‘We have a very bright future – Excerpts from Mayor Heather Jackson’s State of the Municipalities address, Feb. 22, 2017


Sean Dyke with a #stthomasproud button.

I am St. Thomas Proud. Why? Because of all the great and wonderful things I’d like to share with you. St. Thomas Proud is not just a tag line for those engaged in social media. It is now a key part of an award-winning campaign.

The International Economic Development Council  Excellence in Economic Development Award for the first time ever has recognized St. Thomas with a silver award in the category of video, multi-media promotion for the #stthomasproud campaign.

The IEDC awards recognize the world’s best in economic development, programming and partnerships in marketing materials. As well as influential EDC leaders. Congratulations to our very-hard working staff in economic development, tourism and our small business enterprise centre for their continuous work in promoting St. Thomas as the best place in the world to live, work and play. 

Recognition for St. Thomas does not stop there. While we have not been named the best place in the world, we have been ranked as one of the Top 219 cities in Canada. In the spring of 2016, Money Sense magazine ranked St. Thomas Number 87 on its list of best places to live in Canada.
And we are not just winning awards. St. Thomas is also winning new residents. Recently released Stats Canada census data revealed our community has been the choice for many to call home as our population increased by 2.6 per cent over the 2011 Census.
With recognition and growth comes the obligation and duty to not just maintain what we have, but to improve it. And improve it we will.
2016 was a year of considerable capital accomplishments, a record year for capital investment in our city. 
Beyond municipal investment in infrastructure, there were 499 building permits issued, up from a total of 460 in 2015. And of these 499 permits, 226 were new housing starts. And over $60 million in building permits were issued to the end of December, 2016.
Investment abounds with many projects, including Phase 1 of the Talbot Street West redevelopment, with a further upgrade scheduled for 2018. 
talbot-street-redevelopmentjpgOne of council’s strategic goals is to create a city that provides a safe, healthy and vibrant community. To this end, last year council approved a Complete Streets guideline. It is council’s desire to create Complete Streets that meet the needs of all ages, abilities and modes of travel. Develop healthy and save options to get around the city. Establish connected and unique neighbourhoods and enhance the attractiveness and livability of our city.
Complete Streets are created by implementing various tools that suit the local context . . .  these include neighbourhoods, pedestrian/cycle connectivity, add a sidewalk or alter a road width . . . cycle facility upgrades, upgrades to pedestrian zones and for snow storage, strategic property acquisition, protect trees and improve planting zones and improve public and private parking options . . . While every project should consider all the tools to make improvements in terms of costs and benefits, it is very likely that low-cost and no-cost improvements are possible with every project.
That said it is, however, a reality we cannot afford to make full streetscape upgrades everywhere in the community all at once.
community recycling centrejpg
In 2016, we cut the ribbon on some key community improvement projects. First, the new Community Recycling Centre and we signed agreements with neighbouring  municipalities and the county to allow their residents to access this modern facility . . . The Railway City Skatepark,  our new field – a partnership with St. Thomas Minor Baseball – the opening of the STEAM Educational Centre . . . round off the list of key community improvement projects.
TDCIM100MEDIADJI_0119.JPGhis year, our community will continue to improve and grow as a large number of capital projects come to fruition. Perhaps the most transformative is the Gateway Project at the intersection of Sunset, Talbot and Wellington. This project includes the removal of the oldest traffic signal in St. Thomas and replacement with a roundabout . . . Another roundabout will be constructed at Lake Margaret Trail and Southdale Line. That is scheduled to start on Monday, March 6, contingent on Mother Nature’s cooperation and we’re looking at completion on that one at the end of June.
Construction will begin very shortly on widening First Avenue, between Talbot and Steele streets . . . Construction is scheduled to begin mid-March and be completed by the end of June . . .
In conjunction with a local committee, we will be creating a new war memorial plaza in the downtown core, along the L&PS corridor between Talbot and Centre streets.  This project will see the consolidation of the existing cenotaph at the corner of Talbot and Princess and the memorial located at the St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital, along with a new memorial added to honour Afghan war veterans. 
In a very few short weeks, we will see completion of the Elmdale Health Centre located on the former Elmdale Public School site. Dr. Derek Haruta is to be commended for his vision and hard work to make this new facility a reality . . .

dsc_1506Today, I’m very proud to announce one of our city’s most necessary, yet polarized, capital projects will be completed this year. Moving date for the new police headquarters is tentatively scheduled for May . . . 

Our downtown core is beginning to see the benefits of the $40 million private investment. The Seasons retirement facility at Ross and Centre streets is well under construction. This project will include 122 apartment units, 20 care units and nine townhouses on the site and it’s a welcome investment for our downtown.
The St. Thomas Municipal Airport is one of the finest municipally operated facilities in Ontario. We provided complete services to an ever-growing sector of corporate customers, private pilots, military and public service aircraft. Council recently approved a much-needed upgrade to this facility, including new signs and lighting. A long-term master plan has recently been developed that will guide future improvements  at this asset. 
A recent company to visit our friends from the Mansfield, Ohio location of Gorman Rupp reminded me of how very important this facility is to our business community. Many of you may not know that one of the reasons St. Thomas was chosen for this Canadian facility was because of our airport . . .
I have created a community leaders cabinet . . . this cabinet is the first of its kind locally and includes leaders from various sectors, including education, policing, health, business and non-profit sectors, working together to collectively improve the quality of life for all in Elgin and St. Thomas. The community leaders cabinet continued its work this past year and has a very aggressive agenda for 2017. Together this cabinet will be gathering to address issues like health, sustainability and growth, economic vitality and education . . . The cabinet has developed a framework that will guide its work going forward and highlights the following priorities: poverty, food security, physical and mental health, transportation, housing, awareness of resources and access to recreation . . .Cabinet members also added their support to a formal request Elgin and St. Thomas be considered a pilot community for a basic income guarantee that is under consideration by the province.
In June 2015, I had the opportunity to meet with Premier Kathleen Wynne. From that arose an opportunity wherein the mayors from around the region were encouraged to come together and form a group that could collaborate and build consensus on significant, shared priorities for the region . . . We formed the Mayors of Southwestern Ontario . . . to share information and ideas and build consensus around what is needed to build a strong and vibrant southwestern Ontario . . . where cities play a unique and important role to the prosperity of our region and our interests are amplified when we speak with one collective voice . . .
One infrastructure issue facing our community is the timing and cost of the expansion of upgrades to our wastewater treatment plant . . . by redirecting the flow of rain and storm water away from the treatment facility we will allow for increased capacity . . . this will also serve to reduce the potential for basement flooding caused by inflow infiltration. To this end the city has implemented a city-wide downspout disconnection program.
fire-demolation-jpgThe cost of maintaining quality trained and engaged first responders is a significant cost we must accept. The city and St. Thomas Professional Fire Fighters Association are beginning the process of contract negotiations. This is not a challenge but an opportunity in front of us. I am confident we will be able to negotiate a contract that is fair and equitable to the association members and taxpayers . . . The St. Thomas Professional Fire Fighters Association is a great organization that supports the community in many ways and I’m proud to say we have a great relationship with them, one that other municipalities would be jealous of.
. . . From mid-July to mid-October in the summer of our nation and province’s 150th year, the St. Thomas Economic Development Corp. and Railway City Tourism will introduce a venue to our city, one of North America’s largest circus tents . . . the Railway City Big Top will be located on the west side of the new CASO Crossing . . . we look forward to bringing some high-quality events to the city . . .
big-topAnd, of course, what tent would be complete without a circus . . . which makes its return to the Railway City. The Canadian-Swiss Dream Circus is a European-style, family friendly and animal free circus . . . rail and circus will once again be re-united in Canada’s railway capital. 
Let us now dispel the myth and share the reality of St. Thomas Energy. Recently a merger between St. Thomas Energy and Entegrus Powerlines (based in Chatham Kent) was announced . . . the reality of the situation is the Ontario government is strongly encouraging local distribution companies to consolidation . . . medium to large regional utilities often provide stable distribution rates that are lower and more competitive than they otherwise would be . . .
entegrus  Entegrus Group directly operates and maintains electricity systems for over 40,000 customer in southwestern Ontario including the communities of Chatham-Kent, Strathroy  Mt. Brydges  Parkhill  Dutton and Newbury . . . They are committed to operating cost-efficient distribution systems while providing high levels of service to customers, partners and the communities they serve. Sounds a lot like what we do here in St. Thomas with St. Thomas Energy . . . The new companies would be owned by both municipalities . . . It will be business as usual as this merger progresses with no job losses and services will be maintained or improved . . . We will, as I already said, make sure that we consult with the public and hear your concerns and views. 
The city, Central Elgin and Southwold and all our partner municipalities and the county will continue to meet regularly and maintain open and frank dialogue . . . 
to address health unit funding changes, development of the East Side Area, health improvements, animal control, social services and tourism and economic development . . . One item we need to discuss as partners is boundary re-adjustments. The province has placed some restrictions on the way municipalities can grow and in order to remain a region that is competitive, we need to ensure we have adequate serviced industrial land and land for future residential growth. This doesn’t necessarily mean the city would take land in and own all future tax growth. There are ways we can work together to benefit all municipalities . . .
mayor-and-councilWe want to enable and encourage investment. To do this we need freedom from barriers. Council and city staff want to make it easier and more attractive for developers and business investors to grow our city, create jobs and have confidence in the community.
We have recently launched our new customer service department which is a convenient way for all enquiries to be responded to in a more timely and efficient manner. Pre-consultation takes place with every development application that is submitted, no matter the size of the project. This process ensures all requirements from the city’s side . . . can be identified at the front end and there are no surprises. I believe . . . that any business looking to set up shop and create jobs in St. Thomas should be greeted with a heavily customer-focused approach on the city’s part . . . If we continue to market ourselves in the right way . . . I am confident we will see the changes we desire . . .
I believe so strongly in our city and I am confident that our community’s vision for a greater St. Thomas can be achieved . . . and there will be bumps in the road ahead, but we won’t stop moving forward. We are a great city, with state-of-the-art manufacturing, tech labs, food processing facilities, a vibrant tourism economy, amazing cultural destinations, a rich past and spirited population. We have a very bright future . . . As mayor and a life-long citizen of this amazing community, I understand we have to balance the need for fiscal responsibility with ethical, legal and societal responsibilities for our community . . .
Questions and comments may be emailed to: City Scope

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