“Do I think it’s a good contract? Yes, I do,” she said of the Windsor police proposal. “Will it save money? Yes, it will.”

Courtney said she would respect the decision and believed Amherstburg will continue to be a “vibrant” town.

Finances were at the forefront of Fryer’s comments.

“We do have fiduciary responsibilities as a council,” Fryer stated.

Fryer said it was “a great contract for the town,” and pointed out the issue dates back to one of council’s first meetings of the term. The town has reduced its debt, he noted, and believed switching will be the right road for the future.

There were only two delegations at the meeting, the first being from Neil Stewart. Stewart had concerns over HST cost and the fact that the recommendation from administration grew from what was thought to be a five-year proposal to a 20-year proposal.

Miceli said he was tasked with getting costs over a 10, 15 and 20-year period and stated that direction came as a result of the four public meetings with some concerned over savings over just a five-year period.

“I find it hard to believe those figures could come up in the last one, two or three weeks,” said Stewart. “It’s hard to believe that happened.”

“I’m sorry if you don’t believe that but that’s what happened,” said Miceli.

Stewart added his belief those costs should have been made public much sooner.

“I don’t believe we’ve been given the full facts,” he believed.

DiCarlo said the timing of the costings was what it was and there was no attempt to “sweeten” the deal to push it through.

Stewart also questioned the cost per capita, noting Windsor police is $480 per person and Amherstburg is $270. Miceli said Amherstburg’s costs will go down with a switch and that Windsor’s costs are higher because of the additional services they provide.

Pat Simone, noting she was speaking for herself and not representing any committee or board she is on, believed the decision should be deferred until a human rights complaint the Windsor Police Service is currently involved with is resolved.

A female officer is accusing Windsor police of passing her over for promotions based on gender, and Simone said Amherstburg officers would follow Windsor police policies and procedures in the event of a switch.

“I’m not saying it’s a women’s issue, but it’s a human rights issue. It concerns men and women,” said Simone.

After the meeting, residents were upset with council’s decision.

Jen Ozyer said the decision was simply about cost, and she questioned if it would improve the town.

“It’s not about making things better. How is it making it better?” she asked.

Trudy Dempsey said she was “really, really upset” with council’s decision.

“I really don’t think they took everything into consideration, all the meetings that people came to and said ‘no,” she said. “They already decided this long before tonight. That’s exactly how I see it.”

George Kritiotis noted it was one step in the process, noting the matter still has to be approved by the OCPC. He suggested the fight wasn’t over.

“That’s who makes the final decision,” he said.

A petition is at several local businesses and “I think there is a significant amount of people who are against it,” said Kritiotis. He added the fact Windsor and Amherstburg don’t share a border could work in the favour of those opposed to a switch.

“This is not a done deal,” said Kritiotis, adding that opponents may also bring up that it wasn’t a full council that voted.

Const. Shawn McCurdy, president of the Amherstburg Police Association, said the process has been stressful but that they will honour the decision.

“I’m still a little shocked about the decision,” said McCurdy.

McCurdy said the job of the association is to protect its members and they did that the best way they could.

“I can assure you the men and women with the Amherstburg Police Service will continue to do their jobs,” he said. “It’s a council decision.”

The association has no choice but to accept the decision, he conceded, adding that officers took an oath and they will continue to honour that oath.

Moving forward, the association will negotiate any severance payments that may be owed and continue to work on behalf of its members and the residents.

During the four public meetings on the subject, in which the majority of residents stated they favoured keeping Amherstburg police, Miceli noted that 23 per cent of the town’s budget is tied up in police costs.

The Windsor police proposal called for administering existing staff in existing organizational units, the continuation of service delivery, existing Amherstburg officers and staff “working exclusively” for Amherstburg, the town being able to keep the existing Amherstburg police station, and local officers continuing to respond to all calls for service.

While there was anger and disappointment from many in the public locally last night, town council’s decision was endorsed by Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkins.

“Way to go Amherstburg!” Dilkins stated on his Twitter account Monday night. “We look forward to providing enhanced policing services while saving the Town a lot of money. Your foresight is a win-win for residents in both of our municipalities.”