Pencil-sharpening time as council tackles 2017 budget


city_scope_logo-cmykThe first of three 2017 budget meetings was held Monday at city hall with the second in the series on tap this coming Monday at 4 p.m. where the focus will shift to proposed capital projects and grants.

The 2017 draft budget requires a municipal tax levy increase of 3.44 per cent. However when you factor in an additional $41 million in residential assessment, that reduces the proposed levy to a 2.32 per cent increase.

Proposed capital projects this year total $36.3 million in expenditures.

Some of the more significant projects include: $11.4 million for an outdoor recreation complex in the city’s north end; $8 million for five major road, sewer, water reconstruction projects; $2.1 million in road rehabilitation; and $2.1 million for the Gateway Project (replacing the Wellington Road/Talbot Street intersection with a roundabout); and $1.1 million for restoration of the Dance Pavilion in Pinafore Park.

Projects unlikely to see the light of day this year include: $2.4 million for reconstruction of a runway at St. Thomas Municipal Airport; $100,000 for lily pond dredging in Waterworks Park; and $200,000 for air conditioning at the former Wellington Street Public School.

CAN’T START TOO EARLY

At a ceremony to be held this morning (January 14) at the St. Thomas Seniors Centre, two-term MPP Jeff Yurek was to accept the official nomination of the Elgin-Middlesex-London riding association as their candidate for the 2018 provincial vote.

yurek legislaturejpg.jpgThere’s no denying the job Yurek has done representing not only the riding but sitting as PC health critic.

He was first elected to Queen’s Park in 2011, defeating Liberal Lori Baldwin-Sands by 8,696 votes. He was re-elected in 2014, this time out-distancing runner-up NDP candidate Kathy Cornish by 8,820 votes.

With a pair of convincing victories to his credit, who are the Libs and NDP going to send to the plate in an attempt to derail his re-election bid?

The benches look awfully lean in both of those camps.

A SHOVEL FOR CHRISTMAS?

The organization rarely gets a mention, however the Downtown Development Board and its chairman, Earl Taylor, deserve credit for a couple of initiatives now underway.

As you walk down Talbot Street you will notice new signage on some of the storefronts with a decided retro look. They identify the business to passersby without having to step to the curb to read the main message.

ddb-signsjpgIt’s a DDB undertaking which required an exemption from a city bylaw to install the small markers.

“They did that in Aylmer a few years ago and we thought we would try that,” explained Taylor. “We are paying for them and we’ve put up about 20 so far. We are putting them up as people are asking for them.”

Depending on your point of view, the second project – suitable only during the winter – may or may not be a winner but it has certainly attracted attention.

snow-shoveljpgTaylor came up with the idea of attaching snow shovels to utility poles in the downtown corridor.

“When we had all that snow and the mayor was asking people to help with the downtown Snow Angels program, I thought let’s give this a shot. I put up four shovels as a test project and wrote Snow Angels on the handles and put our DDB name on as well.”

Did it prove a success?

Within one day, two of the shovels completely disappeared,” chuckled Taylor. “I guess somebody loved them so much.”

Two remain, but with the scarcity of snow of late, whether those remaining shovels have been put to work is an unanswered question.

As for the wayward shovels, “They might have become Christmas gifts,” observed Taylor.

GETTING AROUND

City council gave the green light Monday to proceed with an Ontario Works bus pass pilot project designed to assist low-income residents with the cost of transportation.

AUG 2 BUSESUnder the nine-month test, monthly bus passes will be offered to employable and active Ontario Works participants beginning Feb. Eligibility criteria will include individuals and sole support parents who are job searching and those who are underemployed.

Elizabeth Sebestyen, acting director of St. Thomas-Elgin Ontario Works, explained $75,000 has been set aside for the test run.

“There are 55 individuals we know of among our caseload we know are actively seeking work or they are going to school but there is room for about 125 if we use up that $75,000.”

At conclusion of the pilot project, what factors will be taken into consideration to determine whether the pass program continues?

Elizabeth Sebestyen

Elizabeth Sebestyen

“We’ve come up with a survey to find out how people are using them. They receive a voucher and then they have to go into the clerk’s department (at city hall) to redeem that voucher for a pass. So we’ll know how many vouchers have been redeemed. And we’ll determine how people were using the pass.”

Sebestyen stressed the passes are not strictly limited to trips related to employment.

“We hope it helps them to participate more in the community . . . to be able to get out a little bit more than they have been.

“Before the nine months is up, we’ll do our assessment and continue on if we’re going to.”

Related post:

A big ‘if’ looming over proposed west end community hub

 

City Scope appears Saturday in the St. Thomas Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed toCity Scope

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