The city this week locked in place two more pieces of the Talbot Street West redevelopment puzzle with announcement of the purchase of two properties from London developer Shmuel Farhi.
The acquisitions are the Mickleborough Building at 423 Talbot Street – the home of Ontario Works since 2000 – and a parcel of land on the south side of Talbot St., between William and Queen streets, and stretching south to Centre Street.
While a conditional offer was announced last April the delay, according to city manager Wendell Graves, revolved around environmental issues.
“We have done due diligence over and above so we know exactly what we are facing,” stressed Graves. “In our approved city budget this year we have funds allocated there to begin some cleanup. Because we are looking to use pieces of that site for residential, under the Ministry of the Environment regs, that is the highest order of cleanup that will be required.”
The amount budgeted is $400,000, to come from gas tax funding.
Speaking with Graves in January of this year he advised, “We know from our initial investigations it looks like there are deposits of some sort of cinder material across the entire site. And there is at least one hot spot where there was some petroleum-based impacts on the site.”
Three houses on Queen Street at the southeast corner of the property.
To ensure the highest order of remediation Graves stressed, “In this instance we’re going to control the site cleanup,” and not Farhi Holdings as the vendor.
Price for the lot fronting 230 Talbot Street is $1.4 million, with Farhi donating back $400,000.
The appraised value of the Mickleborough Building is $4 million, with Farhi donating $2.3 million in exchange for a tax receipt.
Add it up and Farhi Holdings is sweetening the deal to the tune of $2.7 million.
Mickleborough Building on Talbot St. in St. Thomas.
Early in the Mickleborough Building negotiations, Farhi told City Scope he would contribute financially and encouraged the city to consider naming the structure after his late father.
Yehuda Farhi died June 22, 2014 in London of lung cancer at the age of 84.
“My father loved St. Thomas and we are happy to provide this $2.3 million gift to the citizens of St. Thomas,” Farhi told this corner on Thursday, “and to save this heritage building for generations to come. I hope they will name the building after my father. I discussed it with them. It’s not every day someone comes to them and gives them $2.7 million. I hope the mayor and the city politicians will see that it is the right thing to do.”
“We certainly appreciate the dialogue we have had with Mr. Farhi on both sites,” stressed Graves. “It’s not part of the deal, there is nothing locked down but we’re going to have regard for that as we move forward. Nothing is locked down at this point.”
A WELCOME OPPORTUNITY
If you attended the State of the Municipalities luncheon last month at St. Anne’s Centre, you remember in her 25-minute address to several hundred attendees, Mayor Heather Jackson recounted the accomplishments of council in 2016 and previewed what lies ahead this year.
While the bulk of the presentation focused on infrastructure projects, Jackson took several moments to devote attention to the city’s firefighters.
“The city and St. Thomas Professional Fire Fighters Association are beginning the process of contract negotiations,” Jackson revealed. “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.”
Well the key bargaining point, as we understand it, is the desire to introduce 24-hour shifts for firefighters, something not agreed to in the last round of talks.
As for a great relationship, that hasn’t always been the case. In the lead-up to the 2010 municipal vote, association president Warren Scott and city developer Bob McCaig became entangled in a heated war of words over firefighters endorsing a particular slate of candidates, while McCaig appeared to favour a very different team.
In a nutshell, it came down to firefighters assisting with the delivery of campaign material for the candidates they were promoting.
Here’s how it played out in this corner in October of 2010.
In a letter to the Times-Journal this week, in response to an opening volley from McCaig, Scott emphasized his association will continue to “be active in this municipal election and future elections supporting those candidates whom we are confident support public safety.”
McCaig notes the association stance begs more questions than it answers, in the context of how the firefighters selected the candidates they’re assisting with delivery of campaign flyers.
“Were all candidates interviewed and how were they chosen?” he ponders. “From a cursory discussion with those not being supported, it turns out that they were not contacted, so we can put that issue to rest.
“Perhaps the real zeal in the support of the firefighters’ association is not for the future as much as it is to express their appreciation to council for approving their last collective agreement.”
“It (the agreement) gave all qualifying St. Thomas firefighters a ‘retention’ bonus of up to 9% annually. Three per cent after seven years of service, plus a further 3% after 17 years of service and a further 3% after 23 years of service. This, in addition to all future increases. No wonder they are so cheerful as they go door to door supporting those who supported their wage package.”
McCaig goes on to note the first request for retention pay was rejected previously by council in 2006. The firefighters’ association, rather than risk arbitration, decided on another solution.
“Cliff Barwick was elected mayor and in 2007 the retention pay clause, along with standard cost of living adjustments and other improvements to the collective agreement, were unanimously approved by the whole of council led by chairman Gord Campbell and Dave Warden, Tom Johnston, Lori Baldwin-Sands, Heather Jackson-Chapman — the current council seeking re-election,” McCaig observes.
“So you see, it’s not about public unions alone who are in the trough for far more than society can afford, but primarily it’s about politicians who knowingly fail in their undertaking and then do not willingly disclose what they have done.
“Let’s elect representatives with integrity, intelligence and a desire to improve our community,” urged McCaig.
That was 2010, so was last month’s luncheon an opportunity for Jackson to play nice knowing should she seek re-election in 2018, the support of firefighters would be greatly appreciated.
Will the rest of council fall in line knowing the firefighters’ association will continue to “be active in . . . future elections supporting those candidates whom we are confident support public safety?”
And we leave this forum open to Scott and his association to outline the merits of a 24-hour shift system and how it will better “support public safety.”
AVOIDING QUICK ANSWERS FOR COMPLEX ISSUES
To claim she is passionate about animal welfare issues in St. Thomas and Elgin county would be an absurd understatement. Lois Jackson is a pit bull when it comes to animal services, as council and staff at city hall are well aware.
No surprise she was in the gallery Monday when her two reports dealing with adoption fees and after hours pick-up of stray animals were received for information by city council.
The latter is a particular bone of contention with Jackson – chair of the city’s Select Committee for Animal Welfare and founder of All Breed Canine Rescue – and she doesn’t mince her words.
Jackson would like to see St. Thomas animal services provide after hours pick-up of healthy lost dogs or cats.
St. Thomas is the only one of the five municipalities served by the city’s animal services department that does not provide after hours pick-up of healthy dogs or cats.
“The staff get paid to sit at home with a cell phone. They get paid $37 for Monday through Thursday and $57 a night for Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” explained Jackson in an interview this week. “If they get called out, they get paid by the hour. Which would be $22 an hour . . . so they’re going to let a dog or cat get squished by a car or injured, and then pay a vet bill. How do you explain this in a report with people (some members of council) who aren’t really engaged?”
Getting an after-hours call for a St. Thomas pick-up is not a common occurance, advised Jackson, perhaps once or twice a month.
“I’ll give them the $50 to go pick up the dog,” fumed a frustrated Jackson.
“They never have gone out, ever. But St. Thomas pound staff will go out and pick up Aylmer and Central Elgin dogs after hours and they bill Aylmer and Central Elgin for doing that. Malahide and Southwold have their own people who go out after hours.
“So, here we are in the city of St. Thomas they will go out and pick up sick or injured animals but they won’t pick up healthy. Tell people to wait until the pound opens. If they take a dog to the pound and tie it to a fence that’s abandonment. Not everybody can take it home because they’ve got work in the morning or other animals.
“Or, they are from out of town. Some people will take the animal back to London to London animal control. They need to have a concentrated effort of sitting down and looking at the pound services and be done with it. Instead of this piecemeal, Lois Jackson nipping at their heels trying to sell them on how everybody else does it.”
Jackson is looking at a six-month trial on after-hours pick up of abandoned cats and dogs.
“That will give them stats on what they may be looking at but I really wanted to get this done during the winter and now we’re going into the summer months where if a dog is outside it’s not going to freeze to death.”
As was the case last week with a dog, christened Sheba, found abandoned last week in a corn field just outside St. Thomas missing much of her fur and blind at this point.
“This is a huge education thing, everybody thinks it’s at the bottom of the heap. Bullshit. This could have been done by someone who used crayons ten years ago. All they have to do is check other pounds and get it done. Show some interest. They could be making money at that pound, not losing money. They don’t care, they don’t want to do it.”
We warned you, Jackson isn’t afraid to rock the boat and if you’re squeamish, stay ashore.
It’s all about education and she draws you attention to the recent case of Cody Yeo, sentenced to four months incarceration for abandoning two dogs and a cat in a sweltering apartment with no food or water. The dogs perished, the cat was rescued.
“It’s education,” stressed Jackson. “People don’t know. All that guy had to do was call me and say I’m dropping the dogs off at night at the pound. An anonymous phone call. People don’t understand they have options. Animal services should be just that, animal services. Not a pound that picks up strays when it’s convenient for staff who then throw them in a cage.”
The next meeting of the Select Committee for Animal Welfare, which is open to the public, is 1 p.m., this Thursday (March 16) in Room 204 at city hall.
ONE FOR THE CALENDAR
With due diligence well underway, representatives from St. Thomas Energy and Entegrus Powerlines will host an information session to answer questions from the public on the proposed utility merger.
Speaking to St. Thomas Energy acting CEO Rob Kent this past week, he advised the exact format of the meetings had not been finalized, however representatives from both partners will be on hand.
” We welcome the public to come out and learn about both companies and see that once the merger occurs, there will be no changes to their service,” he noted in a release. “If anything, they will experience a more robust utility.”
“As a merged utility, we will have a larger voice in the industry,” added Jim Hogan, Entegrus president and CEO, “and reap the benefits of a larger utility, with the benefit of continuing to be locally owned and operated – ensuring local community interests are met.”
I know we’ll be anxious to hear how the $20+ million in St. Thomas Energy debt will be accounted for. Don’t believe the residents of Chatham-Kent want to pick up the tab on that one.
You can also ask if your water bill payments – collected by St. Thomas Energy – will be turned over to the city in prompt fashion again and not used to keep the utility afloat.
The info session is slated for March 30, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., in the Farley Room at the CASO station.
Work on widening First Avenue, between Talbot and Steele streets, is expected to begin next week with the detour routes being Fairview Avenue and CASO Crossing. Access to all businesses in the area will remain open.
Work is expected to be completed some time in June.
Questions and comments may be emailed to: City Scope