Ken Thrasher

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.