Town council

Budget notes from town council’s recent deliberations

The budget was passed Monday night but here are a few more items from the budget deliberations that were debated Feb. 12-13.

 

Council pay   Town council voted to increase their overall gross pay to offset the loss of the one-third tax exemption that council members formerly received. The gross pay for councillors will increase by $2,745 each and the gross pay for the mayor and deputy mayor will increase $5,985 and $4,325 respectively in order for them to receive the same net pay they had been receiving.

Resident Gregory Moore disagreed with the idea, telling council it will cost taxpayers more money.

“Either you are going to pay your taxes or we are,” he said. “I like you guys, but I don’t want to pay your taxes.”

Council received a raise in 2018.

 

Professional fees   Councillor Michael Prue questioned $25,500 in professional fees in what was described as a one-time costs. Administration explained that the cost is due to it being a contract year for firefighters as well as a unit of staff represented by IBEW so council opted to leave it in.

Town council deliberates the 2019 budget Feb. 13.

Recognition   Town council opted to leave $10,000 in the budget for “employee recognition” but further opted not to increase that by $3,600. Spending $6,800 on the town’s Christmas party was debated with Deputy Mayor Leo Meloche and Councillor Donald McArthur stating those events are good for employee morale but others disagreed, as Prue stated “I don’t want to be the Grinch that stole Christmas, but this is not normal corporate practice.”

 

Fire department boat   The Amherstburg Fire Department will acquire the former Amherstburg police boat with the budget impacted by $5,500. The vessel will help with rescues along local waterways but Councillor Peter Courtney didn’t see the need, and worried that the projected $5,500 cost would actually grow over the years. Prue believed the fire department should have the vessel in order to ensure that a future tragedy could be avoided.

Courtney tried to have the boat removed from the budget but was turned down.

 

Cuts   Town council removes $4,275 for drainage committee training from the budget. They also reduced $56,400 from the non-departmental reserve budget as Deputy Mayor Leo Meloche had concerns over a contingency reserve.

 

Wall repairs   Councillor Marc Renaud questioned the water and wastewater budgets, specifically a $207,000 budget line. It was explained that there are issues with walls leaking at the water plant and that repairs have to be initiated. It was described as a “one-time repair” by administration.

Some new positions approved, others shot down during budget

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The tourism department had its staffing request approved during the 2019 budget deliberations but you won’t get that news from a communications co-ordinator.

Town council opted to convert 1.5 contract positions in the tourism department to two full-time positions as part of their budget deliberations last Wednesday, a move that the town estimates will cost an additional $58,000. Manager of tourism and culture Anne Rota said her department brings in revenue and helps economic development. She also told town council that the tourism department came in 23 per cent under budget.

Councillor Peter Courtney said that while the tourism department does good work, many residents don’t see a direct benefit to their work and he wanted to see a status quo on staffing levels as compared to 2018.

“We’re all supposed to be bending and twisting. Our infrastructure is terrible,” said Courtney. “I’m not convinced we need four full-time all-year personnel.”

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said he knows first-hand the work that goes into planning events and that he also attends festivals for the duration that they are on and that work has to occur for many months on them. Rota added that both tourism co-ordinator Jen Ibrahim and herself work 50-60 hours per week in the spring and summer and “we can’t do it anymore. For the first time, we’re coming here and saying we need your help.”

Deputy Mayor Leo Meloche believed that tourism “is a large component of the business strategy of the town” and that it is in the town’s best interest. Councillor Patricia Simone questioned whether grants could help offset increased staffing costs.

Simone added that while she supported the tourism department’s work, she didn’t support the staffing request this year.

Rota added that sponsorships went up in 2018 and that her department also meets with hotel operators.

“Why do you think they came here?” she said of the hotels. “It was because of tourism. This department is more high level than people think.”

Councillor Donald McArthur said he believes in the economic spinoff of tourism and that he wanted the town “to send a strong message on supporting tourism.” He believed that local businesses benefit from the tourism department’s work and that it leads to local jobs.

“I think it benefits local commerce,” said McArthur.

Councillor Michael Prue supported making the additional tourism positions full-time and believed there are benefits to the town in doing so.

“I’ve never met such hard working women in my life,” said Prue. “I think they deserve full-time jobs.”

Councillor Marc Renaud said residents he spoke to while campaigning said festivals and events stood out to them. Helping support local businesses through festival leads to commercial taxes and jobs, he added.

The communications officer, estimated at $105,000 for salaries and benefits, fell by the wayside Tuesday night. Courtney was the initial council member to voice opposition with Meloche joining him. Meloche noted that with the initial tax increase projected at 2.65 per cent (since reduced to 1.87 per cent), that was an area that they could cut.

McArthur, himself the communications co-ordinator with the County of Essex, said he saw value in the position and that it would be a “missed opportunity” to eliminate it. McArthur said he recognized the need to trim the budget but “I don’t think this is the place to do it” as a communications co-ordinator could connect with residents and keep residents informed, adding the budget presentation on the Town of Essex’s website “puts ours to shame.

“A professional communicator can ensure people understand what is going on,” said McArthur.

Prue said the town needs to invest in parks and roads as well as an economic development officer and believed the cost of a communications officer was too steep right now.

Town council approved the clerk’s services budget and with it a full-time clerk’s co-ordinator position. The town had a part-time position in 2018. Total cost for 2019 is $83,321. The town also approved $15,000 to hire a new assistant in the fire department to accommodate a person with an intellectual disability. Chief Bruce Montone said that would allow someone with a disability to get a sustainable job and to help that person contribute to the community. The figure was reduced from its original $25,759.

“I want to think the rights they have are no different than the rights we all have,” said Prue, of those with intellectual disabilities.

Relating to a temporary HR position, that was kept in and that $94,765 position is expected to alleviate a “heavy” workload in that department this year, particularly as regular staff learn new software. Courtney wanted the position eliminated but CAO John Miceli outlined health and safety matters the town has faced in recent years and said the town want to be proactive in those situations. While supporting it this go-around, Prue said he expects the department to get caught up this year and doesn’t want to see the position in November when council deliberates the 2020 budget.

Town council reduced the $128,961 in salaries and benefits requested by the parks department as they wanted three part-time staff members but council would only agree to two. Manager of parks and facilities Annette Zahaluk said her department has fielded complaints about the appearance of some Amherstburg parks.

“It’s embarrassing, some of the parks, of the way we’ve had to let them go,” she said.

Students are only available May-August, she added, while staff has to help in the winter with River Lights set-up and take-down and with salting and snow removal.

“I’m hearing River Lights a lot,” said Courtney. “If not for River Lights, would we need three part-time people?”

Miceli noted that the town has always had some sort of involvement with River Lights even before the town officially took over the festival.

Prue added he hopes that department gets assistance from volunteers when it comes to cleanups and beautification.

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.

 

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.

Budget tabled, first draft calls for 2.65% tax increase

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The first draft of the 2019 town budget has been put before council and the public with the initial recommendation calling for a 2.65 per cent tax increase.

While that is far from the final number – a public meeting and budget deliberations are still to come – that was the number presented by treasurer Justin Rousseau Monday night. Rousseau added that decreases to the county and school board levy demands would bring that number down to 1.93 per cent, or an additional $78 in taxes to 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.

Rousseau added that the two capital levies should also be maintained. He pointed out the town’s infrastructure needs are substantial and that is why the levies are recommended to be included.

“Amherstburg has a high value to infrastructure for residents to enjoy,” he said, adding it also creates the highest burden in terms of eventual replacement.

Amherstburg has the the most invested per capita in terms of infrastructure as opposed to any other Essex County municipality, he noted.

Among the capital budget highlights include $930,000 in police transition costs. Director of corporate services Cheryl Horrobin noted that would be covered by savings from the switchover, the police reserve and a transfer from another reserve that would be paid back in one year.

Potential hires could include a communications officer, an administrative co-ordinator, three part-time general parks labourers, two special events co-ordinators and a human resources co-ordinator.

Rousseau noted that the 2019 capital budget is just shy of $14.5 million, adding that capital spending is up $700,000 from 2018. He noted that all capital projects in 2019 are proposed to be financed without debt with the exception of the Edgewater forcemain.

Capital demands for the year are roughly $38.6 million, he noted, and over $135 million over the next ten years, creating a “significant funding gap that needs to be addressed.”

“Continued progress and planning for the future is key to managing such a monumental task as replacing failing infrastructure with limited funds available,” he said.

There will be a public meeting held on the 2019 budget Feb. 2 at the Libro Centre starting at 1 p.m. 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.