Michael Prue

Town expands audit committee, includes two more with financial background



By Ron Giofu


Town council rounded out more of their committees last week, including the audit advisory committee.

Council, at the request of Councillor Michael Prue, expanded the audit advisory committee from three to five members, with three of those members now being laypersons. Prue noted that it was structured to have two members of town council and one member of the community and that was “not appropriate.”

“The audit committee should belong to the people,” said Prue. “The town needs to feel confident that council is doing everything it can to safeguard and spend their money properly. What better way than to have some other people on that committee who are not councillors who can have input and who can assuage the fears of the people who think money is not being spent right?”

Prue will be one of the council members on that committee with Councillor Patricia Simone being the other. Other committee members will be John Purdie, Gillian Heisz and Gordon Moore.

“They all have CPA after their names. They are all auditors,” said Prue.

Councillor Michael Prue asks a question of administration during budget deliberations Feb. 14.

Noting that residents have questioned the town’s finances in the past, Prue believes there will be an extra layer of accountability with a committee.

“I know that the money is not always spent the way everyone wants it to be, but when there is an audit committee that can say ‘you should have used this process, you should have spent the money this way as opposed to that way,’ then people will start to believe what they are reading rather than what they are reading on a blog,” said Prue.

While the committee was not in place in time for the 2019 budget, Prue noted that it will be in place long before November when the 2020 deliberations are likely to begin.

Other committees that were rounded out during the most recent regular meeting of town council included the seniors advisory committee, which will feature Pauline Gemmell, Heather Vandenham, Kathy DiBartolomeo, Karen Gyorgy, Jan Ouellette, Jack Edwards, Kent Williams, Nancy Atkinson and Frank DiPasquale as members. Councillor Marc Renaud had already been appointed as the council representative to that committee.

The Co-An Park committee will have Amherstburg representation from Richard Lawrence, Jennie Lajoie and Murray Sellars with Deputy Mayor Leo Meloche already having been appointed as the council representative.

Members of the fence viewers committee include Chris Drew, Murray Sellars and Tony Pietrangelo. Livestock valuers will be Sellars and Roxanne Qussem.

Laypeople to the property standards committee will be Stephanie Thomson, Drew, Anthony Campigotto, Dino Gobbo and Jim Gorski.

The town is still looking for members for the accessibility advisory committee and the mayor’s youth committee. Application forms for those committees are available at town hall or through the town’s website at www.amherstburg.ca.

Town council agrees to honour River Lights volunteers



By Ron Giofu


A couple who have been integral parts of the growth of the River Lights Winter Festival will be honoured.

Mark and Karen Usher will be honoured with a plaque at the pavilion in Toddy Jones Park as it will be dubbed the “Karen and Mark Usher Gingerbread Warming House.” Jennie Lajoie, a member of the River Lights committee, appeared before town council to make the request and called the Gingerbread Warming House “a much loved and integral part of the festival in which thousands of families have visited Amherstburg to not only enjoy the lights, but to partake of the activities and beauty of the Gingerbread Warming House.”

Volunteers, including the Ushers, put up walls and decorations on the pavilion every fall to get it ready for the River Lights Winter Festival.

Lajoie pointed out that the Ushers spend “hundreds of volunteer hours” getting the warming house ready and Lajoie pointed out that it is the venue for the gingerbread house contest and other events during the River Lights Winter Festival. The events are mostly free in part “because of the hard work and efforts of Karen and Mark Usher for over 11 years!”

The Ushers have lived in Amherstburg for 43 years, Lajoie added, and Karen was a nurse at a medical clinic while Mark taught for 32 years at General Amherst High School.

“Both have dedicated part of their retirements to giving back selflessly, graciously and warmly to their beloved community so that others can enjoy a magical, family tradition at Toddy Jones Park,” Lajoie stated.

Councillor Patricia Simone questioned whether the plaque would be displayed all year, or just during River Lights. Lajoie said they envision a permanent, all-year plaque.

Simone voiced a concern that others may start coming forth with similar requests, noting that most town events are run by volunteers. She said she didn’t want to exclude anyone if someone else should come forward.

The Gingerbread Warming House will be named for River Lights volunteers Mark and Karen Usher. (Special to the RTT)

Lajoie promoted the Ushers by stating they have been volunteering for River Lights for 11 years and “they are busy all year round.” CAO John Miceli added the town has started yearly events to recognize the town’s many volunteers.

Deputy Mayor Leo Meloche pointed out there are other recognition events, including a yearly tree planting ceremony at Co-An Park in McGregor.

“I see no harm in doing more of that,” said Meloche.

Councillor Michael Prue wanted to know if the town had any sort of policy regarding recognizing residents and groups.

“If we have a policy, we should follow it,” said Prue.

“There is not a policy,” noted Mayor Aldo DiCarlo. “We are working on a policy.”

Prue followed up by wondering what the specifics were of the plaque, including size, location and what it is made out of. Lajoie said it will be a 12×18 metal plaque.

Mark Usher attended the meeting and thanked council for agreeing to the honour.

“River Lights is super special,” he said, adding families come down to look at the lights and enjoy themselves.

“It’s all about families,” he said.

DiCarlo envisioned the town hosting an event for the Ushers after the plaque is installed.

Council to seek more “stirring” national anthem for meetings



By Ron Giofu


Town council started playing “O Canada” at the start of meetings during its last term, with the new members now looking for a “stirring” rendition.

Citing an e-mail that resident Marcie Graham sent to town council members, Councillor Donald McArthur brought the issue up at the most recent meeting of council.

“What if we wanted to get a new national anthem in here, one that’s more stirring?” he asked. “Can I get the ball rolling?”

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said he was open to such a suggestion.

“We have actually been looking for some time. It’s a question of picking one,” said DiCarlo.

McArthur said the current one the town uses is “not very stirring” and that he was willing to work on finding a new one. He suggested forming a committee to find one, and invited Graham to sit on it. Councillor Patricia Simone also expressed interest with clerk Paula Parker also agreeing to be involved.

“With the budget talks, how do we do more reports? Maybe you build a buzz in town,” McArthur suggested.

“Better visuals” that can play during the anthem were also suggested by McArthur as those could be acquired in the spring and summer.

“Definitely we can get better visuals and a better anthem,” he said.

Councillor Michael Prue pointed out the federal government produces versions of the Canadian national anthem, but noted whatever anthem the town chooses has to have the updated wording. Prue pointed out that wording includes “in all of us command.” He also said the anthem should be a bilingual version as well.

DiCarlo said while some anthems the town has found have been good, they have come across the issue of the old lyrics. He noted General Amherst High School students performed the current version but was open to choosing a new one and suggested methods such as a contest for the new anthem and visuals, noting the town had a photo contest several years ago that went well.

Appointments made to town committees



By Ron Giofu


The Town of Amherstburg’s committees are being filled out, though one still remains outstanding.

While the town deferred making appointments to the audit advisory committee, other committees saw members appointed at town council’s most recent meeting.

The committee of adjustment will be comprised of Josh Mailloux, David Cozens, Don Shaw, Sherry Ducedre and Terris Buchanan. Appointees to the drainage board include Ron Sutherland, Bob Pillon, Brad Laramie, Bob Bezaire and Alan Major.

Sutherland’s name was nominated to return to the Essex Region Conservation (ERCA) board of directors, but town council opted to have Marilyn Morrison be their lay appointee. Councillor Peter Courtney is the council appointee to the ERCA board.

The heritage committee will include Jennie Lajoie, Shirley Curson-Prue, Robert Honor, Stephanie Pouget-Papak and Simon Chamley, with Councillor Patricia Simone being the council liaison. The parks and recreation advisory committee includes Curson-Prue, Patrick Catton, Brinton Sharmon, Kennedy Laing and Wes Ewer with Councillor Donald McArthur and Courtney being the council representatives.

Councillor Michael Prue declared conflict during the appointments of the parks and recreation advisory and heritage committee members due to Curson-Prue being his wife.

The economic development advisory committee was expanded during the course of the meeting from being a five-person committee to a seven-person committee due to Simone expressing an interest in being on the committee. McArthur and Prue will also be council representatives on the committee, with laypersons including Carolyn Davies, Jack Edwards, Tom Crosson and Larry Amlin.

Councillor Marc Renaud was appointed to both the seniors advisory committee and the Amherstburg Accessibility Advisory Committee.

Deputy Mayor Leo Meloche was appointed to the Co-An Park committee.

Town council votes to opt in to allow for retail cannabis outlets



By Ron Giofu


Town council has voted to opt in and be open to allowing cannabis retail outlets in Amherstburg.

The vote at Monday night’s meeting saw only Councillor Peter Courtney vote in opposition. Courtney said while he wasn’t necessarily opposed to the idea of retail cannabis shops in town, now is not the time to do it.

There are stigma concerns, Courtney stated, but he also had issues with a lack of control the municipality would have over location and how many stores the town could receive. Courtney said he would have been open to possibly opting in during the second phase of the roll-out, assuming there was additional controls given to municipalities.

“I’m opting out to opt in later if more control is given to municipalities,” he said.

Even though Amherstburg has opted in, the town is not eligible for a store authorization due to the town’s populating being under 50,000. There will be 25 licenses issued across the province to those municipalities eligible in the first phase. Amherstburg would not be eligible until at least the second phase, meaning it would be no earlier than December 2019.

“The province has committed to provide $40 million in funding over two years to municipalities to help with the implementation costs of recreational cannabis legalization. Through the Ontario Cannabis Legalization Implementation Fund, the first round of payments was received by the Town Jan. 9 in the amount of $11,733,” manager of licensing and enforcement Nicole Rubli stated in her report to town council.

Additional revenues could be obtained if the provincial excise duty revenues were to exceed $100 million, she stated, as “municipalities that permit retail cannabis stores will receive a share of 50 per cent of the surplus. The province will also set aside a contingency fund in the amount of $10 million to assist municipalities that permit retail stores.”

Councillor Donald McArthur expressed confidence that the $100 million mark in excise revenues would be exceeded. He was in favour because it would “clamp down” on the black market for cannabis.

McArthur added be believed a cannabis retail shop could aid commerce in the town by creating spinoff revenue for other businesses within Amherstburg.

“I don’t think you can underestimate the spinoff benefits,” he said, adding that if people can buy recreational cannabis in Amherstburg, it could boost tourism as well.

Councillor Michael Prue agreed that it could negatively impact drug dealers and that regulated cannabis would be safer for users than cannabis from a dealer that could be laced with other drugs. Councillor Marc Renaud noted he was voting to opt in based on the experiences of a co-worker and the impact the drug had on the person’s family through being bought on the street.

The vote to opt in went against the recommendation of the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU), as the WECHU encouraged council to opt out. Health promotion specialist Melissa Valentik and director of health promotion Nicole Dupuis outline the health risks surrounding recreational cannabis use and regulations surrounding the issue, including that shops can’t be within 150 metres of a school. The rationale for the recommendation to opt out was that it would give more time for formal public and stakeholder engagement, integrate lessons learned from other Ontario municipalities, learn more about provincial regulations and to mobilize stakeholders to respond within the 15-day consultation window.

Deputy Mayor Leo Meloche said the county is “borderless” in many ways and that people regularly travel through other municipalities on a daily basis. Meloche remarked that he lives on Walker Road and could potentially cross the road into Essex and go to a cannabis shop should one ever be situated there.

Meloche noted there are billions in revenue generated in tobacco, gaming and alcohol sales and believed the same could hold true for cannabis. He said “the people want it” and it could translate into “pretty significant revenue” that he hoped would be shared with municipalities.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo agreed that “the residents want it” and “we’re here to represent them.” He said he was in favour of opting in but noted he was surprised the vote was as one-sided as it was.

“The vote surprised me,” he admitted. “I thought it would have been a little bit closer.”