Revised Budget Meeting Dates For Public Input

Revised dates, as posted on the town’s website, which is still difficult to navigate and still has accessibility issues, are set out below.

• Saturday, March 7, 2015, 10:00am – 12:00pm
St. Peter’s ACHS College School – 6101 County Road # 20, Harrow (former St. Theresa’s Elementary School)

• Thursday, March 12, 2015, 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Libro Credit Union Complex, 3295 Meloche Road, Amherstburg

 Tuesday, March 24, 2015, 6:00pm-8:00pm
Verdi Club, 689 Texas Road

• Saturday, March 28, 2015, 10:00am – 12:00pm
Knights of Columbus, 9560 Walker Road, McGregor

The 2015 Budget deliberation will be held

At a Special Council Meeting on Tuesday, March 31, 2015 

At Town Hall, Council Chambers from 6:00pm – 8:00 pm

Council Will Consider Possible Budget Reductions

Ron Giofu, The River Town Times, reports that town council will consider budget reductions of zero, two, four, five or ten per cent, but it may be 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. “If we are going to make the right decisions, we have to have the right information,” said Meloche.

Council will need more information than just the numbers; when it considers each department’s submission, including the police department budget, will council be able to differentiate between necessity and wish list items?

While council does not have the authority to approve or disapprove specific items in the estimates, the Police Services Act states, “council shall establish an overall budget for the board for the purposes described in clauses (1) (a) and (b) and, in doing so, the council is not bound to adopt the estimates submitted by the board.”

There has been reluctance in the past to address policing costs, either by claims of autonomy or by not obtaining an OPP costing, so we’ll see what this council does to control police spending.

In an earlier post, Council Could Cut More, I mentioned that “Policing costs and/or any proposed cuts to the police budget were missing. In an April 8, 2014 CKLW post, Police Chief Tim Berthiaume was confident council will approve the police budget, saying his force is one of the most cost-effective in the province.”

The Auditor General of Ontario’s Cost Comparison of Municipal Police Services estimated per capita cost of police services for a population between 15,000 and 49,999 was:

  • Municipal Police Service $284.00
  • OPP – with contract $150.00
  • OPP – no contract $131.00

We taxpayers do not need budget setting decisions based on subjective information; we need well informed elected officials willing to act in the responsible manner they promised they would.

If a few ‘nice to have but don’t need’ items are cut, they probably won’t even be missed.

Tourist Booth Band-aid

During 2014 budget deliberations, council considered closing the north end tourist booth and redirecting tourists to the Gordon House, an idea that had been considered in the past. However, council subsequently agreed to $8000.00 from TWEPI (Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island) to cover seasonal staffing for a one-year pilot project.

Who will step in and save the booth next year, or the following years if the next council decides taxpayers can ill afford to keep it open?

Residents watched the tourist booth transform from a utilitarian centre to one that included a new fountain, gazebo, stonework planters, trees and the ridiculous two approaches to its entrance – could universal access, or one approach, have saved $8000.00?

Community Adjustment Fund (CAF) Program

As announced on January 27, 2009 as part of the government’s Economic Action Plan, the Community Adjustment Fund (CAF) is providing $1 billion across the country to help create jobs and employment opportunities in communities affected by the global recession.

According to Jeff Watson’s facebook page, “Amherstburg’s $11.265 million CAF grant was the largest in Canada and has helped the town re-invent itself after major industrial closures over the past decade. Amherstburg’s contribution was only $585,000.

We cut the ribbon on the completely reconstructed Laird Avenue in front of Wigle Park. Project components also included bus lay-by’s for General Amherst HS and new crosswalk for pedestrian and student safety, and a completely new North gateway entrance at the community’s tourism information booth.”

 

Council Could Cut More

monica wolfson’s updated April 16 windsor star blog post reports that amherstburg town council has not yet adopted its budget and will continue deliberations on april 24.

I would rather decide for myself which, if any, charitable organizations I would support than have council arbitrarily direct taxpayers’ money to some charitable organizations like the House of Shalom, a facility that is not accessible to everyone.

It isn’t the first time that council considered directing visitors to the Gordon House instead of the Front Road centre, nor is it the first time I objected. As a town-owned facility, the municipality is obliged to consider accessibility pursuant to provincial accessibility legislation; additionally, the town could be susceptible to a human rights complaint given the lack of accessibility at the Gordon House.

I would have thought the town learned its lesson after my decade long battle and subsequent human rights decision resulting in the library elevator. A recent HRTO decision against 1762668 Ontario Inc., owned by Rennie and Anne Rota, confirmed a landlord’s responsibility.

Cutting council’s portion of the budget would hinder communication with constituents – really? How many times do councillors respond to emails and/or telephone calls?

Policing costs and/or any proposed cuts to the police budget are missing. In an April 8, 2014 CKLW post, Police Chief Tim Berthiaume was confident council will approve the police budget, saying his force is one of the most cost-effective in the province.

The 2012 Annual Report of the Office of the Auditor General of Ontario included a Cost Comparison of Municipal Police Services, 2011; the estimated per capita cost of police services for a population between 15,000 and 49,999 was:

  • Municipal Police Service $284.00
  • OPP – with contract $150.00
  • OPP – no contract $131.00

According to OPP estimates, municipalities with and without contracts save on average anywhere from 35% to 60% by using the OPP instead of having their own police forces.

Since the Amherstburg Police collective agreement expires the end of 2014, now is the most opportune time to obtain an OPP costing and delete the OPP takeover clause. Amherstburg taxpayers have long supported a police department hierarchy unparalleled by similar-sized OPP detachments. If council had acted sooner, say at least 12 years ago, it might not have had to entertain the selling of Essex Power shares for $12 million.

There seems to be some misinformation regarding the police budget and the responsibilities of the police services board and council, but both are clearly set out in the Police Services Act:

Estimates

  1. (1)  The board shall submit operating and capital estimates to the municipal council that will show, separately, the amounts that will be required,

(a) to maintain the police force and provide it with equipment and facilities; and

(b) to pay the expenses of the board’s operation other than the remuneration of board members.

Same

(2)  The format of the estimates, the period that they cover and the timetable for their submission shall be as determined by the council.

Budget

(3)  Upon reviewing the estimates, the council shall establish an overall budget for the board for the purposes described in clauses (1) (a) and (b) and, in doing so, the council is not bound to adopt the estimates submitted by the board.

Same

(4)  In establishing an overall budget for the board, the council does not have the authority to approve or disapprove specific items in the estimates.

Commission hearing in case of dispute

(5)  If the board is not satisfied that the budget established for it by the council is sufficient to maintain an adequate number of police officers or other employees of the police force or to provide the police force with adequate equipment or facilities, the board may request that the Commission determine the question and the Commission, shall, after a hearing, do so. 1997, c. 8, s. 26.

Council can do more and should do so – just say no to frivolous requests and spending.

Commentary by Linda Saxon