LaSalle town council prepares for New Year

By Devan Mighton – Originally published in the LaSalle Post on December 23, 2016

The New Year will soon be upon us.  On Nov. 13, LaSalle’s town council approved the 2017 budget, as the staff at the Vollmer Recreation Complex prepare for end of year celebrations.

The most notable item from the budget was council waving the administration’s proposed 0.46 per cent tax rate increase, reducing it to nothing.

“We basically combed through the budget and looked for things we could cut,” said Dale Langlois, manager of finance.  “We didn’t want to cut existing service levels.  We looked at the proposed service levels that we included in the proposed budget, and looked at where we could trim from there.”

Despite this, due to revaluation from the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), the average household in LaSalle will ultimately see a tax increase of 3.85 per cent.

“Rather than putting any additional burden on top of [the MPAC assessment], council decided to reduce [the tax rate] to zero per cent,” said Langlois.  “So, the rate is going to remain the same as last year.”

Mayor Ken Antaya added, “Two per cent of that 3.85 [per cent] is going directly into reserves for infrastructure replacement.  Really, our bottom-line operational budget increase is 1.85 per cent, but it’s something we feel very strongly that we have to continue to increase our contributions to reserves to attend to the infrastructure needs in the future.”

Keeping the town’s infrastructure well maintained is a central goal for the town as they enter 2017.

“What we could do is deal with today’s problems today and let tomorrow take care of itself, but that’s irresponsible,” opined the mayor.  “That’s not what we’re here for.  We’re not only here for what’s happening in 2016, but we’re here for the long haul.  Imagine if previous councils would have thought the same way, then we wouldn’t be in the position that we’re in today.  We’re in a pretty good financial position … we’ve always been able to put a little bit away as opposed to having to hit the rate-payers with a large increase and pay for past sins.”

Built into the budget are funds for a new splash pad and satellite fire station.

“The splash pad seems to be the most popular thing,” said Antaya.  Later, he added, “I suspect that we’ll probably be looking at the Vollmer district to construct it, and we’re going to accompany it with an accessible playground so that it’s not simply a splash pad, but it’s an entertainment area.”

Mayor Antaya emphasized the importance of a satellite fire station and providing the most aged homes in the area with fire and emergency services.

“The satellite fire station is very important because of the type of service we provide,” explained the mayor.  “We provide a blended service, which is a blend of full and [part-time] firemen.  We [are putting] it in an area, not only that’s vulnerable because of the age of the homes.”  Adding, “It’s also in an area where there is the majority of our volunteer firemen so that they can respond to the station quickly, get a piece of equipment to the site of the fire or the emergency quickly and we’re hoping that will assist in our response time as well.”

As the year winds down, the Vollmer Recreation Centre is also preparing to celebrate the holidays with a series of events geared towards the families of LaSalle.

New Year’s Eve Celebration in LaSalle

“This is our annual New Year’s Eve celebration, so, we’ve done it every year since we’ve opened,” said Patricia Funaro, interim director of culture and recreation.

“Basically, what it involves is free swimming and free skating for the community, and then, followed up by the outdoor fireworks display.”

Prior to the fireworks displays, the town used to fund a Santa Clause parade, but due to low turnout, the council made the conscious decision to seek an alternative.

The town, by way of the Vollmer Centre, conducts events throughout the month of December to celebrate the New Year, including events like ‘Breakfast with Santa’.

On Dec. 31, the celebration hits full swing.  Public swimming will run all afternoon in 45-minute increments until 6 p.m.  The swimming portion is popular enough that the Vollmer Centre’s staff asks that people who wish to participate make reservations in advance.

Public skating will run from 2 p.m. until 7 p.m. on both of the arena’s ice surfaces.

Finally, at 7:30 p.m., the fireworks show will commence.  This year’s fireworks show will follow a Canadian theme, in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary.

“The fireworks are lit off behind the outdoor pavilion, so people can actually sit in their cars and from both parking lots you can see it really well,” said Funaro.  “You can be comfortable in your car, and warm, and watch the show.”

Mayor Antaya added, “Every time you go there, it just warms your heart to see these vans backing up.  They lift their back gate up, the kids are sitting in the back with blankets and drinks … and it’s just a great family night and not only one we want to continue, but we want to expand at some time in the future.”

For further information on holiday activities taking place at the Vollmer Centre, please visit LaSalle.ca.

A Year in Review with Mayor Ken Antaya

Ken Antaya has been a fixture of the local political scene for a long time.  He entered public service with the Township of Sandwich West in late 1969.

Starting as a municipal trainee, he worked his way up to deputy clerk before taking a job with the Township of Colchester South in 1983.  Antaya returned to Sandwich West in 1988 as the chief administrative officer, for which he served until 2004.

In 2010, Ken Antaya ran for mayor.

Much has changed since 1969.

Sandwich West was reeling after what became South Windsor was annexed on Jan. 1, 1966, resulting in a population drop from just shy of 33,000 to fewer than 6,000 residents.

“We didn’t have money, we didn’t have development, we didn’t have sanitary services,” said Mayor Antaya, in conversation on Dec. 14.  “We were basically a municipality with a bunch of gravel roads, with sanitary sewers running into ditches.”

Times were tough for the community.

“We were literally selling lots to pay the telephone bill,” explained the mayor.  “Not a lot of people gave us a chance to survive, but I like to think LaSalle sort of rose from the ashes.”

He continued, “The manner in which we had to operate back then has been instilled as sort of a hardworking, blue collar approach to making sure everything is done properly here because there was no wasted money back then and there is no wasted money today.”

The year 2016 had many ups and downs.  Juxtaposed to 1969, much has changed in LaSalle.

When asked, the mayor describes the tornado of Aug. 24 as the event that set this year apart.

At his start in public service, the township would not have been able to handle such a happening.

The infrastructure of 2016 was up to the task.

“It was a minor disaster, although we didn’t know it at the time,” said Antaya.  “We thought it might be worse than what it was, but it was somewhat of a wake-up call.  It was almost like a drill to put all of our emergency personnel into motion.”

The mayor described the actions of the emergency services, especially the fire department, public works, as well as Essex Power as ‘professional’ and ‘methodical’.

“It just warms your heart to see how they handled it, how they calmed the community, and that’s what you want in a community force,” said the mayor.

Antaya was also enthusiastic about LaSalle’s growth in culture in recent years, especially with sports, the arts, and academia.

“I’m always proud of our kids and what they accomplish,” said Antaya.  “They excel in so many areas.  We take a look at sports figures like [football player] Luke Wilson and [Olympian] Kylie Masse, and we take a look at the arts with [actor] Danielle Wade.  You take a look at some of these kids, academically, are achieving incredible things in our community that we sometimes overlook.  It seems like every year somebody else comes to the forefront and just does some incredible things.”

Mayor Antaya and the rest of town council will reconvene for their next public meeting at 7 p.m., on Jan. 10, at the LaSalle Civic Centre.

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