Justin Rousseau

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.

Council members debate road repairs, roads needs study

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Questions have been raised by council members over road repairs and the roads needs study thanks to a report about Angstrom Cr.

A report from the town’s public works department regarding Angstrom Cr. indicates that a re-inspection of the road now falls within the “1-5 Year” category for scheduled improvements rather than the previous “6-10 Year” category that it was originally listed as after an Oct. 2016 visual inspection. The most recent visual inspection was in July 2018.

Councillor Jason Lavigne questioned the roads needs study, done in 2016, and wondered how reliable it was if a road were to switch categories so quickly. Lavigne asked if there were other roads that would have shifted categories in that short of a timeframe and whether the town could be in a different situation as it relates to paying for road repairs.

CAO John Miceli reminded council they agreed to a 10-year program where $1.4 million is budgeted for reconstruction of rural and semi-urban roads as well as major resurfacing of the urban roads in the “now” category.

In response to Lavigne’s concerns, Miceli said Angstrom Cr. “could have been on the cusp” when the 2016 study was compiled and that the information contained in the new report is not alarming. Angstrom Cr. is a concrete panel road, Miceli stated, and that “it’s shifting and there are challenges with the freeze and thaw cycle.”

Councillor Rick Fryer said it took three to four weeks of complaints from residents of that Pointe West subdivision street to get the street looked at again. He believed the town “may as well make it a dirt road. It’s better than what they have now.”

Residents erected signage earlier this year along Angstrom Cr. to urge the town to replace the street. The issue came up again at the Sept. 10 town council meeting.

Fryer stated “the plan doesn’t work,” in reference to the roads needs study, and believed more investment needs to be made in roads, possibly with increased taxes or levies for roads, “but they need to be done.”

“We need to start paying attention to the residents,” said Fryer. “We need to change the mindset of what we’re doing because the $1.4 million isn’t working.”

Miceli responded that prior to the current council, there was no money that was pre-committed to roadwork.

“We’ve made great strides with this council in doing road repairs,” said Miceli.

Treasurer Justin Rousseau agreed, noting that $15 million has been invested in four years into roads. Rousseau did acknowledge that while the town is moving as quickly as possible, “it’s never going to be as fast as some may like.”

Fryer added that “pet projects should never come before a road.”

Councillor Leo Meloche believed there are roads in “horrible” condition, relaying issues from farmers who are concerned about equipment and heavy machinery tipping on rural roads due to the uneven surfaces.

“I don’t know if we’re catching up at this rate,” said Meloche.

Councillor Diane Pouget stated that she doesn’t want residents to think roads are being neglected but they are also not trying to raise taxes significantly. She noted that money had to be spent on other things as well, including flooding matters.

Councillor Joan Courtney worried that bumping up Angstrom Cr. on the list of priority roads could be “precedent setting” and that if the town were to repair it ahead of other roads listed in the study, how many people would come to council looking for repairs on their roads.

“We have so many roads that need to be done,” said Courtney. “The public works department has a big job.”

Settlement reached between town and estate of Graham Hobbs

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The lawsuit that was filed by a retired grandfather that continued after his death has now concluded.

A settlement has been reached between the family of Graham Hobbs and the Town of Amherstburg. Hobbs had been banned from town hall and other municipal property following an alleged incident at the Amherstburg Municipal Building Nov. 20, 2015. He subsequently filed the $100,000 lawsuit against the municipality.

Hobbs died Jan. 2, 2017 but the lawsuit had continued until recently when the town received $25,000, which resolved the matter.

“Being a legal matter, I do have to be careful of what I say and how I say it,” acknowledged Mayor Aldo DiCarlo after Monday night’s council meeting. “Obviously we felt the town’s position was appropriate.”

According to the mayor, efforts were made to try and resolve the matter.

“Unfortunately, we could not do that outside the legal forum,” he said.

DiCarlo said the $25,000 will be put towards costs to defend its position.

While the matter is over, DiCarlo said the town takes no pleasure in the outcome.

“We don’t feel great about it but we did have a fiduciary duty to get taxpayers’ money back and we did that,” he said. “It was an unfortunate incident and it’s just not the kind of thing that you want to deal with when you’ve got all these other issues you have to deal with.”

In a report from treasurer Justin Rousseau that came before council on 2017 year-end financial ratios and indicators, it contained a portion which read: “Subsequent to 2017 year-end the claim Hobbs CV-16-23500 was settled with cost being awarded back to the Town of Amherstburg. In early 2018, $25,000 was received by the Town to cover the Town’s legal expenses for this matter. This is no longer a pending claim at the time of this report.”

 

Questions and tempers raised as fundraising expenditure discussed

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

A question over an accounts payable to the Crown Park Corporation that was labelled for Belle Vue fundraising sparked a contentious debate Monday night.

Town council allowed Michael Prue, treasurer of the Belle Vue Conservancy, to speak and Prue questioned a few Belle Vue related expenses, with most of them being connected to the ongoing roof construction. When he got to the line about the Crown Park Corporation, he expressed curiosity and told council “we don’t pay for any fundraising.”

CAO John Miceli, after conferring with treasurer Justin Rousseau, said it was not actually for the Belle Vue fundraising but rather a planning study for the Amherstburg Community Foundation for fundraising efforts for all town initiatives.

Miceli said the study looks at raising money for town endeavors without having to rely on going to the taxpayers. A $6,000 payment was listed under the accounts payable section but the CAO indicated it was a $12,000 report.

“There are two payments of $6,000 to tell us how to fundraise?” asked Councillor Jason Lavigne, who also wanted to know who is on the foundation, when they meet and whether council can see minutes of their meetings.

Rousseau indicated the Amherstburg Community Foundation is a “holding account” and that money is reimbursed by the foundation for any cheques the town cuts. He said taxpayer money wasn’t used on the study.

“Who supported the $12,000 is the question,” Lavigne pressed. “Who paid the $12,000 for the study? I think we all want to know.”

Miceli said there are efforts being made to “accelerate” fundraising and that now “we have a study that will help us.” He said that funds raised by the foundation may be used for Belle Vue but research has shown that not all donors want to donate to Belle Vue and those donors may want to give funds to other projects.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said both himself and Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale sit on the foundation.

Councillor Diane Pouget wondered if Crown Park Corporation had been hired by the foundation and Miceli said the foundation hadn’t hired anyone. The study was done in order to raise more money for the foundation, with the CAO adding the Belle Vue Conservancy has done a “great job raising money” but other avenues wanted to be explored by the foundation.

Prue emphasized he spoke up because he didn’t understand the fundraising expenditure.

“We’re fundraising for nothing,” he said.

Councillor Rick Fryer said he recalled getting updates when the Libro Centre was being built on the fundraising process.

Pouget said she called earlier Monday and was told by Rousseau it was for Belle Vue, and was upset with the responses she was getting at the meeting.

“I expect the treasurer to tell us the truth,” she said. “I am asking on behalf of the constituents.”
Rousseau said he had yet to review the document, and gave Pouget the most accurate information he had when she called.

“I gave you the best information I had this morning,” he said during Monday’s meeting. “If that has fallen short, I apologize.”

Administration is expected to give council more details on the matter at an upcoming meeting.