Up against the Green Monster of financial reality


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How often have we asked rhetorically: “What will it take to get something done in this city?”

Does it take a 66-year-old senior crashing face first on to the sidewalk to get the bare minimum of maintenance done to a hazardous stretch of pavement?

Apparently that’s not enough.

Five working days after this unfortunate incident, the sum total of remedial work undertaken by the city is a red safety cone and a pair of painted crisscrosses to mark the spot.

The sad photo of Darlene Finch on the front page of Tuesday’s Times-Journal should have shamed every single member of city council, along with the appropriate managers, into immediate action.

Although not on this Monday’s agenda, time should be spent on a course of action, because this incident is symptomatic of a financial monolith to rival Fenway Park’s Green Monster.

St. Thomas has accumulated an infrastructure needs deficit well in excess of $200 million, as reported this June in consultant’s report.

City treasurer Bill Day warns the city has exhausted or is close to exhausting almost half the theoretical life span of its assets.

And, the manner in which it is allocating road/sidewalk maintenance funds with an eye-dropper assures the problem will spiral endlessly.

In this year’s budget,, council approved a paltry $70,000 for sidewalk replacement and a similar amount for new sidewalk construction.

City engineers had recommended $100,000 for each.

Either figure is a drop in the bucket. Talk about one step forward and two steps back.

In this year’s budget, the city has $500,000 for general road rehab. A motion to up the ante to $750,000 was nixed.

According to Ald. Tom Johnston, chairman of the city’s environmental services committee, a block-long paving job along Talbot Street in 2009 would have cost $150,000.

Faced with the financial implications of a new police station, hospital redevelopment and the city’s portion of costs associated with the new, consolidated courthouse, where does aging infrastructure fit into the picture?

Forget the implied threat of holding back funding for the hospital in light of the double-dipping deal afforded CEO Paul Collins. Can the city even afford to commit to hospital dollars and hold the line on municipal taxes?

“When we look at municipal budgets,” advises Day, “we have a whole slew of competing projects, all very worthy, that are fighting for scarce financial resources.”

Day concludes, “It’s a real battle when you’re trying to maintain taxes at an affordable level and at the same time deal with significant capital demands from every front.”

Now more than ever, council is faced with the need to prioritize in ruthless fashion.

But, with continued bickering on roundabouts, the proposed purchase of a railway trestle going nowhere and more dollars for aldermanic junkets of questionable value, treasure Day’s dire warning is not yet on the radar screen of all members of council after one year together around the table.

SLIP, SLIDIN’ AWAY

Council convenes for its first meeting of the new month on Monday with a report detailing the deteriorating backyard slope in the Northwood Place and Lakeview Circle areas that impact a swimming pool and shed among other things.

Earlier this summer, council was made aware of the erosion problem, which environmental services director John Dewancker called an emergency.

The issue that has to be addressed by council: Was all the proper paperwork taken care of before the residents impacted by the slide came to taxpayers for help?

ONE MORE CHANCE 

After the official opening of John Wise and Mitchell Hepburn public schools, the general consensus was these likely would be the last new elementary schools built in the city for decades to come.

However, buried deep in Monday’s council agenda — in a draft plan of subdivision for the Southgate Parkway area in the southeast corner of the city — is the following request:

“That prior to final approval of the subject plan, the Thames Valley District School Board shall have advised the city that it has entered into an acceptable “Option Agreement” with the subdivider which provides for the potential acquisition of a new public elementary school site with the subject plan.”

This corner wishes to be the first to propose any new school be named Edra Sanders Ferguson Public School.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

“It’s easy to keep putting off capital expenditure decisions each year and I think it’s come to a point where St. Thomas has to recognize that it’s time to spend some money.”

City treasurer Bill Day stresses its time for council to reach a consensus on the need to spend more tax dollars on infrastructure.

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

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