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Town approves $50,000 to fund implementation of staff accommodation review



By Ron Giofu


The Town of Amherstburg has addressed a “staffing resources shortage” during the 2017 and 2018 budget deliberations and now are having difficulty finding places for them to work.

Town council authorized an amount not exceed $50,000 for implantation of a staff accommodation review. The results of that will see the lower level of the Amherstburg Municipal Building reconfigured to provide for additional work spaces. A report authored by treasurer Justin Rousseau stated that plan will “accommodate the current staff accommodation needs at the municipal offices potentially for the next few years, subject to growth in the town and administrative demands.”

However, Rousseau cautioned that it does not provide “a comprehensive long-term solution” to address long-term growth in municipal operations nor does it address compliance with accessibility legislation.

Councillor Leo Meloche questioned why the study was not a budget item during 2018 deliberations with CAO John Miceli admitting it had been missed. He said “for full transparency, we came to council” regarding the matter.

Meloche further pressed as to whether the matter should have been put off to the 2019 town budget, but Miceli said the staff have been hired and now need a place to work out of.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo indicated that he has first-hand knowledge that there are tight quarters at town hall.

“I’m sharing my office with a new hire,” he said, “not that I’m complaining.”

The Town of Amherstburg had previously applied for grant funding to assist with town hall upgrades and the ability to move further services to the Libro Centre. That grant was unsuccessful. The building and planning departments have been based out of the Libro Centre for the last few years.

IBEW holding info picket this weekend, town plans to issue response



By Ron Giofu


IBEW Local 636 and the Town of Amherstburg will enter mediation Feb. 4 but the two sides are looking to get their positions to the public beforehand.

IBEW business representative Brian Manninger said unionized workers are planning an information picket Saturday in front of the Libro Centre with the possibility it could extend into Sunday. Manninger said there was a meeting with the membership Wednesday night where the 55 unionized inside and outside workers received an update and reaffirmed their strike position by a 98 per cent vote.

Should negotiations with a provincial mediator break down Feb. 4, the workers could hit the picket lines as soon as the next day.

Manninger hopes a new collective agreement can be reached next Thursday and said the strike deadline could be extended if progress was made, but indicated little progress was being made thus far.

“We don’t want to see a work stoppage,” he said, noting workers are worried about their livelihoods.

Manninger doesn’t believe the town will see a lot of savings through a strike and said it could lead to a strained relationship if it gets that far.

“The residual effects of a strike can go on for years,” he said. “It’s not healthy for either side.”

A conciliation session was held Jan. 12 but Manninger stated only one small article was hammered out during a six-hour session.

“There was no progress being made whatsoever,” said Manninger.

The union will do everything it can to prevent a work stoppage, Manninger added, and they are hoping the town feels the same way.

There are two main issues, according to Manninger, one being hours of work and the other being money. While not begrudging police or fire departments, he said firefighters get a three per cent increase each year for five years while police officers will receive a 5.25 per cent increase in the second year of their deal.

Three top administrators have also seen raises while unionized staff took a one-year wage freeze, he added.

Manninger said the union wants to see their current collective agreement maintained and wage issues addressed, noting cost of living is going up.

“Whether or not people support us, call your councillor and let them know how you’re feeling,” said Manninger.

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CAO John Miceli confirmed the two sides will enter mediation Feb. 4 “and we’ll see where things go from there.”

Miceli said the town respects the collective bargaining process but doesn’t believe that feeling is being shared.

“I respect the process but the union is not respecting the process,” he said.

The town will be issuing a statement next week to further explain its stance, he added.

“(The union) seems to think it’s a concessionary contract but that’s not the case,” said Miceli.

Miceli said he wants to see what type of information is distributed at this weekend’s information picket and respond to it. The statements he has heard thus far from the union are statements he does not agree with.

“They are misleading the community,” he said. “They are making some pretty misleading statements.”

Conciliation happening today between town, IBEW Local 636



By Ron Giofu


The town and IBEW Local 636 entered conciliation today to try and hammer out a new contract for the unionized employees.

There was a Dec. 31 strike deadline but that has been extended. A previous conciliation session, which had been slated for Dec. 7, was postponed due to the provincial conciliator not being able to come to Amherstburg due to fog.

“We have made some headway on some minor items,” said Brian Manninger, business representative of IBEW Local 636.

How the negotiations truly will proceed will be judged based on today, he believed, and noted that despite headway, there is still a need for a conciliator.

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“It’s a rough round of bargaining,” said Manninger, who would not get into specifics on issues being discussed.

Manninger added while some positives can be derived from the fact progress has been made on some issues, he said people have their heels dug in on other issues.

Depending on what happens in conciliation, either side could request a no-board report. If that report is issued, a new strike date would be set 17 days later.

The town’s budget deliberations also may lead to challenges during negotiations, he believed.

“Hearing what is coming out of council’s budget deliberations, it’s an uphill road,” said Manninger.

CAO John Miceli gave town council an update during an in-camera session following Monday’s regular meeting. He acknowledged the conciliation meeting being held Tuesday and said they are hopeful of help from the conciliator on some issues.

“We’ve made a lot of progress on a number of issues,” he said.

There are changes that are necessary to assist the town in its operations, Miceli added.

Taxes may rise 2.3 per cent



By Ron Giofu


The 2016 budget hasn’t been passed yet, but council will consider finalizing it next Monday night.

The town’s 2016 budget will come before council for passage at the Jan. 11 meeting with it currently calling for a 2.3 per cent increase after council approved it in principle last Monday night. If the budget receives formal approval at 2.3 per cent, the increase would translate into a $38.71 increase on a home valued at $191,000.

Town council members debated the budget this past Monday night in a nearly four-hour meeting that was sometimes contentious, sometimes bizarre but one that showed an ability by council members to chop positions that were recommended by administration to be filled.

Council debated eight potential new jobs recommended by CAO John Miceli and opted not to fill five of them. It mirrored much of what was recommended by the town’s audit and finance committee, which called for filling one of the building inspector positions (council decided to hire two full-time inspectors), allowing for the planning, development and legislative services position to proceed as scheduled and rejected the rest.

Town council also agreed to take the money that was designated for the now-unsupported positions and allocate that to capital reserves, something that was recommended by the committee and its chair John Purdie. Purdie noted that the committee also supports the pair of two per cent levies, and believed allocating money from unsupported positions would help support “high risk” issues like unfunded capital projects.

The amount allocated has been estimated at $450,000.

Town council will consider finalizing a 2.3 per cent tax increase Jan. 11. (File photo)

Town council will consider finalizing a 2.3 per cent tax increase Jan. 11. (File photo)

Council shot down a part-time health and safety officer, though some wanted it including Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale. DiPasquale said properly training the staff on health and safety was key, noting that firefighters put their lives on the line and need the proper training. Councillor Jason Lavigne countered by stating Chief Al Reaume is doing a good job and didn’t believe the town would put anyone at risk by not filling a part-time position.

“I’m a little concerned,” admitted Councillor Leo Meloche over the desire not to fill the position. “With the number of issues we’ve had in the last year or so, why are we not considering this position? I’m concerned we are still leaving ourselves open to criticism and actions by third party due to a lack of a health and safety officer.”

Councillor Joan Courtney said the town is known for being the safest in Canada and questioned the need for a position, but Meloche said they should want it to be the safest to work for as well.

Councillor Diane Pouget noted the town’s debt and said the Deloitte report warns against non-essential hires. Pouget joined councillors Rick Fryer, Joan Courtney and Lavigne in voting against the position.

“When a corporation is in debt, everyone has to do more,” she said.

Fryer, Pouget, Lavigne and Courtney also opposed hiring a financial analyst, a position Miceli stated every other municipality in the region has at least one of. Lavigne said the town is doing better financially and didn’t believe hiring a $100,000 position was necessary, at least not before a strategic plan was finalized.

Director of finance/treasurer Justin Rousseau said his department is stretched just in running day-to-day operations and doesn’t have the resources to tackle any further financial initiatives. Meloche said the Deloitte report emphasized filling the position, but Pouget believed that report only pointed out the department was short staffed. She added her belief the department is doing better.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said he didn’t have a problem with council’s decisions on hiring or not hiring, but cautioned that reports may take longer to come back to council. He believed a financial analyst would provide more value for the money in the long run.

Town council eliminated a part-time bylaw enforcement officer position unanimously with little debate but the meeting took a strange turn during the debate over the hiring of building inspectors. Councillor Leo Meloche put forth a motion calling for the town to hire one full-time position and eliminate a contracted position but before the vote, council took a recess which was requested by Fryer. Fryer wondered who was on his computer as he was having issues with his laptop. Once the meeting resumed, Meloche withdrew his motion only to have Pouget make a similar one, which passed with DiPasquale, Courtney, Fryer and Pouget in favour.

Moments after the motion passed, Courtney asked to have the motion reconsidered with council agreeing. After council received clarification on how many people would be in the building department if the hires were approved – the chief building official and the two inspectors – the motion was passed with DiCarlo, Courtney, Lavigne, DiPasquale and Meloche in favour.

Town council unanimously voted against hiring a new director of parks, facilities, recreation and culture and then focused its attention on the drainage supervisor position. Meloche noted with the flooding the town has received in recent years, the town needs a full-time supervisor. DiPasquale agreed, pointing out there are still pending lawsuits on drainage and flooding matters.

Council rejected a part-time position but agreed to hire a full-time position, though not all agreed. Lavigne, who opposed the hire along with Fryer and Pouget, said the town is getting caught up on drainage matters and believed the position wouldn’t be necessary in a few years since many drains wouldn’t need work again for at least 50 years. The town has 275 drains and public works managers were reported to be stretched to the limit as it is.

Council voted 5-2 to chop an engineering technician position with only DiCarlo and DiPasquale supporting such a hire.

Some discussion was had over the exact amount of the proposed increase, with Fryer maintaining it was over six per cent as he factored in the two levies that have carried over from last year. He would later make a motion looking to eliminate the levies, a motion that didn’t get supported.

DiCarlo said the increase is not over six per cent with Meloche agreeing.

“It’s not two plus two plus two,” said Meloche.

“We’re not looking for a six per cent increase,” said DiCarlo.

Miceli said the levies carried over from last year and are helping to rebuild reserves and undertake capital projects. He said the 2014 capital budget relied totally on external funding.

“We had nothing,” he said.

Lavigne said the current council inherited a “mess” and he supported the levies. He said previous councils “didn’t plan for anything” and accused them of “having no tangible capital plan at all.”

Town council also directed administration to chop $100,000 from the bylaw enforcement department, after a motion made by Fryer. The motion passed with little debate. Miceli said after the meeting that money will be allocated to reserves.

As for the rejection of his recommended positions, Miceli – who stated the town had a “human resources gap” – said the positions could still be considered in future years. He noted council’s desire to have a strategic plan first, and said that could be ready by the third quarter of 2016, right when 2017 budget deliberations would be ready to begin.

Early in the meeting, there was also a debate on unfunded liabilities with Pouget wondering if new hires could impact those liabilities. Miceli said by putting a cap on post-retirement benefits, that wouldn’t impact that figure.

Pouget believed that figure, which she said was $16.1 million at the end of 2014, would be on top of the $41 million debt and “we’re obligated to pay that amount of money.” Administration disagreed, with Rousseau noting every municipality, school board and hospital have such obligations and said it would be a “worst-case scenario” that would occur if the town were to cease operations.

“It’s not a long-term debt,” said Rousseau. “It’s not something the town will have to repay. It’s a very common misconception on the balance sheet.”

Pouget remained unconvinced, stating “once our retirees start to retire, we have to pay the liability.”

Resident barred from town facilities for one year


Town hall sign

By Ron Giofu


A local resident has been banned from all town-owned facilities, including town hall, for a period of one year.

Graham Hobbs has been barred from all town facilities, effective last Tuesday, as he was served with a trespassing notice from the municipality. Hobbs’ lawyer Anthony Leardi said his client was caught off-guard by the notice, which stems from an alleged incident at town hall Nov. 20.

“He has been given no explanation of why he received it other than the very vague accusation that his behavior was somehow ‘unacceptable’,” said Leardi. “He does not know what this refers to. My client is trying to understand this. He’s been accused of something. The notice doesn’t say what he’s accused of.”

Leardi said Hobbs was not contacted him before he received the notice.

“Graham is a 75-year-old grandfather,” said Leardi. “He’s so well known at town hall they call him by his first name.”

Calling Hobbs “a frequent contributor to the political discussion in Amherstburg,” Leardi added there have been no issues between Hobbs and town staff in the past.

“He has never before had a problem with anyone at town hall nor has anyone had a problem with him,” said Leardi. “Receiving this notice, without any contact from anyone at town hall, took him completely by surprise. You’d think if people had a problem with Graham, they would talk to him and tell him there is a problem. Graham is attentive and willing to listen.”

Leardi added they don’t know who is responsible for the accusation.

“He’s being accused of something by somebody. We don’t know who and we don’t know why,” said Leardi. “How can the poor man respond?”

Leardi is hopeful the notice will be rescinded in time for Saturday’s budget meeting at the Libro Centre, which runs from 2-4 p.m.

CAO John Miceli confirmed there has been a trespassing notice issued and all municipal staff have been advised of it.

“It was a decision I made based on a situation that happened,” said Miceli. “There’s an incident that happened, a trespassing notice was issued and that’s all I’m going to comment on.”

Miceli said he received a complaint from a staff member and acted on it.

“I, as an employer, responded to the complaint,” said Miceli.

Miceli added the decision was made based on the town’s health and safety policy regarding to workplace harassment and didn’t feel it was fair to Hobbs or the complainant to divulge any further information publicly.