Town council

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.

….MORE TO COME….

Various concerns raised by public at budget meeting

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

It was a small crowd but a crowd that came with questions last Saturday afternoon.

The town held a public information meeting regarding the proposed 2018 budget at the Libro Centre with roughly a dozen people attending the nearly two-hour session. Among the crowd were members of council including Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale and councillors Leo Meloche and Diane Pouget with Mayor Aldo DiCarlo joining CAO John Miceli, treasurer Justin Rousseau and other department heads at the head table.

Miceli and Rousseau outlined the budget, similar to what they did at the Nov. 6 meeting when the budget was tabled, and the current recommendation is for a two per cent increase to the tax rate and 0.75 per cent increases to each of the two levies to address the town’s growing infrastructure needs. 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.

The town forecasts $24.1 million in operating expenses in 2018, as compared to $22.7 million in 2017. General rated expenses, with capital and debt payments, are budgeted to be $27.1 million in 2018 versus $25.7 million for 2017. Total collectible through the tax rate is budgeted at $20.9 million for 2018 as compared to $20.1 million in 2017.

Miceli outlined a number of plans, including the strategic plan and asset management plan among others, that the town has undertaken. He said Amherstburg “must continue to be proactive and not reactive” as it pertains to infrastructure and said among the new studies proposed are a master aging plan and a town-wide service master study, the last one to consider possibly over-sizing of infrastructure to allow for 1,500 lots in the core.

Town council and administration fielded questions at a Nov. 18 budget meeting at the Libro Centre. Pictured are (from left): director of engineering and public works Antonietta Giofu, director of planning, development and legislative service, treasurer Justin Rousseau, CAO John Miceli and Mayor Aldo DiCarlo.

Local resident Roger Hudson believed that assessment values should be reflected in what is reported as a tax increase. He said he didn’t experience a 1.87 per cent tax increase last year, but instead faced a 3.44 per cent increase due to growth in his assessment. While the town states it faces a 2.37 per cent growth factor on average in assessment growth, Hudson stated that most people have no idea what that means.

“I didn’t know it was going to be a tax increase,” he said.

Town officials argued that they can only control the tax rate and that the municipality has to work with the numbers the province gives them in terms of assessments.

“It’s only 3.44 per cent for you,” DiCarlo told Hudson.

DiCarlo said his personal assessment went up 11 per cent at his home, and said it is different for each property.

“The only number we can control is our portion,” the mayor stated. “The 2.37 per cent is only the average based on what the province gives us. On a house-by-house basis, taxes may go up way more.”

Rousseau said residents have the option of appealing their assessments to MPAC, with Meloche saying people are taxed on what their new assessment value is and that the tax rate and assessment increase numbers aren’t compounded.

John McDonald asked for further information on unfunded liabilities, noting that some U.S. municipalities have “crashed” because of not being able to afford them. Miceli said that is the American model and that the Canadian model is different.

Sarah Gibb questioned the additional new jobs proposed within the budget and wondered what the new roles would be. DiCarlo said that “some of these positions are not brand new” and said in some cases, it is a job change.

DiCarlo told the public while there are ten new jobs being talked about, some jobs were either changed or eliminated with costs offset elsewhere.

“It is not the case,” he said of the ten new positions.

Miceli said there is a mix of full-time, part-time and contract positions being proposed and attempted to justify the proposals. Using tourism department as an example, the CAO stated tourism is up 38 per cent in Amherstburg with two people in the tourism department and that one of those staff members hasn’t been able to use her full vacation allotment in three years.

“That’s problematic,” said Miceli. “I look at that and say ‘can this person continue to sustain that?’ and ‘is it fair for this person to sustain that?’” I would say no.”

Miceli said residents should look at all documents approved by the town – including the Deloitte Report and all the plans and guidelines the town is working on – to understand why positions are proposed. Such documents as the strategic plan have already had public participation, he said, adding the town doesn’t have the resources to implement what the plans’ recommendations are “in an effective and responsible way.”

Local resident John McDonald asks a question of town council and administration during the Nov. 18 budget meeting at the Libro Centre in Amherstburg.

Marc Renaud, president of the Amherstburg Minor Hockey Association (AMHA), questioned a proposed $6/hr. surcharge for AMHA users and said they would rather have a one per cent increase in ice rate charges. Renaud believed that would cause AMHA’s rates to “go through the roof” but Miceli stated that, according to his numbers, AMHA is among the lowest in the region and could charge an additional $63.50 per user just to get to the median.

Miceli said there is a cost to maintaining the Libro Centre but Renaud said facilities like that are built to draw families to the community. Renaud estimated that about 30 families in AMHA have to be subsidized through Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart program.

DiCarlo told the RTT after the meeting that “the first thing you’ve got to notice is the lack of turnout.” He said it has been his experience that people generally turn out when there is a problem.

“If people do have a problem with how we are operating, you better let us know otherwise the first reaction is that we are doing a good job,” said the mayor.

There has been a lot of comments via social media, DiCarlo acknowledged, and that the town does care about all comments and that he wants to ensure people know their comments and opinions matter.

The questions about MPAC assessments and the impact on taxes comes up annually, he said. As for the questions about new job openings, DiCarlo urged the public to fully read the budget documents and educate themselves as he admitted frustration regarding the perception the town isn’t as transparent as it should be.

Rather, the mayor believed, the town is transparent “to a fault” and that positions listed as new jobs are actually reclassified jobs. Many of the jobs that are new additions are needed, he believed, first citing the building department. He said that department had more bodies several years ago but downsized and now that the town has seen an increase in building activity, “the building department can’t keep up.”

The same is true of the tourism department, DiCarlo stated.

“We are doing what we said we were going to do. We can’t be any more transparent,” DiCarlo said. “If we couldn’t, we said why.”

As it stands now, the proposed two per cent increase in the municipal tax rate would translate into a $36.77 increase on a $200,000 home while the increase in levies would amount to a $29.66 increase each. When the county and school board rates are factored in, Rousseau said that drops the forecasted property tax increase to 1.52 per cent.

Town council is expected to deliberate the 2018 budget 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.

Belle Vue Conservancy gives update to town council

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The Belle Vue Conservancy has given town council an update on their progress.

Conservancy president Shirley Curson-Prue appeared before town council at the Sept. 25 meeting to give elected officials, administration and the public more information on what has been collected through donations and other fundraising.

The information regarding cash-on-hand was as of Sept. 14 with that information showing that $115,946.23 had been received. A breakdown of that figure showed that $9,045 was collected through online donations while $60,936 came in through cheques. Other sources of revenue factored into the overall total included the $5,200 made from the WSO “Leading Notes” concert at Christ Church, the $8,000 raised from “Golf Birdies and Bogies” golf tournament and the $28,000-plus won in the National Trust for Canada’s “This Place Matters” online crowdfunding contest.

Other revenue collected by the Belle Vue Conservancy includes $9,861.80 in in-kind donations receipted, $5,049.20 from their recent yard sale, $90,600 in donation commitments and roughly $25,000 from the “Puttin’ on the Ritz” fashion gala at Sprucewood Shores Estate Winery.

Belle Vue Conservancy president Shirley Curson-Prue (left) addresses town council as treasurer Michael Prue holds the painting of Belle Vue done by artist Peter Rindlisbacher.

Curson-Prue pointed out additional funds will be raised through the sale of prints of Peter Rindlisbacher’s painting of the building and future fundraising efforts. She indicated there is a grant they are looking at applying for but noted the application deadline is Oct. 6.

Curson-Prue thanked the donors, town and River Town Times for their assistance in fundraising, and noted that the funds raised thus far could be put to use. She shared a motion from the conservancy’s Sept. 11 meeting which requested that money raised and deposited with the Amherstburg Community Foundation be used to repair the roof, clean out and repair eavestroughs, install solar lighting and cameras to deter trespassers, remove asbestos, repair “targeted windows” using $10,000 of the “This Place Matters” prize money, utilize pro bono cleanup and allow monthly cleanup of the grounds by staff and volunteers.

Councillor Joan Courtney praised the work of the conservancy and said they are working “non stop” on trying to restore the 200-year-old building.

“What you’ve achieved already is awe-inspiring,” said Curson-Prue.

Later in the meeting, concern was brought forth by residents about a possible roadway to Belle Vue from Sandwich St. S. CAO John Miceli said the roadway is conceptual at this point and that it has not been formally approved by council.

Miceli indicated that local projects, including Belle Vue, have to be looked at for what is good for the community as a whole. He added that the parking lot just south of the police station is still required for municipal business and that while it needs to be paved to live up to municipal bylaws, the site itself is not designated historical.

“The attractions that would have made it a heritage site were removed in the 1960’s,” said Miceli.

Belle Vue Conservancy outlines sponsorship program to council

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The Belle Vue Conservancy has outlined its next steps to town council, with some of those steps including sponsorship opportunities.

Shirley Curson-Prue, president of the conservancy, spoke to town council at their most recent meeting with several members of the group in the audience. She also presented a written presentation to the town.

“We have confirmed the branding, goal, and vision of the Conservancy and developed an overarching fundraising strategy. Based on information provided by the town liaison representative, our activity should be eligible for matching funds up to $1 million through a Sesquicentennial Program to be offered by Parks Canada,” Curson-Prue stated. “There may well be funds available from other departments and other levels of government. For this reason the Conservancy Steering Committee confirmed our intention to target our fundraising activities for phase one to be up to $1 million.”

The first phase includes obtaining “keystone sponsors” including room sponsors that could go as high as $300,000 for a room to window sponsors for the ten rooms that they hope to raise $200,000 from in total.

A crowd sourcing fundraising campaign is expected to start in February. They hope to raise $50,000 in a semi-annual campaign.

The Belle Vue Conservancy has a new logo, designed and donated by local artist Elio Del Col.

The Belle Vue Conservancy has a new logo, designed and donated by local artist Elio DelCol.

“As indicated, we are recommending Naming Rights as a way to generate considerable individual and corporate funds, the lowest amount being $20,000 for a window, up to and including $200,000 or more for different rooms or areas of the building. We have researched naming rights offered by other charitable and not-for–profit organizations and agencies and relied to a certain extent on the activities and funds raised for the Hospice of Windsor and Essex which has generated millions of dollars for the restoration and ongoing maintenance of their facility,” Curson-Prue reported to council. “Given the potential variety of donations from $25 for a tax receipt to $100,000 for naming a large main floor room, it is confirmed that the conservancy will maintain ongoing consultation with the CAO and town administration concerning the type and nature of acknowledgments for other levels of donations. Where it is apparent additional involvement of the town council is required this will be recommended and facilitated through the office of the CAO.”

There are 14 active members of the conservancy, she told town council, noting they are all volunteers.

Councillor Leo Meloche said he is pleased the group “hit the ground running.

“I like what I see and I hope for more good things for the community,” said Meloche.

Upon questioning from Councillor Rick Fryer, CAO John Miceli said there will be no new staff member added to pursue grants with manager of tourism and culture Anne Rota, director of corporate services/treasurer Justin Rousseau and Miceli the ones that will pursue grants.

“I commend you on the work you are doing and thank you very much,” added Councillor Joan Courtney.

Town council receives first look at 2017 budget, 1.99% increase recommended

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Administration has presented the 2017 budget to town council and is recommending a 1.99 per cent increase.

Now, the budget will be taken to the public for consideration then back to council for line-by-line deliberations.

While the town’s portion currently calls for a 1.99 per cent increase, the town anticipates the overall county and municipal property tax increase to amount to 1.49 per cent based on current recommendations. That would mean a net effect of a $45 increase to a home valued at $191,000.

Council received the budget Monday night with CAO John Miceli starting by going over 2016 achievements. Those included the Texas Road project being completed under budget, Alma St. work being funded through the capital levies, not adding debt, engineering work for Meloche Road and awarding the tender for the Libro Centre’s temporary entrance.

“The town has not issued any debt since July 2014, which is over two years ago,” said Miceli.

Miceli also believed the town’s purchase of Duffy’s and Belle Vue was as a result of listening to the residents through the strategic plan process.

The town proposes to increase capital spending in the 2017 budget thanks to savings realized through lower debt and interest payments, he continued. The debt is projected to be at $39 million by the end of 2016, he said.

“This is a noteworthy achievement. It represents financial discipline and is something council should be proud of,” Miceli stated.

Director of corporate services/treasurer Justin Rousseau noted several operating budget pressures, including $66,000 for preventative maintenance for the Libro Centre’s refrigeration system, $38,000 for building maintenance and $120,000 in increased hydro costs due to increases in hydro rates. He noted the pair of two per cent levies are recommended to continue, though they are built into the budget itself.

“It is not an increase to our residents in taxes over 2016,” said Rousseau.

Town hall signWEB

Rousseau also stated the 2017 recommended capital budget is funded from town sources and senior levels of government and is over $8.2 million.

“All 2017 capital will be financed in cash with the exception of the final debenture debt for the Meloche Road project which is projected to be at $1,624,800,” he said.

The town is contributing an additional $500,000 towards capital from operations, something Rousseau termed “significant.” The town proposes to contribute $1.7 million from operations to help fund more capital projects.

The town also has the most infrastructure per resident for people to utilize, a point similar to the one he made last year, but he also noted residents will also have to pay the most to maintain the highest amount of infrastructure in the region. Amherstburg still faces a $10.9 million infrastructure gap, he noted.

“The best way for a municipality to guard itself against the growing infrastructure gap is by growing reserves, as well as developing a self-funding infrastructure program, and are all steps we are now taking as a town,” he said.

Rousseau said council “has made significant strides in managing the financial affairs of the town and the town’s infrastructure needs” and that “council must continue to be proactive and not reactive in its approach to managing the infrastructure and financial affairs of the town.”

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo believed the draft budget had “very reasonable” recommendations. He said all municipalities have to face inflation and their own expanding infrastructure gaps.

Acknowledging “it’s going to be hard not to raise (taxes) to some extent,” DiCarlo pointed out the current recommendations calls for a $45 increase to an average home, or 12 cents per day. He said he doesn’t want to minimize that for those who are on fixed incomes, but said the town is now accountable for every dollar it now spends.

“No council in their right minds wants to increase taxes,” he said, adding there are struggles to keep up with such things as infrastructure costs. DiCarlo added they are now getting some money back for that from the provincial and federal governments so that helps out.

The mayor also stated he hears from residents who want to keep the amenities they have.

Administration is recommending new positions, such as a part-time committee coordinator, a director of parks, facilities, recreation and culture, a part-time planner, converting IT technician and fire administrator positions to full-time, extending the health and safety officer’s contract, and adding a firefighter. DiCarlo admitted he does hear from residents opposed to new hires, but added that some new hires have actually resulted in savings to the town in the long run.

“It costs more to outsource,” he said.

“This is the first budget tied to the ideas and concepts in the strategic plan,” added Rousseau.

The debt was at $51 million in 2013, he noted, and now that it is projected to drop to $39 million by the end of the year, that too was “significant,” he said. Over ten years, Rousseau said the forecast is for the debt to further drop to $32 million with a significant amount of capital work also factored in.

Among the capital work proposed this year are bridge work, including the Concession 2 North bridge in River Canard, and the start of a program to convert street lights to LED fixtures to cut the town’s hydro costs.

“I’m very proud of the staff here and this council,” said Rousseau, stating there is dialogue and input from the public and a very “collaborative” approach to the budget.

There will be a public input session at the Libro Centre Nov. 26 at 1 p.m. with budget deliberations scheduled for the week of Nov. 29.

The target date for adopting the 2017 budget is Dec. 12.