Budget open houses well attended

Jan 29 • Feature Story, Local NewsNo Comments on Budget open houses well attended

Chatham-Kent CAO Don Shropshire addresses a crowd of about 75 people Jan. 24 at a budget open house at the Active Lifestyle Centre. With him are Brock McGregor, chair of the budget committee, and John Norton, general manager of community development.

Municipal budget staff and councillors heard a diverse list of concerns from the public at the budget open house Jan. 24 in Chatham.

Residents expressed interest over a number of issues, including licensing fees for fundraisers, arena repairs, affordable housing, drug problems and support for the downtowns of Chatham-Kent.

Upwards of 75 people attended the session – about half of which were municipal staff. It was the final open house before council meets this week to start hammering out the 2019 budget. Municipal officials said the open houses, also held in outlying communities, were well attended overall.

At the Active Lifestyle Centre gathering in Chatham, Tom Heath expressed concerns over the cost of licensing non-profit fundraisers in Chatham-Kent.

“For hockey and non-profit groups that have to do bingos for ongoing fundraising, the municipality is allowed to charge up to three per cent for licensing fees,” he said. “How much money does the municipality receive on the backs of community groups?”

Gord Quinton, municipal treasurer, said he didn’t have exact numbers, but estimated between $200,000 and $300,000 is collected annually through various licensing fees, which go well beyond the scope of just non-profit fundraising.

Heath also wondered why no improvements were being made to Memorial Arena.

Quinton said there is lifecycle funding in place to maintain the status quo at the rink.

Don Shropshire, CAO for Chatham-Kent, added until council decides whether or not to build a new arena complex, not much will be done.

Paul Shettel, co-chair of the Historic Downtown Chatham BIA, said he’d like to see the BIA have a bigger say in how tax dollars are spent.

“The BIA generates close to 1,000 jobs in our area and probably 0.6 per cent of our tax dollars,” he said.

Shettel would like to see improvements made along the Thames River in the downtown, and urged the municipality to increase grants for business improvements.

“For every $1 in grant money, there has been about $13 in private investment,” he said.

Shettel added improvements in marketing through tourism would be of great benefit as well.

John Norton, general manager of community development, said the efforts of the various BIAs in the municipality are appreciated.

“We are very supportive of what the BIAs do,” he said. “We are working with the Community Improvement Program and hope to add more money. And an added focus by economic development will be for BIA support.”

Those in attendance Jan. 24 heard from municipal officials on the realities of what Chatham-Kent faces in terms of taxes.

“We’re a low-cost municipality,” Quinton said. “We just have a low number of people to spread that over.”

The population density in Chatham-Kent is 43 people per square kilometre. For comparison, Windsor’s density is 1,561, London is 968 and Sarnia is 450.

Staff also discussed ongoing infrastructure investment. Bridges and culverts have received a boost in recent years, but another area of concern is storm sewer management.

Thomas Kelly, general manager of infrastructure, said some of the storm sewers are tied in with the sanitary sewers, and some of the infrastructure is more than a century old.

“It’s extremely expensive to replace as a lot of it is under the roads,” he said.

Kelly added municipal officials will be developing a storm water master plan, as the severity and frequency of violent storms is on the upswing.

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