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Essex Council approves Capital Budget in principle, allocates remaining OCIF funds

by Sylene Argent

On Monday evening, Essex Council met virtually to conduct its third meeting to discuss the 2022 Budget overview.

  The 2022 Budget was formulated with a 1.8 percent tax increase proposed. The County of Essex rate came in lower, at 1.56 percent, than Essex estimated. As a result, Essex’s tax rate will be an average 1.75 percent increase across all four wards.

  At the Monday, December 13 session, Essex Council approved the 2022 Operating Budget in principle, but still needed to iron out the details for the Capital Budget, which continued during the January 10 meeting.

   Previously, CAO Doug Sweet reminded Council, it approved waiving rental fees for the use of the sports field at the Harrow Soccer Complex from January 1, 2022 to December 31, 2022. 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.

  In addition, Council removed the possibility of adding a Traffic Enforcement Officer position from the Operating Budget, which would have cost $190,000. The funds were reallocated to the 2022 Budget for further deliberations.

  Kate Giurissevich, Director of Corporate Services/Treasurer, started off Monday evening’s meeting by speaking about possible Ontario Community Infrastructure Fund (OCIF) grant projects. At the previous meeting, she noted Essex had around $911,000 additional dollars that can be used for infrastructure, such as roads and sewers.

  After lengthy discussion on the matter, Council voted unanimously to use the OCIF funding. $500,000 will go to reserve for County Road 50 paved shoulders, $70,000 will be used for sidewalks for Bell and Thomas, $120,000 will go towards a sidewalk trail for Irwin Avenue - between County Road 34 and Gosfield Townline, $160,000 will be used to fund the engineering for Walnut Street, which left $61,741 to be put in reserve for future work on Irwin Avenue.

  The County Road 50 paved trail extension will cost around $2M, with Essex’s cost-share being $1.2M. The County of Essex will cover the rest. Construction would not be able to commence until 2023, Giurissevich said. She recommended Council put some funding in reserve for the project, as the Town could take up to five-years to spend the grant funding.

  Sweet explained the County of Essex will add paved shoulders from Dunn Road to Dahinda Drive on County Road 50. The work will include road rehabilitation and extending the width of the current shoulder in 2022. The following year, Sweet added, the County will extend the next stretch in phases or, depending on funding available from Essex, could do the full stretch to Amherstburg.

  Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche said there is desire to get that paved shoulder done for not only residents, but to enhance the area for tourists.

  Councillor Sherry Bondy said there has been a lot of push to pave this portion of County Road 50. She hoped to put $500,000 in reserve for it. Councillor Chris Vander Doelen wanted to also start putting money aside.

  Councillor Steve Bjorkman asked if the County would be willing to hold the project a year, if need be, to not put too much pressure on the next Term of Council. Giurissevich said the County would be open to that if need be.

  He added Irwin Avenue is in need of work. He hoped that whatever OCIF funding is leftover could be put in reserve for that. Councillor Kim Verbeek said it would be nice if the Town could earmark $100,000 for Co-An Park for future infrastructure, which is cost-shared with the Town of Amherstburg.

  Giurissevich noted at the previous Budget meeting, $190,000 was approved to be directed into the Capital fund. These dollars were originally in the Operating Budget for the potential to hire a Traffic Enforcement Office, which did not get enough support from Council members to pass. Administration, she added, recommended that any portion of those funds that was not designated at the meeting be put into a reserve for the purchase of new general assets.

  Bjorkman suggested spending $50,000 of those dollars on speed radar devices, which collect data as vehicles go down the road, such as how many, how fast, and the distance between vehicles. That data could be brought to law enforcement to have them start checking certain areas, he said.

  The Town currently has one speed radar device, Kevin Girard, Director of Infrastructure, noted. He estimated they would cost $5000 to $8000 a piece to purchase currently.

  Councillor Joe Garon made the motion to earmark the $190,000 for; $81,741 to be put in reserve for Co-An reserve projects, $88,259 for Irwin (bringing it to a total of $150,000), and $20,000 for the speed radar devices.  

  In a recorded vote, all seven members of Council in attendance supported the motion.

  In addition, Council adopted the 2022 Capital Budget in principle, inclusive of the adjustments made at Monday’s meeting; That any excess from the additional Ontario Community Infrastructure funds received in the amount of $911,741 be transferred and held in reserve until the approval and completion of eligible projects occur; and that any portion of the $190,000 reallocated from Operating to Capital at the December 13, 2021 Special Council Meeting that remains unused be transferred into a reserve designated for the purchase of new capital assets.