Wants vs. Needs

Commentary by Linda Saxon submitted to the River Town Times in response to the article “Local business owners adding new building to portfolio.”

While I appreciate Richard Peddie’s enthusiasm for ‘what historic Amherstburg once looked like,’ I disagree that ‘the town is not investing enough in heritage.’

The town was so committed to heritage that it remained silent throughout my ten-year campaign to make the Carnegie library accessible. The library retrofit cost continued to rise over a decade, as did legal fees for the town to resist any library changes. The Ontario Human Rights Commission highlighted the case in its Annual Report and the town credited others with my accomplishment.

In addition to ignoring my requests, the town disregarded funding initiatives that prioritized accessibility. When I questioned the marina, instead of changing the priority project to the library, the town withdrew its application.

In 2001, I requested that council include accessibility in the tender for library repairs; Instead, the town donated $710,000 for a replica of the HMS Detroit, for which taxpayers incurred a 9% tax hike over a two-year period.

The town attracted negative attention when it circulated its council resolution throughout the province to request an extension to the accessible website deadline that it knew about for several years. I had been requesting the town make its website accessible since 2001, along with other items that would have increased accessibility, but they were received, noted and filed.

Shamefully, only one person with a disability was consulted about the Open Air weekends and the town placed accessible parking in an unsafe location.

More recently, administration recommended an over-expenditure of salary and benefits expenses in the Clerks Budget Centre for additional staff overtime to deal with advisory committee commitments and AODA compliance. There were no details in the report so I can only wonder why AODA compliance was not routinely incorporated without overtime.

Too often heritage takes precedence over accessibility; sometimes accessibility is not even incorporated in the initial planning stages, all of which is contrary to the human rights code. Not everyone is aware that heritage buildings can be made accessible.

I do not believe that heritage should be ‘referenced in the budget.’ Elected officials have human rights obligations and must consider the health, safety and well-being of the community they serve, and provide services and things that the municipality is authorized to provide.