Justin Rousseau

Budget calls for 1.87% tax increase

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Barring any last minute changes prior to its final passage Feb. 25, the 2019 budget calls for a 1.87 per cent tax increase.

Town council whittled the increase down from 2.65 per cent to 1.87 per cent after four hours of budget deliberations last Tuesday night and roughly nine hours of debate last Wednesday.

The operations budget saw a 1.82 per cent increase but, with the two levies, it brings the overall impact to the municipal portion to 1.87 per cent, said treasurer Justin Rousseau.

The town states that, when blended with county and school board rates, the rate is lowered to 1.47 per cent or $59 on a home valued at $250,000.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo believed town council did a good job balancing needs, wants and what is affordable to the tax base.

“The simple answer is the new council is consistent with the last council’s strategy,” said DiCarlo.

Over the two days, DiCarlo added that council had its say on many issues and seemed pleased they debated items before simply voting on them.

“The Town of Amherstburg council is not a rubber stamp committee,” said the mayor.

Admitting zero per cent was the ideal number for a tax increase, DiCarlo noted the town did reduce the increase from the original number presented.

“I’m satisfied that council did a good job coming to a final position that bodes well for the town in the long run,” he said.

Director of corporate services Cheryl Horrobin and treasurer Justin Rousseau field questions last week.

Councillor Peter Courtney voiced concerns during the deliberations over potential new hires and the amount of studies that were part of the 2019 budget but noted that costs are going up as well. He took some satisfaction in the fact they were able to find some reductions.

“Any reduction is a good thing for the taxpayer,” he said. “I’m never completely satisfied. I’m confident we did the best we could under the circumstances that we’re in.”

Courtney added he tried to find more savings but respected the final decisions of council.

“Democracy, at the end of the day, will prevail,” he said, adding that there is no ill will after the deliberations and that “we’re a team.”

Councillor Michael Prue said he was disappointed they weren’t able to whittle the overall increase below 1.8 per cent but recognized that he and his colleagues “gave it their best try.” Prue had advocated to put off the purchase of $600,000 worth of police radios for another year and, while that purchase was pulled out of a motion and still has to be considered further, he was hoping that $600,000 could be used on other things.

That money is to come from a reserve and not directly impact the tax rate, he noted, but believes that money could have been used on other projects that did impact the rate.

“We could have used that to offset some other costs,” said Prue.

During Wednesday’s deliberations, administration noted that the radios are still Amherstburg’s responsibility and that they are outdated. Director of corporate services Cheryl Horrobin said the current radios are older technology and could be “problematic” if not addressed.

CAO John Miceli said it was “very well known” that the current police radios are well past their useful lives and that it was an issue as far back as three years ago. Courtney agreed with Prue that the purchase should be delayed but Deputy Mayor Leo Meloche stated that “taxpayers have already paid for it” and that the issue of the radios was not hidden “and was part of the deal.”

Regarding the budget process overall, Prue acknowledged that he received numerous calls and e-mails from residents and that he tried to address their concerns.

“I tried to be their voice,” he said.

The capital budget is for about $14.5 million and among the projects included are the reconstruction of Concession 5 North from Alma St. to Middle Side Road for $2 million and Texas Road between Concessions 2 & 3 for $800,000. The resurfacing of Walnut Dr. between Hawthorn Dr. and McCurdy Dr. resurfacing pegged at $160,000. Paving projects on Creek Road and Pickering Dr. are also expected to be finalized this year with engineering work on McLeod Ave. and South Riverview Dr. also planned for 2019.

There will also be numerous culverts and bridges replaced, with the Concession 2 North bridge over Long Marsh Drain finally to be done with just shy of $1.2 million being carried over from 2018 to complete the work. The town will also purchase a $300,000 truck for public works that will replace a 1999 truck and a new Zamboni for the Libro Centre at a cost of $108,000. The town also allocated $25,000 for upgrades at Malden Centre Park and $170,000 for upgrades at Beaudoin Park.

Courtney was pleased with the Beaudoin Park upgrades, noting the park has been “neglected” and that residents in the River Canard area will appreciate the new amenities that will be installed at the park.

Residents call for cuts at town budget meeting

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A crowd of about 30 residents attended the Libro Centre Saturday afternoon and gave their feedback on the proposed 2019 town budget, with much of the feedback being negative.

Director of corporate services Cheryl Horrobin and treasurer Justin Rousseau outlined the budget, which currently calls for a 2.65 per cent tax increase. Rousseau noted that, when combined with the county and education portions, this translates into a 1.93 per cent increase or $78 on a home valued at $250,000.

The recommended water rate increase is 2.5 per cent and the recommended wastewater rate increase is 1.5 per cent, with Rousseau indicating the combined impact of both rate increase recommendations would amount to an average of $18 per household.

Among the potential new hires could include a communications officer, an administrative co-ordinator, three part-time parks general labourers, additional tourism staff and an HR co-ordinator.

Rousseau, as he did when the budget was tabled Jan. 21, noted the capital budget is about $14.5 million with the only item being financed with debt being the next phase of the Edgewater forcemain project. Capital demands are about $38.6 million per year and $135 million over ten years, Rousseau stated.

Director of corporate services Cheryl Horrobin, treasurer Justin Rousseau and CAO John Miceli address a question during the Feb. 2 budget meeting at the Libro Centre.

“This creates a significant funding gap that needs to be addressed,” Rousseau said.

With budget deliberations still to come, there were those that expressed dissatisfaction with what they saw so far.

Ken Thrasher said it was gift giving and gift seeking season and told the town “again, you are asking for more.” He called for “belt tightening” and questioned additional staff requests, including from the tourism department.

“Here we are again, asking for more staff for that department,” Thrasher stated, questioning the economic spin-off and attendance figures that the town gives out after festivals. He also questioned whether tourism is a core service.

While stating he is not against festivals, Thrasher added his belief that private citizens and groups should put them on “like we did in the ’60s and ’70s.”

Thrasher had issues with a proposed BIA, stating costs would be placed on the shoulders of business owners if one were instituted. He also questioned the town’s commitment to youth after the sale of 15 acres of Centennial Park.

Thrasher called for a budget with “true savings to our taxpayers.”

“What is wrong with wanting efficiencies and savings?” he asked.

Believing that if he ran his business like the town is being run, he would go bankrupt, Thrasher pressed those in attendance to voice their displeasure to council members, all of whom were at the meeting.

“Enough is enough,” said Thrasher.

Gordon Moore asked about the format of the budget, as he believed it is tough to compare year-to-year budgets. He also said there was a 40 per cent increase in operating expenses in recent years and further questioned administration on the number of employees the town has.

Rousseau said the town was in severe financial distress four years ago and that there were costs to putting the town on the right financial course. In terms of the number of employees, that is contained in the town’s financial reporting statements.

“It’s all available to you online,” said Rousseau. “The town is transparent.”

CAO John Miceli said the town is in the business of delivering services and that “we have added people to match the service level.”

Rousseau stated the debt has dropped about $10 million to about $35.6 million and that reserves have increased by about $10 million. Miceli added the town has converted to a pay-as-you-go model and that “we’re much more stable than we were in the past.”

Gregory Moore believed there should have been a plan in place to accommodate those who use the Lions Pool and Centennial Park, with Miceli responding there is a Libro Centre master plan in the 2019 budget.

“That will look at everything we should have at the Libro Centre,” said Miceli.

Moore also asked about taxation, believing “we have a problem here. I think we are spending too much in taxes.” He believed people are having difficulty affording a home in Amherstburg.

Amherstburg resident Gregory Moore voices his concerns with the proposed 2019 town budget during a public meeting Feb. 2 at the Libro Centre.

“The property taxes are getting completely out of control. Council needs to tell administration this budget is completely out of control,” he said. “When does the hiring stop? When is enough enough?”

Moore also questioned the hiring requests from the tourism department.

Miceli said the hiring requests are based out of the community strategic plan. He added that there was $7.4 million in economic spin-off to the town from tourism and events last year.

Moore responded by stating people want more efficiency from the town.

“They want more money coming in and less money going out,” he said. “Run it like you run your household budget. This town is becoming unaffordable.”

Nancy Atkinson also questioned the hiring requests from the tourism department while Larry Bezaire had concerns about water and wastewater increases.

“I’m on a fixed income and I’m trying to fix my income,” said Bezaire.

Town council is scheduled to deliberate the budget at meetings at town hall Feb. 12 from 6-10 p.m., Feb. 13 from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and, if required, Feb. 14 from 2-8 p.m.

 

Budget tabled, first draft calls for 2.65% tax increase

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The first draft of the 2019 town budget has been put before council and the public with the initial recommendation calling for a 2.65 per cent tax increase.

While that is far from the final number – a public meeting and budget deliberations are still to come – that was the number presented by treasurer Justin Rousseau Monday night. Rousseau added that decreases to the county and school board levy demands would bring that number down to 1.93 per cent, or an additional $78 in taxes to a home valued at $250,000.

The recommended water rate increase is 2.5 per cent and the recommended wastewater rate increase is 1.5 per cent, with Rousseau indicating the combined impact of both rate increase recommendations would amount to an average of $18 per household.

Rousseau added that the two capital levies should also be maintained. He pointed out the town’s infrastructure needs are substantial and that is why the levies are recommended to be included.

“Amherstburg has a high value to infrastructure for residents to enjoy,” he said, adding it also creates the highest burden in terms of eventual replacement.

Amherstburg has the the most invested per capita in terms of infrastructure as opposed to any other Essex County municipality, he noted.

Among the capital budget highlights include $930,000 in police transition costs. Director of corporate services Cheryl Horrobin noted that would be covered by savings from the switchover, the police reserve and a transfer from another reserve that would be paid back in one year.

Potential hires could include a communications officer, an administrative co-ordinator, three part-time general parks labourers, two special events co-ordinators and a human resources co-ordinator.

Rousseau noted that the 2019 capital budget is just shy of $14.5 million, adding that capital spending is up $700,000 from 2018. He noted that all capital projects in 2019 are proposed to be financed without debt with the exception of the Edgewater forcemain.

Capital demands for the year are roughly $38.6 million, he noted, and over $135 million over the next ten years, creating a “significant funding gap that needs to be addressed.”

“Continued progress and planning for the future is key to managing such a monumental task as replacing failing infrastructure with limited funds available,” he said.

There will be a public meeting held on the 2019 budget Feb. 2 at the Libro Centre starting at 1 p.m. Town council is scheduled to deliberate the budget at meetings at town hall Feb. 12 from 6-10 p.m., Feb. 13 from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and, if required, Feb. 14 from 2-8 p.m.

Town council formally decides what to do with Belle Vue

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The Town of Amherstburg purchased Belle Vue in 2016 and now they’ve decided what to do with it.

Town council decided to use it as a conference centre and wedding venue as part of last Tuesday night’s meeting. Councillor Diane Pouget declared conflict of interest due to the proximity of her home to the site while Councillor Jason Lavigne cited the proximity of his parents’ home as his reason for declaring conflict.

Councillor Rick Fryer had questions over maintenance for the property but CAO John Miceli noted the only real issues at this point is grass cutting. Maintenance for future issues like the botanical gardens are budgetary matters for down the road, but the Dalhousie St. property has to be developed first.

Use of taxpayer money was of concern to Councillor Leo Meloche, who wanted to ensure that no taxpayer money be committed for any work, repairs or restoration work without specific council approval identifiable to the project or undertaking. Meloche said council has to be aware of all repairs being done and not find out afterward that additional work is required.

Town council has formally decided the Belle Vue will be used as a conference centre and wedding venue.

Miceli said the town received grant money that was specifically earmarked for the roof project and debated with Meloche about whether that was taxpayer money.

Meloche added that the town has to “protect the asset” but at the same time, ensure there is financial accountability in place.

Treasurer Justin Rousseau stated that none of the work that has been done at the Belle Vue property happened before council was informed. Miceli added that “anyone suggesting we have not been transparent is more than welcome to look at the books.”

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said the motion at hand was not to approve any funding for Belle Vue, but to assist with fundraising.

“We have had interest in fundraising with big numbers,” said DiCarlo, adding that potential donors want to know what will be happening with the site before committing any dollars to it.

“There shouldn’t be any concerns about money,” he said. “It will come before council.”

Changes necessary to Belle Vue roof project, CAO says project still underbudget

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Town council has been advised of changes to the roof restoration project at Belle Vue that will cost an additional $111,400 plus HST.

However, the town’s chief administrative officer (CAO) says that despite the extra costs, the project still remains underbudget.

According to a report from treasurer Justin Rousseau, town council approved $325,000 in the 2018 capital budget for the project, $250,000 of which is to be funded from donations. The roof was identified as the top priority in restoring the 200-year-old Dalhousie St. mansion.

“During the construction phase of the project, additional structural issues have been identified and change orders have been requested,” Rousseau’s report stated.

Work began in the summer of 2018 and administration was presented “with a series of issues” that consultant ERA Architects Inc. identified during construction.

“The issues they identified would have not been known at the time of tender as the initial scope of the work was determined based on a non-invasive review of the structure,” Rousseau stated in his report.

The additional issues include sill beam repair and replacement, soffit replacement, eave components, fascia mounted copper gutters, face nailing detail, in-laid gutter supports, brick pier rebuilding and eve painting.

Rousseau noted that the town received confirmation from Parks Canada’s National Cost-Sharing Program for Heritage Places that the town was approved for support up to $100,000 for improvements to Belle Vue and that the grant was applied for by the town “to help offset the cost of construction and further the cause of the restoration efforts.”

Change orders to the Belle Vue roof replacement project sparked a recent debate at town council. (Photo courtesy of the Belle Vue Conservancy Facebook page)

“The 2018 capital budget includes $325,000 for the Belle Vue restoration project. Project funding is based on receipt of $250,000 from donations and the balance from the general tax levy,” Rousseau stated in his report. “However, the budget did not account for the additional grant revenue of $100,000. These grant funds will be used to help offset the additional unexpected cost from the change orders being recommended by ERA Architects Ltd.”

Councillor Leo Meloche said he “thought this might happen” and wondered how much tax money would be spent on the project.

CAO John Miceli pointed out that the original budget was for $325,000 but now they have received a $100,000 grant. The total cost of the project is now estimated at $396,760 but Miceli said they now have $425,000 set aside thanks to the grant.

“We are still underbudget with the grant funding,” said the CAO.

Miceli noted there were items that need repairing that were hidden below the soffit and that efforts are being made to restore the soffit to its original condition.  Meloche said he disagreed with the approach taken, believing that a more invasive investigation should have been done on Belle Vue to get the full picture on what was needed to repair the roof.

Meloche also questioned why the repairs to the town-owned building still weren’t subject to review by the town’s heritage committee. Meloche is the council representative on that committee and questioned whether the town was “skirting our own rules but not getting the heritage committee involved” in the matter.

“Any homeowner has to come before us and get an approval,” said Meloche.

Councillor Rick Fryer opposed the town spending more money on Belle Vue, saying road projects such as Angstrom Cr. need it more.

“People drive on roads every day,” said Fryer.

Miceli noted that town council had already approved the budget for Belle Vue.

“If you are asking me to reallocate money from Belle Vue to Angstrom Cr., that’s a different situation,” said Miceli.