Nelson Santos

Town to use share of library surplus funds on repairs to building

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The County of Essex has released some of the surplus funding accumulated during the library strike.

For Amherstburg, it means getting the full share as allotted by the county.

There was roughly $790,000 saved by the county during the Essex County Library strike of 2016-17 with Amherstburg’s share being calculated at $92,396. The calculation was based on Amherstburg having 11.7 per cent of the county levy.

Library CEO/chief librarian Robin Greenall said that the surplus funding was originally kept in the county’s rate stabilization reserve.

Essex County council decided last summer to place the surplus funding in a reserve with the funding to be distributed in the form of grants to the lower tier municipalities “who apply to use their proportionate share of the $790,000 towards capital improvements or enhancements to libraries located within their municipality.”

Five municipalities, including Amherstburg, applied to the Essex County Library Board for funding with the board making their recommendations to county council.

Greenall said Amherstburg will use its $92,396 to help fund a capital project to help repair damage to the lower level of the branch. The lower level of the Amherstburg library has experienced damage due to water seepage but Greenall’s report to county council states that the estimated cost, pending an RFP/RFQ process, is expected to exceed $93,000.

Julie Feher, a resource assistant at the Amherstburg library, stands at a recent “pop up” library at the Libro Centre. As construction will close the library for five weeks starting Feb. 20, the Essex County Library will provide a ‘pop-up’ library at the Libro Centre (3295 Meloche Rd.), where library staff will be available for limited hours, with a selection of books and resources to check out, beginning Feb. 17. A detailed schedule of the ‘pop-up’ hours and service details will be available by visiting www.essexcountylibrary.ca.

The Municipality of Leamington will receive its full allocation of $98,951 and will use its funding towards a full renovation project at its John St. branch. Greenall’s report indicates the cost of that renovation is projected to be between $750,000 and $1 million.

Essex will be receiving its full share of the funding – $75,013 – to help support capital projects at its Gosfield Townline branch. The funds will be put towards a new roof that is estimated at $100,000, a new canopy roof at the library entrance estimated at $7,000 and the installation of three new HVAC units, estimated at $23,000.

The Town of Kingsville will receive $40,000 of its allocated $94,150 for work at two of the branches. The branch on Main St. West will have three accessible door operators installed at a cost of $6,000. The remaining $34,000 will be put towards replacement of all windows and doors at the Ruthven branch.

Lakeshore will receive $32,000 of its $186,266 share for work at two branches. A concrete walkway at its Toldo Branch, located within the Atlas Tube Centre, estimated at $27,000 will be installed to reduce a tripping hazard and vandalism while the remainder will be used on another concrete walkway at its Stoney Point branch.

The remaining shares of the $790,000 in funding sees LaSalle in line to receive $123,385 and Tecumseh allocated $119,839. Those two municipalities have yet to request their shares of the surplus.

Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos said it was “positive to see the response from member municipalities” in terms of wanting to enhance their branches. He suggested that the member municipalities follow up with a letter upon the completion of the works to show that the money was used and what it was used for.

(UPDATE: After the publication of the Feb. 14 print edition, the Essex County Library issued the following press release:

“The Essex County Library (ECL)’s Amherstburg Branch (232 Sandwich St. South) will be closed to the public as of Tuesday, February 20, 2018. The closure is anticipated to last approximately five weeks, in order to repair the water-damaged lower level of the library.

During the construction period, the Essex County Library will provide a ‘pop-up’ library at the Libro Credit Union Centre (3295 Meloche Rd.), where library staff will be available for limited hours, with a selection of books and resources to check out, beginning on Saturday, February 17. A detailed schedule of the ‘pop-up’ hours and service details will be available by visiting www.essexcountylibrary.ca. Updates will also be provided via ECL’s social channels at www.facebook.com/EssexCountyLibrary and @EssexCountyLib on Twitter.

In addition, home mail delivery service will be available for Amherstburg residents who would like to continue to receive their requested/reserved items. Residents are also welcome to visit any other ECL branch location. Residents requesting more information are encouraged to ECL Administration at (519) 776 5241.”)

Essex County to hold onto library strike savings, pledge to use it for library purposes

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The $790,000 that was saved during the 230-day Essex County library strike will not be coming back to municipalities.

Instead, Essex County council will set that money aside in a reserve that municipalities and the county itself can tap into for issues specifically related to libraries.

County CAO Brian Gregg noted the $790,000 in savings was due to the money not being spent due to the strike and said it was not administration’s intent to “bury it and have it go away.” The money was temporarily placed in a reserve, he said, with the intent to bring it back to county council for discussion on what to do with it.

“The county doesn’t have a way to rebate this to the ratepayers,” said Gregg.

Gregg suggested there were “a number of ways” the money could be used, suggesting it could be used to support the library system.

Amherstburg Mayor Aldo DiCarlo questioned how much the library system didn’t receive in government funding due to the strike. DiCarlo, who had asked for that figure at prior meetings, was told that it was “coming soon.” Gregg said a review of the figures shows that total is roughly $140,000.

Library workers picket outside of Amherstburg town hall last year. Approximately one year after this photo was taken, Essex County council decided to put $790,000 saved during the library strike into a reserve with the plan of using the money for library-related purposes.

Library workers picket outside of Amherstburg town hall last year. Approximately one year after this photo was taken, Essex County council decided to put $790,000 saved during the library strike into a reserve with the plan of using the money for library-related purposes.

DiCarlo was one of five county council members who opposed the motion.

Amherstburg council was one of the municipalities that asked for the money to be refunded.

Tecumseh Deputy Mayor Joe Bachetti liked the idea of using the funds for library services with Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos making the motion to set the money aside and allowing municipalities to tap into it should their library buildings need capital improvements.

Santos compared it to when Windsor-Essex Economic Development Commission (WEEDC) funding was returned, with the condition that money be used for economic development.

Leamington Deputy Mayor Hilda MacDonald stated the $790,000 was generated because the ratepayers did not get the library services and believed “it absolutely needs to go back to the people” who paid the money to begin with. Leamington Mayor John Paterson believed others on county council were saying local municipalities could not be trusted and believed the county did not need more reserve funds, as it already has $120 million in reserves.

Santos said it wasn’t a matter of trust and said the money will be set aside for when municipalities are ready to put a shovel in the ground for projects.

Amherstburg Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale said he has been hearing from a lot of people wondering what is going on with the money and hopes they can regain trust from those who lost it during the strike.

DiPasquale said after the meeting that the use of the money has been “pretty transparent” thus far. He agreed with the motion.

“It is fairness,” he said. “I hope the public understands that. I thought it was fair.”

Warden Tom Bain said the money was collected through the county levy and believed the big factor is that it will be earmarked specifically for library needs. He indicated the funds could also be used to lower increases brought to county council by the library board at budget time.

Returning the money to ratepayers wouldn’t be worth it, Bain believed, as it would amount to about $4 per resident.

Essex County council defers EMS report regarding Amherstburg concerns

 

By Ron Giofu

Town council wanted Essex County council to review Essex-Windsor EMS and to provide funding necessary to improve the areas that are “in need.”

However, Essex County now wants more information from the town and find out what was presented to Amherstburg council.

Essex County council deferred a recommendation at its June 7 meeting that would have county administration provide an information report to county council regarding funding and cost distribution of EMS services as well as tiered response and service levels.

LaSalle Mayor Ken Antaya sought clarification on the request from Amherstburg.

“They’re suggesting increasing regional funding and identifying areas in need?” he asked.

Amherstburg Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said “the concerns that were raised by some members of Amherstburg council were there may not be enough coverage for the amount of calls we have.”

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DiCarlo also pointed out the concerns over tiered response and the fact firefighters go out on medical calls when ambulances were tied up. Town council discussed the matter in April when Essex-Windsor EMS Chief Bruce Krauter appeared before them with Councillor Rick Fryer wondering why all municipalities don’t use firefighters at calls, citing Leamington as an example. Fryer said during the April meeting that if there is a fee for service, all municipalities should be equal. Councillor Diane Pouget added she was “very, very concerned” about the issue and said she “didn’t think it is fair” that some municipalities are not paying for the same service Amherstburg is paying for.

Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos made the motion for the deferral, noting the county didn’t know exactly what Amherstburg council heard.

“It may not be an Amherstburg issue,” said Santos. “It may be a county-wide issue.”

Essex County council begins process of redefining road network

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

What is likely to be a long, arduous process of redefining what the Essex County road network is has gotten underway.

A special meeting of Essex County council took place last Wednesday night with the meeting being somewhat out of the ordinary as it was facilitated by Roger Bryan, a retired partner with KPMG whom the county has engaged as a consultant.

The roughly 90-minute “visioning session” saw county council members asked to answer what they consider the purpose of the county road network and what factors and influences should be contemplated when developing the criteria to determine whether or not a road is a county road.

“I’m very pleased with how the meeting went,” said Warden Tom Bain. “I think there were a lot of various opinions.”

Bain said no solid conclusions were reached, nor were any expected to be reached as this was the first of what is likely to be many meetings to hash out what is a county road and what isn’t.

“I feel strongly that we got the ball rolling,” said Bain. “There was a lot of meat put on the table.”

One of the issues was financial inequity, as some members of county council believe their towns pay too much in assessments for what they receive back in road funding. Bain believes that will be an area that will be looked at further as the process progresses.

“It’s going to be a long, slow, tedious job but I feel we’ll come up with a solution,” said Bain, noting he has a goal of having it completed if not by the end of 2017, by the 2018 municipal election.

County CAO Brian Gregg told county council members at the start of the meeting that no criteria was expected to be developed by the end of the first meeting but “we want you to tell us what you want that criteria to look like.”

Consultant Roger Bryan speaks to Essex County councillors last Wednesday night during a meeting on the county’s road network. The county has started a process to review its road system.

Consultant Roger Bryan speaks to Essex County councillors last Wednesday night during a meeting on the county’s road network. The county has started a process to review its road system.

Many elected officials said county roads are roadways that connect municipalities and high traffic areas with one another. Amherstburg Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said he understood that to be the definition and that if that is the case, the county has to be careful on how it designates its roadways. County roads can’t be determined so that a higher amount of dollars will flow to individual municipalities for projects.

“You can’t just designate a street just because you want to give a municipalities more percentage,” said DiCarlo.

Bain suggested that county roads also have to be roads that see a lot of goods transported with Essex Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche suggesting connecting areas of tourism also should be considered for county road status. Tecumseh Deputy Mayor Joe Bachetti believed the county should look at the road network as a way to connect rural settlement areas.

Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara believed there should be “a clear outline for this process” and that open discussion should be had with the lower tier municipalities. Decisions should be made on based on such issues as traffic counts and future growth projections.

“There’s got to be more input,” agreed Essex Mayor Ron McDermott.

LaSalle Mayor Ken Antaya wanted a “fair process” and didn’t think his town was getting its share of the county’s road dollars.

“As partners, we should all be concerned about each other. (LaSalle) doesn’t feel like partners,” said Antaya. “I feel we’re just a source of money because we’re not getting a lot.”

Lakeshore Deputy Mayor Al Fazio believed a lot of how county roads are funded has to do with the geographic size of the municipalities.

“It’s not our fault the government shoved (amalgamation) down our throats,” said Fazio.

Fazio said ideally each municipality should be funded equally “but the reality is it’s never going to be equal.”

Amherstburg Mayor Aldo DiCarlo (left) gives feedback during a meeting on the county road system Jan. 25. Consultant Roger Bryan (right) listens to DiCarlo's comments.

Amherstburg Mayor Aldo DiCarlo (left) gives feedback during a meeting on the county road system Jan. 25. Consultant Roger Bryan (right) listens to DiCarlo’s comments.

DiCarlo indicated that the most effective routes to move people or goods should be looked at for designation and questioned whether the meeting was to look at what the definition of county roads are or whether it was a meeting to discuss assessment costs.

“To me, it’s almost two different issues,” said DiCarlo.

Amherstburg Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale suggested some roads may need changing but viewed county roads as the most important transit routes in Essex County. Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos said standards were developed when there were 21 county municipalities instead of the current seven and that maybe there are roads that need to have their designations changed.

Meloche believed “there’s always going to be disparity” and that looking at specific issues could pit municipalities against each other.

“The next thing you know, we’re not county council,” said Meloche.

Leamington Mayor John Paterson believed municipalities like Tecumseh, LaSalle and his own are overpaying when looking at assessments versus their percentage of the road network, adding that Amherstburg is slightly underpaying. He said Amherstburg has 12.7 per cent of the road network but pays 11.6 per cent of the assessment.

Paterson suggested that the assessment dollars be kept by each municipality and that they look after their own roads.

“So far, no one has convinced me we need county roads,” he said during the meeting.

Fazio disagreed.

“We all need each other. Pulling out is not the way to go.”

Essex County council votes down proposed EWSWA budget

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The proposed Essex-Windsor Solid Waste Authority (EWSWA) budget has been rejected by Essex County council.

County council unanimously rejected the budget last Wednesday night. The EWSWA budget calls for a zero percent increase in 2017 as well as 2018. The budget was arrived at by the authority Nov. 29 but county representatives slammed the budget that was approved due to Windsor having a majority of members on the board.

A 4.11 per cent increase had been recommended but by passing it with a zero per cent increase, it meant a dip into the EWSWA’s rate stabilization reserve thus bringing it down from $13.2 million to $12.2 million.

Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara said the zero per cent budget is “ludicrous” and that operating the landfill with a rate freeze is not realistic.

“At some point in time, you’ve got to pay,” said McNamara. “It makes no sense to me.”

Such factors as rising fuel costs at the landfill have to be dealt with, he continued, and that it was “foolish” to try and accommodate everything “by the skin of your teeth.

“You’ve got to find money somewhere and pay the fiddler up front,” said McNamara. “To me, this is a disservice to our taxpayers in the future. We are mortgaging our future to look good today.”

LaSalle Mayor Ken Antaya, one of the county representatives on the EWSWA board, said he was “surprised beyond belief” that the budget was approved at the authority level with a zero per cent increase. He also questioned whether procedures were violated by passing a motion regarding the 2018 budget.

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To reconsider that motion requires a two-thirds majority, and Antaya was resigned to the fact the county didn’t have enough votes to do so. He also shared similar concerns to McNamara.

“By not paying the bill today, we’re just delaying it for the next generation,” said Antaya.

County council members were also concerned that if a zero per cent increase proceeds for the next two years, EWSWA administration projects that the rate increase could be as high as 9.87 per cent in 2019.

Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos believed the freezing of rates for two years was more due to “political expediency” than anything else. He believed they would be “going down the wrong path” by approving the budget as presented.

“It doesn’t make business sense,” said Santos.

Essex Mayor Ron McDermott, another member of the EWSWA board, said the county representatives were “100 per cent against” the zero per cent increase. He questioned why city representatives didn’t listen to EWSWA administration as “they do the work” in preparing the budget.

“(Windsor) could care less about families, they could care less about their neighbours,” stated McDermott. “We’re going backwards at zero per cent. I can’t see us doing anything but turn this down. This is terrible that anyone could even think of this.”

There isn’t a lot of “fat” in the EWSWA budget, added Leamington Deputy Mayor Hilda MacDonald, adding county representatives were told they have a “traditional” approach to budgeting.

“To me, this is shortsighted,” said MacDonald. “This doesn’t give a fig about 20 years from now.”

MacDonald added there is no money devoted towards the landfill for its eventual replacement and all the attention is on the debt.

“I think we are realistic,” she said of the county’s approach. “I think it’s common sense. We’re thinking down the road.”

Kingsville Deputy Mayor Gord Queen also blasted the city’s stance and that a near-10 per cent increase would “not be acceptable, period.” Lakeshore Deputy Mayor Al Fazio said recommendations dropped from 5.6 per cent to 4.11 per cent before it was approved by the city at zero per cent.

“The bottom line is it’s a sham,” said Fazio.

Fazio agreed that “you pay now or you pay later,” noting that “there’s not one person that wants to pay taxes.” He also asked whether the issue of 2018 was even on the agenda.

By turning it town, an ad hoc committee featuring administration from both Essex County and Windsor will help set a new budget for both councils to consider.