A fundamental change blowing in the budget wind?


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Budget deliberations are a critical indicator of the direction city council will follow in the coming fiscal year and the sometimes quirky priorities of our municipal representatives.
After a warm-up session Thursday, council will get down to brass tacks on Monday as they tackle Part 1 of the 2012 capital budget.
Members are being asked to approved expenditures of just over $8 million, of which $2 million will be sourced through the 2012 property tax levy, the same as 2011.
In total, the requests for capital in 2012 total $22.4 million, requiring property tax supported funding of $9.5 million.

A budget report to council advises: “We strongly believe that additional property tax supported funding for capital infrastructure must be provided.”
In other words, if we want to avoid falling apart at the seams we’re going to have to start investing at a higher level than we have for many, many years.
At Thursday’s run-through, the hot button was the city’s $282-million infrastructure debt.
Tackling that massive financial monkey will require fundamental change in the way the city conducts business, challenged Ald. Gord Campbell.
“It’s not going to be sitting here taking $10,000 out of one account and $100,000 out of another account,” he cautioned.
“. . . in order to make fundamental changes — we may have to change the structure that we’re operating under right now or we’re never going to address the $282 million.”
Of note, the proposed budget includes no provisions for a new police headquarters and any grant to the STEGH revitalization fund.
No doubt Ald. Lori Baldwin-Sands, council’s finance chairman, will keep the deliberations moving forward and quickly address the concerns of her peers.

ABOUT THAT RESOLUTION 
 Now that he has been acclaimed warden of Elgin county, Bill Walters has compiled a list of challenges which he referred to in his acceptance speech on Tuesday.
No surprise St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital is near the top of the agenda, after CEO Paul Collins and board chairman Bruce Babcock told county council in no uncertain terms back in September to mind its own business after that body endorsed a resolution stating: “County ratepayers have expressed concerns with the contract of the recently retired hospital president and CEO.
    “It’s is council’s considered opinion that the public’s perception of the circumstances . . . are irrevocably tainted and will negatively impact fundraising efforts.”
With the likelihood the hospital foundation will come calling at the county administration building next year, hat in hand, no wonder Walters stressed council’s support for the hospital renovation and expansion will be an important talking point.
“We need to determine how much money we will support them with, when and over what period of time,” Walters advised.
This corner is certain Walters will concur the stumbling block is not the hospital itself and the dedicated front-line staff, it’s the breath-taking sense of entitlement harboured by Messrs. Collins, Babock and the board of directors.

SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE
With a year under its belt, has city council come to some settlement with David McGee, owner of the Sutherland Press building?

Sutherland Press building in 2008, prior to partial demolition of front face

If you remember, it was just days before the 2010 municipal vote when McGee revved up the campaign heat by announcing he was suing the City of St. Thomas, then mayor Cliff Barwick, St. Thomas police and other defendants for $3 million for punitive damages and aggravated damages as well as “mental distress, economic interference and, specifically, loss of income” for what the claim states was “unnecessary demolition” of the Talbot Street edifice in July, 2008.
Have he and liberal strategist Suzanne van Bommel, whom he hired at the time, met with individual members of council to outline plans for the Sutherland Press building as they indicated to this corner a year ago?
And where does Ald. Mark Cosens fit in to all of this and the rumoured proposal from McGee to settle out of court for a cool $1 million?

WAIT FOR IT
Have yet to receive press release from Chamber of Commerce CEO Bob Hammersley advising of the return of free bus rides on New Year’s Eve.
Or, an acknowledgement of the work of Mayor Heather Jackson-Chapman and operations and compliance manager Edward Soldo to secure local sponsorship.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“We certainly expected that after any kind of renovation, there’s an increase in usage, but we’re looking at using some efficiencies to try and allow the staff to spend more time doing the things they should be doing and less time doing mundane things like answering the phone.”
In an interview with T-J reporter Patrick Brennan, library CEO Rudi Denham advised there is no more room in her budget to hire extra staff. How unfortunate dealing with library patrons who call with requests or questions is considered a mundane part of the job.

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

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