Council waffles on future of cemetery


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It’s proving to be a hand-to-mouth existence for St. Thomas Cemetery Company after it came up $9,000 short in funding from the city this year.
The board of directors had originally requested a $59,000 operating grant but on Monday received $20,000, to go with an initial instalment of $30,000 in April.
This money is applied to the board’s almost $200,000 operating budget.
The municipality began funding the company in the mid-1980s to avoid a takeover.
Council voted 7-1 — with Coun. Mark Tinlin in opposition — to support the cemetery board through reduced levels of funding over time. Council could also consider advancing funds for minor capital replacements and expansion in services if other financial resources are not available at the time.
What remains up in the air is how this yearly amount would be determined.With several members of council of the firm belief the city could operate West Ave. cemetery for less than the current budget, we can only assume this entire monetary back and forth will be replayed next spring during the 2016 financial deliberations.
All of which has cemetery manager Lesley Buchanan sighing in frustration.

St. Thomas Cemetery Company manager Lesley Buchanan at West Ave. Cemetery.

St. Thomas Cemetery Company manager Lesley Buchanan at West Ave. Cemetery.

“I hope that going forward it won’t be the battering of heads, it will be working together to try and find a common solution. Because ultimately, it’s the taxpayers of the City of St. Thomas who are going to suffer. If we can’t all work together, that’s what’s going to happen.”
Isn’t it curious the mayor is literally forcing the cemetery board of directors to sit up and beg for a hand out while she has no qualms at securing a $7.9 million line of credit for Ascent.
With no interest charged, by the way.

ANOTHER TOUGH WEEK AT ASCENT
Both departed CEO Ron Osborne and acting CEO John Laverty have stressed the need for the financially strapped St. Thomas utility to return to its core competencies, one of which is traffic and street lighting.

John Laverty

John Laverty

Well the city recently called for tender submissions for replacing the existing street lighting with LED lighting. The contract includes installation, materials and labour.
This project is expected to save the city about 30% in energy and operational costs.
An undertaking that surely has Ascent’s name stamped all over it.
Well according to Tuesday’s city council agenda, ERTH Holdings had the winning submission in the amount of $2,524,595, more than $600,000 under the bid of Ascent Solutions.
Rubbing salt into the wound resulting from this failed Ascent bid is the fact Osborne previously was president and chief operating officer of ERTH Holdings Inc., an Ingersoll-based infrastructure services and solutions company.

FROM MAYOR TO SPIN DOCTOR

Still with Ascent, a curious close to last Monday’s council meeting where the mayor felt the need to figuratively remove her chain of office and become the public relations spokesperson for the utility.DEC 4 JACKSON 2013
This was necessary, she indicated, to clear up misinformation in the media.
Seems she is not happy with the $14 million figure quoted here and in a Times-Journal article relating to their financial health in 2014.
Well, you do the math.
In 2014, the Ascent Group rang up an operating loss of $6.8 million. That same year, Ascent owed the city another $7.9 million for deferred payment of water bills which it collects on behalf of the city.
Add em up and that is well over $14 million.
And we haven’t touched on long-term debt, which could be in the $6 million range.
So why did the mayor feel the need to turn her back on ratepayers — those individuals who put her in the big office in the first place — and become Ascent’s defender/promoter?

CITY HALL HOUSEKEEPING
As we speculated last month, Maria Konefal is the city’s new clerk, effective Oct. 19. The position, in essence, has been reinstated after the duties of CAO/clerk Wendell Graves were separated as per a recommendation in the Dobbie report.
She is no stranger to the clerk’s department have worked there for more than 25 years. In turn, Graves is now city manager, again a recommendation in the Dobbie report.

SUTHERLAND STABILIZATION
The traffic cones are gone on Talbot St., indicating stabilization of the Sutherland Press building must be progressing.
We checked in with Graves on Friday for an update on the structure.23jt01sutherlandjpg
“I can report to you the interior shoring continues and it is anticipated it should be completed by the end of next week,” Graves advised.
“Once that is done, we are hoping to get the transit building open again and we will evaluate the status of Moore St. Following that activity, we are anticipating receiving permits for a new roof and some permanent structural steel work in the building.”
All of which sounds like there may be life yet in the four-storey building. However Graves indicated there has been no intent expressed by Toronto owner David McGee, who at one time was promoting his Sutherland Lofts condominium project.
“We have not had any feedback at all from him (McGee),” confirmed Graves.
In the meantime, Graves stressed “our most urgent thing is to get these emergencies measures completed. And I’m sure once he gets his permits and work underway he’s going to want to get that done before winter becomes a problem.
“Our building department is on site fairly often relating to the project.”
With the future of the structure appearing secure for the short term at least, will it live long enough to play a starring role in the 2018 municipal election?

QUOTE OF THE WEEKPreston
“It’s like pulling off a Band-aid really, really slowly. I just want to go away and have someone say ‘Joe it’s all done.’”
Joe Preston speaking to the Times-Journal this week as he closed the doors for good on his St. Thomas constituency office, bringing to a close his 11-year stint in the House of Commons.

City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to ian.mccallum@sunmedia.ca.

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2 thoughts on “Council waffles on future of cemetery

  1. Actually I agree with the Mayor. Ascent owes the city $7.9 million because it lost $6.8 million which I assume is an uncollectible amount from a project gone bad. Can’t collect, can’t pay – pretty simple. There is no $14 million amount, never was. Reporting this amount was only meant to inflame!!

  2. RE: “Isn’t it curious the mayor is literally forcing the cemetery board of directors to sit up and beg for a hand out while she has no qualms at securing a $7.9 million line of credit for Ascent.
    With no interest charged, by the way.”

    This, precisely, is what I found bothersome.

    Watching that particular council meeting on the television the other day had me furious about it. For one thing, that cemetery is valuable because there are those of us who have loved ones there. If the city can hardly take care of snow plowing sidewalks or the streets, how can I think they’d do very well with taking care of our dead? Also, the conflict in interest, in my opinion, was alarmingly blatant in how the cemetery funds were discussed versus how the Mayor spoke about Ascent. She even slipped up a few times referring to “We” when speaking of the company. Quite biased in her position. And the point you made re: Ascent was not lost on me as I voiced my frustration at the television, the board and the Mayor.

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