Town approves 2018 budget in principle


By Ron Giofu

While it won’t be formally approved until the Dec. 11 town council meeting, it is now clear what the tax rate increase will be.

Amherstburg taxpayers will see their taxes go up 2.29 per cent this year, meaning a home assessed at $200,000 will see a $43.29 increase. The tax rate increase itself was whittled down from the original two per cent to 0.83 per cent with the two per cent levies being increased by 0.75 per cent increase.
Treasurer Justin Rousseau said the increase to the levies will allow for an additional $300,000 to be placed into the town’s reserves for capital infrastructure projects.

When school board and county taxes are factored in, the tax increase would be 1.69 per cent, Rousseau added, or $54.31 on a $200,000 home.

Among the big ticket capital items is the reconstruction of Creek Road. Approximately $1.4 of the estimated $1.7 million cost to rebuild that road from Meloche Road to County Road 20 is expected to be paid out in 2018.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo was pleased with how deliberations went.

“Yet again, council found a very reasonable balance between what the town needs and what the residents thought was affordable,” said DiCarlo.

DiCarlo noted that not everyone gets what they want at budget time and while a series of positions – Councillor Rick Fryer said eight – were approved, a number of other jobs were not. The mayor noted that some costs did go up for the town and that has to be passed along.

“If bills go up at home, they go up at town hall and we have to compensate for that,” he said.

An increase in growth requires additional resources, the mayor added, and “at the beginning of that growth, there has to be investments. I think that’s where we’re at now.”

The roads needs study makes a lot of the decisions on capital projects easy, DiCarlo stated, as it shows what roads needs resources. Creek Road was “not a big surprise,” he added.

The town added resources in places where he believed they are needed. Some of the new positions include a financial analyst, a engineering technician, 1.5 new people for the tourism department and a part-time policy co-ordinator.

Others were rejected including a communications officer, a part-time committee co-ordinator an a supervisor of roads and fleet. The latter had been approved Wednesday afternoon but later cut when council resumed after a dinner break as three members of the six present believed there were too many management positions to oversee the six employees.

Even with the new positions, DiCarlo was happy the tax rate itself came in under one per cent.

“That’s nothing short of amazing to me. That was no small feat. Council deserves some credit for that,” he said.

The levy increases were at roughly the same rate as the cost of living and “that’s unbelievable,” the mayor added.

“The big thing for me is the big picture,” said DiCarlo. He said year over year, the tax rate keeps coming down, reserves and capital investment increase while long-term debt is decreasing.

“Those are definitely heading in the right direction,” he said.

Among the grant requests approved in principle were $5,000 for Amherstburg Community Services (ACS), $1,500 for Amherstburg Food and Fellowship Mission, $6,500 for the Amherstburg Freedom Museum and $8,500 for the Park House Museum. Grant requests for the Cat Assistance Team (CAT) and SNAP for Cats will be addressed after administration comes back with a report.

Town council also agreed with Rose City Gymnastics request to waive over $12,000 in rental fees for next year’s Ontario Provincial Artistic Gymnastics championships at the Libro Centre, an event that is expected to draw 1,200 participants and 5,000 visitors to Amherstburg. However, that has already upset user groups who already use the Libro Centre, particularly in light of town council sticking with its own surcharge option and not going with the one user groups presented last Monday night.


Town’s 2018 budget could see tax rate and levy increases



By Ron Giofu


Town council got its first look at the proposed 2018 budget and it contains possible increases to the tax rate as well as the two capital levies.

As it stands now, the proposed increase in the municipal tax rate is two per cent with another 0.75 per cent increase recommended for each of the capital replacement levy and the capital reserve levy. A two per cent increase would translate into a $36.77 increase on a $200,000 home while the increase in levies would amount to a $29.66 increase for municipal coffers.

The town projects that when county and education rates are factored in, it would lower the proposed increase to 1.52 per cent. The town also forecasts a 2.37 per cent increase in assessment growth.

The net capital budget request is about $41.3 million with the funding sources the town has available to deal with this request without additional debt being nearly $4.2 million. All 2018 capital will be financed in cash, the town states.

The town will spend about $1.4 million to upgrade its roads however, the municipality still faces an infrastructure gap of about $37.1 million.

The budget was presented at a special council meeting Monday night by chief administrative officer (CAO) John Miceli and director of corporate services/treasurer Justin Rousseau. Miceli pointed out this is the final budget in this term of council and compared the town’s finances from three years ago to now.

The CAO believed it was “important to note to our residents the progress we have made” in relation to the town’s finances. Miceli read headlines and quotes from Windsor media outlets from 2013 and 2014 and contrast it to today, believing the town has made strides from the “mismanagement” that occurred previously.

Miceli highlighted such progress as dealing with the Deloitte report recommendations in 18 months, filling a number of key positions, redoing Texas Road, holding staff accountable on a yearly evaluation basis, moving towards a “pay as you go” infrastructure system and the introduction of the levies among the list he recited. Accomplishments the CAO listed for 2017 were the demolition of Duffy’s and the former AMA Arena, completion of the Meloche Road project, Communities in Bloom, the Canuck it Up! Festival, sidewalk improvements, the correction of mechanical issues at the Libro Centre and new housing development.

“The list goes on and on and on,” said Miceli. “In my opinion, council’s public record speaks for itself.”

Among the possible positions that could be filled include a policy co-ordinator on a one-year contract, a communications officer, a financial analyst, additional tourism co-ordinators, a part-time bylaw officer, a supervisor of road and fleet and an engineering technician.

Rousseau said the 2018 budget “is like no other the town has seen before” in that every increase or decrease has a budget issue paper. Levies, he recommended, should be increased to meet future capital needs.

“The 2018 budget is proposing an undertaking of capital projects in the amount of $5,062,130,” said Rousseau.

Amherstburg has $11,352 in assets per capita, Rousseau noted. That is the highest in the region.

“Amherstburg has over $4,000 per resident more than the next nearest comparator in Essex County,” he said.

Miceli believed the town has made “significant, significant strides” in managing the town’s finances and told town council they have a choice of making decisions that are beneficial politically or make tougher decisions and stay the course.

“Now I suggest is the time to lead and send a message to future councils that we don’t want to go back to the financial difficulties we had,” the CAO stated.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo believed the proposed budget is in line with what council requested and said the number may come down based on what council members want to do. He suggested funds may also be reallocated to address infrastructure needs.

DiCarlo agreed the town has made progress during this term of council.

“It was a painful start but we’ve had three years of growth over growth,” he said.

The mayor believed it’s not so much a case of increases, but a question of whether people want to pay for things now or later. While a tax increase was expected, DiCarlo said they will still be middle of the pack taxation wise in the region.

There will be a public meeting on the budget Nov. 18 from 1-3 p.m. in the community room at the Libro Centre. Budget deliberations are scheduled for Nov. 28 from 6-10 p.m., Nov. 29 from 2-8 p.m. and, if necessary, Nov. 30 from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Should all go according to plan, the 2018 budget could be passed at the Dec. 11 town council meeting.

Town gets 2017 budget process underway, with draft budget to include possible two per cent increase


By Ron Giofu


Town council has given the green light to administration to prepare a 2017 draft budget, with that budget possibly including a two per cent increase.

While it is still very early in the process, town council’s direction allows administration to create a draft budget with “up to a two per cent” increase. CAO John Miceli said the two per cent estimate was arrived at by looking at the consumer price index (CPI) and costs trending forward. Budget pressures the town faces are related to previously publicized issues with the Amherstburg Fire Department, salaries, and increased costs for service delivery.

The two per cent impacts the operating budget only with the two capital levies built into the base. Miceli was quick to point out the levies “are totally separate” and the proposed draft budget increase would not impact them.

“The levies are not compounded,” he said.

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Departments will be asked to come in with budgets keeping the two per cent figure in mind. Council has the authority to alter the budget as they see fit, with the budget to be tabled the week of Nov. 7.

Town council as well as the audit and finance committee would review the draft budget the next two weeks with a public information session planned for Nov. 26. Budget deliberations are currently planned for Nov. 29-Dec. 1 and Miceli said there will also be opportunity for public input Dec. 12, when he hopes the budget will be in a position for council to vote on it.

“Five days is a significant amount of time,” the CAO stated, in reference to the public’s ability to provide input.

Miceli believes the town is moving forward on the right path financially.

“The town is on track,” he stated.

The town is on track to have a surplus, adding that administration has done all it can to ensure the town is turning itself around financially. The town has tracked surpluses for the last two years, he added, and “I don’t want to break that streak.”

Town’s operating budget increase down to 0.44 per cent, levy talks to come



By Ron Giofu


A portion of the town’s 2015 budget is close to being finalized though there are still some major portions yet to be debated.

The town’s operating budget was chopped from 0.70 per cent to 0.44 per cent during Tuesday night’s budget meeting. Town council still has to discuss the capital budget and the two proposed three per cent levies with the next budget meeting scheduled for Monday at 6 p.m.

CAO John Miceli noted council has approved the operating budget in principle and said administration will “put its best foot forward” to implement that budget. Miceli stressed there will be variance reports provided to council throughout the year that will track how the town is doing compared to the budget with those reports also carrying recommendations on how to mitigate any differences.

The Amherstburg budget process is “a little different than what I expected,” said Miceli, but the results are similar to what he anticipated as he figured council would work to bring the operating budget closer to zero per cent.

The levies would help address problems never previously addressed by the town, including helping to bridge the infrastructure gap that currently sits at approximately $7 million. The decision on the levies will be “monumental,” he predicted, noting the Deloitte report recommended having the town raise more money for reserves and capital expenditures.

“It’s now in council’s hands as to what level they want to raise (money),” said the CAO.

There was a concern among administration that if the levies do not pass Monday night, financial issues could persist into the future.

Miceli was confident the town has a “solid” capital plan to put before town council with a major item being the implementation of a new financial system for the municipality. Texas Road has already been addressed, said Miceli.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Miceli added. “Council, from an operating perspective, has done its due diligence.”

Town council left the $1.186 million environmental services budget as it was, though a $2,700 line item for the collection calendar was debated. Council ended up leaving that item in with Councillor Diane Pouget noting many residents still enjoy receiving the calendar. Mayor Aldo DiCarlo noted discussions were held at the county level as well over funding the calendar but “they found people still want it.”

The nearly $2.6 million public works budget was spared though there were discussions over some line items. Weed cutting in the rural areas was debated though council agreed to leave the $35,000 cost in the budget out of concerns for how a cut could impact farmers and other rural property owners.

Gasoline costs were debated with Miceli noting the town is looking at a fuel system to monitor security and usage of gas.

“We’re already looking at that,” he said, in response to a concern from Pouget.

Councillor Joan Courtney voiced concern over traffic installation timing, noting specific concerns with the light at Simcoe St. and Fryer St. Manager of public works Eric Chamberlain told her a loop is broken in that area.

A total of $17,000 was removed from the parks and facilities budget with the breakdown being $5,000 removed from Thomas Road maintenance and $12,000 removed from the general supplies line.

There was some debate over the hanging basket program but council opted to keep that intact. It was noted that the town had already agreed to enter Communities in Bloom and Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale stating “I’d had to look cheap” in the eyes of the judges.

Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce president Chris Gibb said the hanging baskets make “a huge difference” for downtown business owners with $2,500 already having been pre-committed from the July 24-25 Mardi Gras celebration.

Pouget said Communities in Bloom will help draw people to Amherstburg and predicted the town would be quite pleased with the job that committee does with its small budget. Miceli added that when he was working in Windsor, Amherstburg was often the subject of envy for its beautification efforts.

The fire department’s budget was reduced by $3,000, with that money coming from the receptions and banquets line.  Another $5,000 was reallocated into the fire department’s equipment budget, after Chief Randy Sinasac noted the department noted the fire department has been unable to purchase new bunker gear for the last three years.

Sinasac added: “We are not jeopardizing any level of safety.”

A large capital purchase of fire department equipment could be on the horizon, Miceli noted, with a reserve also to be built for future equipment needs. He also reminded town council of the concept of possibly amalgamating the two rural stations into one and that there are $5-6 million in renewal needs also coming up.

Pouget questioned Sinasac over vehicle use, including whether fire vehicles can be used for such purposes as driving children to school.

“We’re not disallowed,” said Sinasac. He added there are measures in place to ensure there are no vehicles out of service should there be a fire call.

Miceli noted he is aware that it is happening in other jurisdictions as well.

Pouget also wanted to know about fire vehicles leaving the area, stating her belief that insurance issues made it a budget item.

“(Sinasac) never comes before us so that’s why I’m asking,” she said.

DiCarlo and Miceli both stated vehicle usage was more of a policy matter with Miceli advising that a policy will be brought back to town council as policies are reviewed.

“It doesn’t have to do with budget but we can come back to it,” added DiCarlo.

The roughly $1 million information technology (IT) budget was cut by $13,500. Computer maintenance will be reduced by $10,000 with the additional $3,500 coming from the training budget.

Much of the computer maintenance budget is contractual, noted manager of IT Dave Carpenter, as the town has licenses for various pieces of software.

Under the roughly $1.3 million global expenses budget, town council whacked $15,000 with it being broken down equally between cuts to the ERCA levy, office supplies and postage line items.

A motion from Councillor Rick Fryer to cut the $54,800 stranded Ranta Marina deficit for this year was defeated. Manager of finance Wendy Dade said that would reduce the budget but not result in any cash savings for the town.

“Who are we kidding here?” said Councillor Leo Meloche. “Hiding it for a year doesn’t fix it. Let’s stick with the plan. Let’s get rid of the problems of the past.”

Meloche floated the idea of reducing the contingency allowance from $40,000 to $20,000 but Dade noted it would be hard to anticipate who would come in with a job evaluation form or any other factor that could impact that line item.

Fryer said the town already reduced it from $100,000 to $60,000 and now to $40,000.

“We’re going to have a variance regardless,” he believed.