2016 city budget “generally preserves” existing service levels to the public


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Deliberations begin 3:30 p.m. Monday into the proposed 2016 capital and operating budgets for St. Thomas.
In his opening remarks contained in the budget binder, director of finance David Aristone indicates at this stage of the process, city ratepayers can anticipate a 2.32% hike in the property tax levy.
The proposed levy for this year is $48,721,653, up from the actual 2015 levy of just over $47 million.
Proposed capital projects this year would require almost $21.8 million in funding.
Some of the larger undertakings include reconstruction of runway 33/15 at the airport at a cost of $2.4 million ($800,000 of that from the property tax levy); reconstruction of Alexandria Ave from Talbot to Redan, $1.7 million ($350,000 tax funded); $2 million for road rehabilitation ($450,000 from tax levy); widening of First Avenue, from Talbot to Wellington, $3 million ($289,000 tax levy); construction of a roundabout at Southdale Line and Lake Margaret Trail, $450,000 ($45,000 tax levy); construction of a new baseball diamond complex on Sauve Avenue, $1.1 million ($103,000 tax funded) and replacement of the more than 35-year-old police radio system at a cost of $250,000.
Of note are several projects not recommended for funding this year including: accessibility improvements at the main fire hall, $161,000; resurfacing of the splash pad at Pinafore Park, $100,000; lily pond dredging at Waterworks Park, $250,000; lighting the London & Port Stanley rail corridor trail, $595,000; and replacement of the bleachers in Rink B at the Timken Centre, $150,000.
Several highlights in the 2016 operating budget include: an additional full-time public works staffer to enhance winter maintenance/road operations; an updated airport master plan; an updated fire master plan that will also review operational costs and statutory service level requirements; and establishment of a customer service centre in the clerk’s department at city hall.
Now you have a bit of a sense where your tax dollars are being spent — or squandered, depending on your point of view.
As to grant funding for community organizations, a proposed $83,500 is likely to be doled out to 14 groups. That does not include St. Thomas Cemetery Company, St. Thomas Senior Centre, St. Thomas Elgin Public Art Centre and the Elgin St. Thomas Youth Employment Counsel Centre as these requests have not been vetted by all members of council.
The operating budget does include $350,000 payment for the fourth year of the city’s 10-year commitment to the Great Expansion at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital.
Aristone concludes, “the budget generally preserves existing service levels to the public, is fiscally responsible and maintains the city’s competitive position.

Related post:

Council not unanimous in approving 3.55% tax levy hike for 2015

INFORMATION UPDATE
While much has been written of late about the fall-out from possible strike action beginning this weekend by 6,000 guards and probation officers, the focus has centred on the province’s jails, and in particular the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre.

Interior of a holding cell for two inmates at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre.

Interior of a holding cell for two inmates at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre.

(Note: The union announced early Saturday morning a tentative agreement has been reached.)
What may not be as evident is the impact on St. Thomas and Elgin with no probation officers reporting for work.
David Kerr, president of the St. Thomas and District Labour Council, expressed his concerns in an email sent our way.
“If a strike or lockout occurs, public safety will be at risk,” writes Kerr. “For the first time, there will be no probation officers working at all, anywhere in Ontario.”
He continues, “The Wynne Liberal government has decided that none of the officers are essential. The government is closing many of the offices which means that there will be no supervision checks, no reporting in person, no way to verify that the person calling in to a call centre is the person on probation or parole.”
He notes there are 55,000 individuals in the province bound by conditions that are monitored and enforced by probation officers.
In St. Thomas and Elgin, there are approximately 450 adults monitored — 150 of those for domestic violence incidents — and 50 to 55 young people.
There is a staff of 10 working out of the St. Thomas office, which would be closed during a strike.
“Officers on a daily basis are in contact with domestic violence victims to help ensure their safety,” Kerr points out.
“Once these domestic violence criminals realize these checks have stopped, women will be at an increased risk.”
Closing on an optimistic note, Kerr is hopeful “this will be the final job action for these folks, and that binding arbitration will return and the risk to the public will never occur again.”

HAVE YOUR SAY
Have to share this wonderful acknowledgment sent our way from Nancy Butler.
“My family and I were so delighted to read in City Scope on Saturday, December 19, 2015 your column entitled: ‘Proud To Wear It.’images
“In it you gave a shout out to my husband Mike Butler (a Knight of Columbus) who came into your office in December of 2012 with ‘It’s OK to say Merry Christmas to me’ buttons.
You stated that you wear the button and this year you are surprised at the number of people who have taken the time to wish you a Merry Christmas, and you ended with: ‘That has special meaning, Mike.’
“What a lovely tribute to Mike! 2012 would prove to be Mike’s last Christmas (Mike died Nov. 4, 2013) so this is one example of his legacy living on.
“Thank you and Merry Christmas!”
This will be fondly remembered each Christmas as I wear, with pride, Mike’s button.

QUOTE OF THE WEEKmcr bridge

“Obviously now everybody is paying special attention to safety and security, so we actually sent the consultant back to do a little more homework on that. So there is more in the report now than there was initially. We had to look at best practice. What do they do at the High Line (elevated walkway) in New York? What do they do at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco?”

Serge Lavoie, president of On Track St. Thomas, noting the need for beefed-up measures to be taken for the proposed elevated park along the Michigan Central Railroad bridge following the double suicide at the site in December.

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

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