Who pays for multi-million-dollar streetscape makeover?


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An ambitious proposal to beautify the downtown streetscape is a winner in all regards, with one notable exception.

The expected price tag of close to $9 million will likely ensure this vision will shine no further than the bookshelf where so many other studies and reports reside.

The twin roadblocks of the city’s ever-burgeoning debt load and that queasy feeling associated with selling this to constituents in an election year are formidable obstacles to conquer.

Right plan, wrong time.

Shelling out millions for trees, flowers and upgrades to infrastructure to ensure Christmas lights twinkle along Talbot is a tough sell when St. Thomas is treading to stay afloat economically.

John Dewancker, director of environmental services, reads the pulse correctly when noting a significant capital infusion from outside the city will be required.

Trouble is, unless you are in the job-creation business, the well of upper-tier funding for projects like this is about to dry up.

Now, if those who will benefit most from the streestscape improvements — that would be downtown businesses and merchants — embrace this project by lending their financial support, then beautification may quickly climb the priority ladder.

Until then, as finance chairman Ald. Terry Shackelton suggests, put the streetscape plan into the budget mix and let it compete with other undertakings such as battle-weary roads, a new police headquarters, projects associated with the new consolidated courthouse, oft-delayed library improvements and now roof repairs at both arenas.

In the meantime, City Scope readers have a penchant for thinking outside the box, so, let us know how this otherwise admirable core improvement project should be financed.

PLAYING IT SMART

Not wishing to make a blind decision on an incredibly complex technical issue, Mayor Cliff Barwick and council opted to defer a decision on the next generation of water meters until more information is made available.

Having read the report presented to council, that is a wise decision as the players involved, the city’s environmental services department and St. Thomas Energy, are at loggerheads over which system to opt for.

Whatever the outcome, the technical and financial impacts are far reaching.

Barwick supplied the best observation, “The more technology, the more things can go wrong. Whatever decision we make, we’re going to be stuck with for decades.”

An astute point, but you have to wonder as a director with St. Thomas Energy Services, along with Ald. Tom Johnston, who serves as chairman, might the pair not have a vested interest in the direction this debate is steered?

For elected officials so vehemently opposed to having a CAO housed at city hall, they sure don’t appear to have any qualms following the direction of St. Thomas Energy CAO Brian Hollywood.

Lest anyone forget, the top priority here is which smart meter will deliver the best value to city ratepayers.

ANOTHER SUPPORTER
Lingering on the need for a CAO for a moment longer, Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Bob Hammersley leaves no doubt as to what the missing link is at the neighbours next door on Talbot Street.  So when will mayoral hopeful Mark Cosens shed light on the colour of this plank in his campaign platform?

TREES PROVE TAXING

A couple of weeks back, this corner noted the city scuppered its own Christmas tree recycling program with its anemic promotion of the week-long service for residents.

Which prompted this question from reader Ken Gadsdon.

“Why did I have to pay $5 to drop off our Christmas tree at the waste transfer station? Wasn’t the property tax we paid enough for the city to arrange for it to be picked up at the curb?”

Only 130 trees were dropped off at the city’s work yard, and Ken is suggesting, many residents instead hauled their festive fir to the transfer station.

And with each tree, another five bucks went into the BFI Canada coffers.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“It would certainly improve the city, but sooner or later somebody out there has to pay the bill. It’s so easy to spend somebody elses money.”

Ald. Gord Campbell applauds the proposed streetscape improvements for Talbot Street, but broaches the delicate consideration that needs to be addressed — on which money tree will the estimated $8.6 million be plucked from?

City Scope appears every Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be e-mailed to: mccallum@stthomastimesjournal.com.

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