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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

Council continues with 2022 Budget discussions

by Sylene Argent

On Monday evening, Essex Council approved the 2022 Operating Budget in principle. Discussion on the Capital Budget will continue.

  The 2022 Budget was formulated with a 1.8 percent tax increase proposed.

  In addition, Council approved the waiver of rental fees for the use of the sports field at the Harrow Soccer Complex from January 1, 2022 to December 31, 2022.

  CAO Doug Sweet said over the past three years, the Town has averaged $500-$700 in revenue. This is a strategy to attract users to the field.

  Council also authorized to complete, in fiscal year 2022, any 2021 projects that remain outstanding as of December 31, 2021 and do not appear in the 2022 Budget as presented, so long as the project costs do not exceed previously approved funding amounts or allocations.

  When speaking of the Operating Budget, staff proposed $47,381,282 in revenues and $47,137,471 in Operating expenses. This results in a net-surplus of around $243,811, which was transferred to the Capital Budget.

Kate Giurissevich, Director of Corporate Services/Treasurer, explained the difference between the 2021 and 2022 for personnel expenses is $360,664, due to changes. New positions being brought forward for Council consideration include a Deputy Chief Building Official, an Assistant Manager of Legal and Licensing, and the introduction of a part-time Service Clerk.

  Another significant change highlighted in the Budget includes the introduction of a Traffic Enforcement Officer with a net-impact on the budget at $190,000 that Council had to consider.

  Giurissevich noted the four proposed positions were not all of the positions that were considered for this budget.

  Councillor Steve Bjorkman said he was not in favour of bringing on a Traffic Enforcement Officer. He said there are better places to spend those dollars in this Budget.

  Mayor Larry Snively said this Officer can be pulled from this duty to attend others incidents, if needed, and if that happens the Town will not be charged for the service. But he wondered how the Town could be sure of those hours. Because of that, he would also not be in favour of adding the position.

  Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche was in favour of adding the position, as he said speeding and traffic complaints have been an issue since he has been on Council, starting in 2003. It is a number one complaint he hears. He suggested trying the position on a trial basis, and eliminating it in the future, if the desired results are not achieved.

  Councillor Joe Garon said without trying out the position, Council will not know if it is working. He wondered what kind of stats the Town will be provided to show any differences. He is for improving the situation, but is not sure this will do it.

Councillor Morley Bowman supported the Traffic Enforcement Officer. Councillor Kim Verbeek, who is the Chairperson of the Essex Police Services Board, noted the Traffic Enforcement Officer would only get pulled away if they were closest to a call, and the call would be passed off to other officers when they arrive.

  She said there will be a record of all the tickets written. This person will target troubled spots and write tickets. She believes every other way to try and thwart speeding has been tried.

  Councillor Sherry Bondy put forward the motion to adopt in principle the proposed Traffic Enforcement Officer position as part of the 2022 Budget. In a recorded vote, Councillor Chris Vander Doelen, Councillor Joe Garon, Bjorkman, and Snively were opposed, and Bondy, Bowman, Verbeek, and Meloche, were in support.

  With four in support and four opposed, the motion failed.

  When talking about what to do with those proposed budgeted funds, Bondy said she would like to keep it in policing. She thinks it was a huge mistake to vote the position down. Snively said Council made the decision and to respect that decision. Bondy responded she will bring it up, because she is still going to get calls about speeding. She was trying to work towards a solution. She said speeding complaints better go to those who voted the position down.

  Verbeek then put forward the motion to keep the funds in policing and discuss how it will be spent in the future. Her motion was defeated also.

  After a lot of discussion. Bondy motioned the savings from the Traffic Enforcement Officer be passed to the Capital Budget for further discussion.

Motion carried.

  During the Budget Walk Through, Giurissevich noted the Capital Budget includes $32M in projects. This figure includes a conservative amount used for carry-forwards. If the Harrow and Essex Centre Streetscape projects and the carry-forwards are taken out of the budget, there is actually $7.6M in projects in 2021, compared to $10M in 2022.

  Giurissevich spoke of grant monies the Town has received, some of which the actuals are higher than what was budgeted. This approximated to just around $911,000 additional dollars and can be used for infrastructure, such as roads and sewers.

  Administration, she said, suggested $500,000 be applied to the Essex Centre Streetscape project, to lower the long-term debt. It would also result in an additional $37,000 in annual savings in interest and principal payments, she said.  

The remaining $411,000 could be used to fund new or replacement assets.

  Bjorkman was not in favour of putting money on the debt. Those funds could be used towards other town needs. He would put the funds in reserve for a major project. Garon agreed with Bjorkman. He said the Town has a long-term debt strategy. He said it is a great opportunity to look at roads.

  Bondy said she did have concerns with long-term debt.

  With development planned in McGregor, Verbeek said she wanted to see funds, or start earmarking money, in the budget for sewage capacity. She thought part of that $911,000 in grants could go to that.

  Vander Doelen said there are some “big holes” regarding infrastructure that need to be done.

  Bjorkman put forward a motion that $500,000 not be earmarked for the Essex Centre Streetscape. Motion carried.

  Verbeek also spoke of the need for a splashpad in McGregor. A Master Plan is being done for Co-An Park. She moved the $133,000 remaining from the Harrow splashpad washroom project be placed in reserve for the McGregor splashpad. There is already $240,000 in the reserve for a splashpad in McGregor, to be put to use after the Master Plan is complete. That Master Plan is being completed with Amherstburg, as the neighbouring municipality cost-shares on this park.

  Bondy seconded Verbeek’s motion, noting Harrow did just get the high school property and with a ward system, there has to be a little bit of a give and take.

Bjorkman was not in favour of the motion as he wanted to see the job in Harrow finished. Meloche also wanted the washrooms to be built in Harrow. He said the plan has always been to get a splashpad in each ward. It is hoped McGregor’s splashpad will be implemented in 2023.

  Verbeek pulled her motion.

  In regards to the light project in the budget for the Gay “Sid” Memorial ball diamond, Garon asked for everyone to think of a way it can be worked around for this year. At the Budget Walkthrough, Council learned the 30-year-old lights there would cost $325,700 to replace. There was a reduction in the cost, due to a quote obtained, with the estimate now around $225,000. He’d prefer to use the funds elsewhere. The Town is planning to create a sports field in the near future on the southside of Highway 3.

  Bjorkman spoke of the $160,000 in the budget to upgrade the gravel to asphalt at Parking Lot B in Colchester. He would like to do some other jobs with that money. Council pulled this from the Budget. He would like the majority of the funds to stay in that area.

  He moved those funds be put towards the Gesto sidewalk on County Road 12 from the school to Gesto Side Road, the harbour road that goes from the top of the hill to the Harbour floor that has a $70,000 price tag, and a traffic study for Colchester earmarked for $20,000. Motion carried.

  In other Council wishes discussed, Garon spoke of complaints he gets about safety on Irwin Avenue. He would like to see some support for that. He would also like to add in the continuation of sidewalks on Bell and Thomas for $70,000. 

Vander Doelen said a sidewalk is needed out towards Canadian Tire, especially now since there are more than 500 homes being developed in that area. It is about a $600,000 project.

  Bondy would like engineering done for Walnut Street in Harrow and would like to earmark some funds for the Maidstone Avenue sidewalk.

  Bjorkman also spoke of two budget items implemented in the budget. Each required the hiring of a consultant; one to develop a small business retention and expansion program as identified in the Strategic Plan – where up to $25,000 of the COVID funding the Town has received can be put towards – and the other to support continued Agritourism Implementation from a completed strategy, which could have a grant of $12,000. Combined, the two projects total around $80,000; of which potentially around half could be covered.

  He said the Town has an Economic Development Officer and plans to hire a student in that department this summer. He was not in favour of bringing in the consultants, unless the Town could get the money through a grant.

  Bondy said she wants both projects to proceed.

  Giurissevich noted the total ask for roads and roadside in the budget is $2M.

  Sweet suggested Council members send the projects they wish to see added to the budget prior to the next scheduled budget meeting, to take place January 10.

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