No cannabis consensus: council votes 6-2 to opt in for St. Thomas pot shops


city_scope_logo-cmykIn the end, the allure of economic opportunity prevailed over health and policing concerns.
It was not unanimous, however, city council last night (Jan. 14) voted 6-2 to opt into the province’s cannabis retail outlet program. Councillors Jeff Kohler and Mark Tinlin were opposed while Gary Clarke was absent for the vote.
Giving the green light to one or more retail outlets in St. Thomas doesn’t mean a pot shop will sprout up on a city street any time soon.
Last month the province reversed course and announced it will limit the number of initial licences to 25 because of cannabis supply shortages.
And last Friday (Jan. 11) in the opening round of the cannabis retail lottery, 25 winning applicants were announced – seven in southwestern Ontario – who now have the opportunity to apply for a provincial retail licence.
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Retail pot outlets for St. Thomas? There’s a growing case for takin’ it to the streets


city_scope_logo-cmykAre we in or out?
At Monday’s council meeting (Jan. 14), members will determine the pathway St. Thomas will take with regard to hosting cannabis retail outlets. The city has until Jan. 22 to notify the province of the direction it will pursue.
In his report to council, city manager Wendell Graves is recommending the city opt in, but reminds mayor and councillors the municipality will have little say with regard to regulating the stores, while issues related to public health and law enforcement “will fall within the municipal domain.”
The province will provide funding to assist communities to assist in those two areas.
Graves recommends opting in based on feedback from city stakeholder agencies, a summary of which is included in his report.
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Minimal staffing and an increase in crime ‘a perfect storm’ for 2019 budget, advises St. Thomas police chief


city_scope_logo-cmykThe increase in the service’s operating budget for 2019 is overshadowed by other departments at city hall – in the clerk’s department, for example, the budget is up by 24.9 per cent over last year – however, St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge wants to set the record straight on his request for a 5.4 per cent hike in his operating budget this year.
In a dollar amount, that’s almost $12.5 million, up $645,000 from a year ago. It represents about 22 per cent of the city’s 2019 operating budget. A figure that has held fairly steady over the past eight years, according to Herridge.
The line items that jump out are a 200 per cent increase in part-time wages to $105,000 and an 11.6 per cent bump in overtime/stat pay to $202,000.
But keep in mind also, as Herridge noted prior to Monday’s special meeting of council to begin budget deliberations, 94 per cent of the police service operational budget is eaten up by wages and benefits, something over which he has no control.
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Where your St. Thomas tax dollars are destined in 2019 (a lot are going to wages and benefits)


 city_scope_logo-cmykDirector of Finance David Aristone has made public the 2019 proposed operating and capital budgets, with city council due to begin deliberations 5 p.m. Monday (Jan. 7).
As outlined in the budget document, this year’s property tax levy is $52.3 million, an increase over last year of 1.8 per cent.
The capital budget target for 2019 is $4,045,000, up from $3.4 million in 2018. Proposed capital projects involve $23.5 million in expenditures.
Some of the key projects flagged for approval include the reconstruction of Elm Street, from Sunset Road to First Avenue at a cost of $8.8 million, none of which will come from the tax levy, but instead from development charges, reserves and water/sanitary/stormwater charges.
Same story for the complete streets program, budgeted for $7 million.

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There’s little time to settle in, the 2019 St. Thomas budget looms ahead for new city council


city_scope_logo-cmykIn past years, this corner closed out the calendar with a review of the previous 12 months through memorable quotes, often humorous and even insightful at times.
This time around, with a newly installed council – which, after just a pair of meetings is proving more dynamic than the previous edition – we will peer ahead to the coming year and the corporate business needing attention in fairly short order.
First on the agenda – with an initial run-through beginning 5 p.m. Jan. 7 – is the city’s 2019 budget.
As outlined during the Dec. 17 reference committee meeting, the goal is to hold the municipal property tax levy to an increase of between 1.8 and 2 per cent.
The capital budget target for 2019 is $4,045,000, up from $3.4 million in 2018. However, keep in mind council will have to wade through tens of millions of dollars in requests.

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Canada’s singing priest got the ball rolling, now the province’s health minister is singing the praises of a hospice for St. Thomas/Elgin


city_scope_logo-cmykAt one time it appeared to have stalled in its tracks and now a hospice to serve the residents of St. Thomas and Elgin has been given a guarantee of moving forward to completion.
The push began in 2002 with a fundraising concert for Serenity House Hospice, featuring Canada’s singing priest, Rev. Mark Curtis.
Thursday afternoon (Dec. 20) at the CASO station in St. Thomas, MPP Jeff Yurek announced he has received a letter from the province’s health minister supporting a six-bed facility and encouraging the hospice planning committee to submit a capital program application.
“After strongly advocating for a hospice in my riding, I am thrilled to receive a letter from Christine Elliott,” advised Yurek in a media release.
In the letter, Elliott stressed, “Building new hospice beds across Ontario will provide people with end-of-life care and support in a more comfortable setting.”
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Covering the bases so Walnut Manor residents don’t fall through the cracks . . . again


city_scope_logo-cmykOn any given night, anywhere from a dozen to 18 of the city’s most vulnerable citizens lay down their heads in bed bug infested rooms at a dilapidated facility wanting for even the most basic of housekeeping efforts.
Their daily menu, as aptly described by lawyer advocate Elena Dempsey, is appalling not appealing.
And now, we find out these residents of Walnut Manor will not even benefit from the simple comfort of knowing their long-past-the-best-before-date hovel will be equipped with a life-saving sprinkler system.
Why is it other residential care facilities in St. Thomas are mandated to install sprinkler systems by the end of the year and yet this independent supportive living home operated by Niagara Supportive Living of Welland is exempt from this regulation?
Why is it, once again, the residents of Walnut Manor fall through the cracks?
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Gated Alma College development will ‘contribute to the wellbeing of the greater St. Thomas community’


city_scope_logo-cmykIt’s official, the residential development proposed for the Alma College property will be a gated community, but there will be no similarity to large undertakings of the same nature south of the border.
That’s according to a letter from developer Michael Loewith, whose Patriot Properties is seeking to begin construction of a three-tower project on the Moore Street property.
The letter and several updated supporting documents are in response to questions and concerns raised at a site plan committee meeting held Nov. 13.
In his clarification letter, to be presented with the other reports at the next site plan committee meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday (Dec. 12), Loewith responds to questions relating to public access to the 11-acre site and, in particular, the amphitheatre.
Loewith writes, “While we attempted to provide a clear response regarding these concerns at the meeting, we may not have been as descriptive about our plans as we would have like, and so we are providing this letter to make our intentions clear.”

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