News

Town looking at budget reductions

 

 

Town Logo Small-webBy Ron Giofu

 

Will it be zero per cent, two per cent, four per cent, five per cent or ten per cent?

Town council will consider those levels of possible budget reductions after approving a motion calling for that at last Monday night’s regular meeting. Council will begin budget deliberations in late January looking at the budget reductions suggested by each department and will look at actuals as quickly as possible, though town administration cautioned that the process may start with projected numbers rather than actuals.

Councillor Diane Pouget, who had suggested a five per cent reduction for each department last term of council only to have it defeated, again brought forth the motion for a five per cent reduction with Councillor Rick Fryer adding the possibility of a ten per cent reduction.

Fryer noted that his workplace looks for ten per cent reductions in its costs and would like to see Amherstburg do the same.

“We can’t sit back and say everything is fine and dandy with a $46 million debt projected,” stated Fryer.

“All of us stated very clearly we have to get our finances in order,” added Pouget. “We have to reduce our budget.”

Pouget said five per cent is “attainable” and preferred to let department heads cut within their own departments as they know better in terms of what can be reduced more than council.

“This is something that is reasonable,” she said. “We are giving sufficient time to examine all the budgets.”

Director of finance Justin Rousseau said the work had already been done projecting what it would look like with zero, two and four per cent budget reductions. CAO John Miceli said some costs are fixed but added that the administration would find the costs necessary that have to be removed from the budget to comply with the direction council will decide on next year.

Rousseau added that there is also a mandate to rebuilt reserves, something that could be affected depending the severity of the cutbacks.

“The impact of cuts may impact the timeline to build the reserves,” said Rousseau.

Town council voted unanimously to proceed with getting the projections of the proposed levels of reductions, though some voiced concerns about the timing of getting the 2014 actuals. Rousseau said while third quarter actuals are finished, getting final 2014 totals will take time. Miceli went as far as to project mid-February or early March before actuals could come before town council.

Councillor Leo Meloche said based on his business background, he knows it takes time for year-end numbers to be finalized. He pressed for caution until those numbers are before town council.

“If we are going to make the right decisions, we have to have the right information,” said Meloche. “We have to give administration time.”

Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale said some members of council voted against last year’s budget due to delays in seeing the previous year’s actuals.

“We need the numbers,” said DiPasquale.

Rousseau said numbers can be adjusted when actuals arrive, adding his belief that this year’s budget is a “crucial” one for the community. Pouget pointed out she suggested the January timeline to look at the departmental submissions but council can proceed later with actuals once they look at what cuts administration is considering.

Town to establish new committees, including audit & finance advisory committee

 

Town hall summerBy Ron Giofu

 

The town of Amherstburg will establish two new committees including an audit and finance advisory committee.

The town approved of the new committees at Monday night’s meeting with terms of reference to come before council in the new year. The finance and advisory comes as a result of recommendations in the Deloitte report with administration noting that council may not meet the recommendations of the report without such a committee in place.

While the members of the committee are to be determined, the make-up of the committee will consist of two council members, four members of the public and a representative from the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce (ACOC). CAO John Miceli said the four laypeople on the committee will be sought from specific fields of expertise, including accountants, lawyers, financial professionals and business owners. Miceli added the town’s auditing firm of KPMG will also be sought out to assist the committee.

The town is expected to advertise for members in the coming weeks.

“I’m very proud of this council,” said Councillor Rick Fryer, adding that the new council is “looking at getting the finances in order quickly.”

The town is also moving towards establishing an economic development advisory committee. Administration states the role of such a committee is “to advise Amherstburg Town Council on matters related to the town’s socio-economic development. The committee will assist with the development of a strategic plan to identify the Town of Amherstburg socio-economic goals, priorities and targets. It will provide advice to council on issues involving business retention, expansion and attraction. The committee will make recommendations on how available funding opportunities from the federal and provincial levels of government might best be used in moving the town forward in a positive manner.”

The composition of the economic development advisory committee will be similar to that of the audit and finance advisory committee with two council members, one ACOC member and four laypeople, though there doesn’t seem to be the same level of requirements for laypeople to join that committee.

Councillor Joan Courtney thought the committee was an “excellent idea” and that the town was moving in the right direction.
“We are involving the community into the decisions we are making,” said Courtney. “We are trying to be transparent and accountable and I think this is a super way of accomplishing that.”

As it relates to committees and boards already established, town council made some recommendations and appointments to those as well. Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale was nominated to serve on the Essex County Library Board. The town opted to once again have a layperson represent the town on ERCA as a motion was passed to allow for one council member and one layperson instead of two council members. Councillor Rick Fryer will be the member of council joining the ERCA board.

As head of council, Mayor Aldo DiCarlo received one of the two positions on the Amherstburg Police Services Board with Councillor Jason Lavigne beating DiPasquale in an election amongst the council members to become the second appointee.

DiCarlo will represent the town on the Essex Power board of directors while Courtney, DiPasquale and Councillor Diane Pouget were appointed to the Court of Revision. Lavigne was council’s appointee to the traffic committee.

School board votes to continue with accommodation reviews

 

General Amherst High School is operating at 59 per cent capacity, according to statistics released by the Greater Essex County District School Board.

General Amherst High School is operating at 59 per cent capacity, according to statistics released by the Greater Essex County District School Board.

By Adam D’Andrea

In a narrow vote of 5-4, the Greater Essex County District School Board has decided to move forward with accommodation reviews of five Essex County schools including General Amherst High School and Western Secondary School.

Meeting for the first time last Tuesday, a majority of the newly elected and re-elected GECDSB trustees voted to proceed with reviews of four high schools and one elementary school. Superintendent of Education–Accommodations Todd Awender presented an overview of the accommodation report at the meeting, which states that General Amherst is at 59 per cent capacity and Western at around 50 per cent capacity. Awender said a new funding formula from the province is providing less money to under-populated schools, citing General Amherst as an example.

“Because of this new top-up funding, the result for that particular school is $70,000 less in operations and renewal than would have otherwise been received before this new top-up came out this year from the ministry,” said Awender.

The GECDSB currently has a structural deficit of $3 million, with Awender saying the board is spending around $5.7 million per year on empty spaces in classrooms. The other schools included in the review are Kingsville District High School, Harrow District High School and Harrow Public School.

A lengthy discussion followed the presentation, with several trustees expressing their discomfort at subjecting several of the schools to more than one review in a five-year period. Both Kingsville and Harrow underwent reviews less than five years ago.

“When we promise not to review something within five years and we go back three and four years later, I’m really disappointed because you’re breaking my word when you do that,” said Leamington/Pelee Island trustee Dave Taves.

Trustee Julia Burgess, who represents Essex and Kingsville, specifically expressed concern for Western students, which was followed by a round of applause from many in attendance.

“I want to know there’s recognition that Western is going to have just as robust special education support…those kids are succeeding where they are,” said Burgess. “I have to hear that Western kids are going to be able to succeed and be considered in that very special way.”

Burgess then put forth a motion to defer making a decision, as new guidelines are to be released from the Ontario Ministry of Education with regards to pupil accommodation reviews. She proposed that the board wait until the new review guidelines are released in order to help the trustees make their decision.

However, five trustees voted to move on with the review rather than delay it until they’re provided with the new procedure. Trustee Ron LeClair, who represents Amherstburg and LaSalle, said in an e-mail that he disagrees with the decision to go ahead before receiving the new guidelines.

“I am simply suggesting that the current process leaves too much left to the unknown and causes anxiety in the communities,” said LeClair. “Quite simply, the school board does not need a dramatic overhaul of the existing schools.”

LeClair said General Amherst “is an anchor to the downtown area of one of the oldest settlements in the county.”

LeClair said he understands the school is old “and likely needs to be replaced.” He added he requested to place a restriction on the elimination of the school in its entirety but this was not permitted under the current procedure.

“However, had we chosen to wait, this would have been a likely amendment that would have provided further guidance to the committee,” said LeClair.

The local trustee stated “the situation at Western is not as simple as empty spaces equal lost dollars. The children at Western receive unique programming that is no longer available in the board services. The administration will tell you that the programs are now spread through out the other schools. It is simply not the same.”

LeClair added: “In addition to the unique programming at Western, the students are being prepared to take on skilled trade positions which are in high demand. Yes, these programs cost more to service, however, shouldn’t children at risk be provided with the best possible opportunity at success? Or should we try to create factories of children that are all treated the same with the exact number of dollars spent on each?”

The board was actually functioning with a balanced budget, LeClair continued, but an arbitration ruling based on direction from the Ministry of Education cost the board $3 million.

“In addition, the recent OMPAC ruling will cost the board approximately $1.2 million. Obviously, these were matters over which the board had no control,” he said.

LeClair stated that, currently, the board is operating at approximately 85 per cent capacity with 6,000 empty spaces. If no changes were made between now and the year 2028, “we would actually reduce our spaces by 500. The question is, what is an acceptable level of capacity? Both Sandwich and Massey have capacity issues, so do other schools.”

The accommodation reviews will begin shortly, with Awender predicting that it may take until next fall to bring information back to the school board.

Webcasting council meetings a possibility, matter referred to budget

 

Town hallBy Ron Giofu

 

Town council may consider webcasting its meetings, but that discussion was been deferred until budget sessions.

A report from CAO John Miceli stated the town has “examined an external host solution that is currently being used by the Town of Lakeshore to broadcast Lakeshore council meetings” and that he has obtained preliminary pricing from the same vendor on a similar installation for Amherstburg.

Costs would include a one-time $28,882 U.S. expense to install three cameras and “all costs associated to make the solution operational.” There would also be a $950 monthly fee.

The meetings could be streamed live with the town responsible to provide a meeting schedule with agendas and the vendor managing the cameras and preparing video footage for archival viewing. Videos are archived on third party storage requiring no need to allocate any space on the town’s server, Miceli added, and the service would be supported on mobile devices.

How the meetings would be stored would be “based on topic,” he added.

Administration has not examined the costs to provide the service internally, added Miceli, but would do so if council decided to further explore the idea. He also told town council they could also put out a Request for Proposals (RFP).

“My understanding is (Lakeshore) is very happy with it,” Miceli said.

Miceli added in his report that “this initiative will promote an open and transparent municipal government as it will allow members of the public to view council meetings and decisions at their leisure.” He added the practice of webcasting is being review by “a number of municipalities” and, in Amherstburg’s case, could assist in rebuilding the relationship between the residents, council and administration.

Councillor Leo Meloche said the cost was a concern to him. He noted the price would go up based on the exchange rate and calculated the monthly fee to be $11,000 annually.

“All in all, this proposal could cost us $78,000 for four years,” said Meloche.

Meloche also questioned how many people would actually use the service and whether viewership would be enough to make such an expense worthwhile.

“My concern is strictly value for our money,” said Meloche.

“My view is that it’s a great idea. I think the transparency aspect is a game-changer,” added Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale.

DiPasquale did add that the costs of the one model were a factor as “$78,000 is a lot of money.”

 

Bain to lead Essex County council again this term

 

Warden Tom Bain (right) is sworn in by Justice Thomas Carey during last Wednesday night’s inaugural meeting of Essex County council.

Warden Tom Bain (right) is sworn in by Justice Thomas Carey during last Wednesday night’s inaugural meeting of Essex County council.

By Ron Giofu

 

Essex County council has chosen to keep the same leadership for the new term of council as it had for the now former term of council.

Tom Bain has been re-appointed warden for the 2014-18 term, thus retaining the position he had for the 2010-14 term. The Lakeshore mayor won on the second ballot at last Wednesday night’s inaugural meeting, besting both Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos and Leamington Mayor John Paterson.

LaSalle Mayor Ken Antaya is the new deputy warden, after beating Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara and Paterson in the vote amongst county councillors for that position. McNamara was the deputy warden last term.

“We have a tremendous team here,” said Bain, after receiving the chain of office and gavel.

Bain said that team includes several new members of county council, people that he welcomed around the table.

“You always need some new ideas and some fresh ideas and I think our new members are going to deliver that for us,” said Bain. “We are going to continue to make Essex County number one in Ontario.”

County administration was also given praise by Bain.

“It’s a team that also includes a strong administration,” the warden stated. “It’s a huge team effort.”

Essex County needs to continue working as a team with Windsor, Bain continued, noting he had regular interactions with former Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis and has already had “general discussions” with new Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkins.

Bain stated the county is out on the world market now and are “not dealing anymore with just the County of Essex or southwestern Ontario.” They need collaboration to compete for jobs and investment, he said, with job creation a main focus of the next term.

“We’re no longer dealing with Essex County as a single entity,” he said.

Regional transit is another goal for Bain, who stated he would like to see “pilot projects” launched to try and see if a transportation plan can be found. He would also like to see a new mega-hospital located near the border between Windsor and Essex County, stating the population of the county is nearing that of the city.

“The people of Windsor have got to get there and the people from the county have got to get there,” said Bain.

Antaya said all members of county council have the goal of making the region better.

“The way I look at it, we have 13 deputy wardens,” said Antaya.

Noting he had just made the decision to seek the deputy warden’s position “a couple of weeks ago,” Antaya said that it was “an exciting time” and believed Bain will continue to lead the county well. All three candidates for warden were excellent, he believed.

Essex County council has eight returning members from last term, including Bain, Antaya, Paterson, McNamara, Santos, Essex Mayor Ron McDermott, Essex Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche, and Lakeshore Deputy Mayor Al Fazio.

Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale and Mayor Aldo DiCarlo march with their county council colleagues into last Wednesday’s inaugural meeting.

Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale and Mayor Aldo DiCarlo march with their county council colleagues into last Wednesday’s inaugural meeting.

Amherstburg Mayor Aldo DiCarlo and Amherstburg Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale are among the six new faces, with others being Leamington Deputy Mayor Hilda McDonald, Tecumseh Deputy Mayor Joe Bachetti, LaSalle Deputy Mayor Marc Bondy and Kingsville Deputy Mayor Gord Queen.