With municipal councils in St. Thomas and Chatham-Kent having approved the merger of St. Thomas Energy and Entegrus, all that is required is the go-ahead from the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), likely to happen late this year with a target merger date of Jan. 1, 2018.
Oh, and there is that prickly matter of a not insignificant amount of long-term debt run up by Ascent Group, St. Thomas Energy’s parent – city treasurer David Aristone refers to it as bank debt – and in excess of $5 million owed the municipality for the collection of water bills dating back to at least 2014.
It’s not a subject open to much in the way of discussion by either Aristone or St. Thomas Energy acting CEO Rob Kent.
“Without getting into any of the mechanics of it, the utility is being properly leveraged from how the OEB would allow it. And that is taking care of some of the issues,” advised Aristone.
As to the outstanding amount owed on water bill collection, Kent indicated that debt is on the books of Ascent Group and not St. Thomas Energy, even though the agreement for provision of that service is between the city and St. Thomas Energy.
“That debt was restructured into AGI (Ascent Group Inc,),” explained Kent. “So there is no water/sewer debt imbedded in the merger and all of that is being taken care of with the city.”
So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Is any of this debt going to be written off?
“Nothing is going to be written off, with regards to the city,” stressed Aristone. “There’s bank debt too, but Rob (Kent) is better to speak to that, because I’m not privy to all those numbers. The only thing I can say is nothing is being written off at the city. Any of the debt we have with AGI (Ascent Group Inc.), I can guarantee you none of that is being affected. It may be converted into something else. But I really can’t release that.”
Well, what might that something else be?
“It could be another form of investment instrument,” explained Aristone. “It could be a (promissory) note or it could be something else. It could be many things. It could be shares, it could be preferred shares. There are all kinds of things but that hasn’t been finalized. It will all be laid out when the merger gets approved by the OEB.”
Seven years ago this month, former St. Thomas Holdings Inc. (then parent of St. Thomas Energy) CEO Brian Hollywood sat down with City Scope for a lengthy interview in which he observed, “we really want to continue control of our own destiny. We don’t want to be a minority shareholder. The community really values this business.”
With just a 20 per cent share in the new, merged utility, after Jan. 1 of next year, St. Thomas Energy will no longer be behind the wheel of the bus.
POINT TO PONDER
If St. Thomas Energy hadn’t accumulated $7.9 million in deferred water bill payments which it collects on the city’s behalf and its parent, Ascent Group, was not saddled with at least $20 million in long-term debt, is it not likely the utility would have a greater than 20 per cent stake in the soon-to-be-merged entity?
Questionable managerial decisions in the past have cost the utility and the city dearly and the fallout could negatively impact St. Thomas Energy well beyond the three-year employee protection component of the merger deal.
Still with St. Thomas Energy, why would the mayor be the lone dissenting vote Monday when a motion was brought to the table to approve the sale of the fibre optics division of Ascent Group to Entegrus Services Inc.? The seven other members of council all were in favour of the transaction to the utility’s merger partner.
As the head of council and a member of the board of directors of the utility, what message does this send to Entegrus president and CEO Jim Hogan and his board?
Was the mayor looking after the best financial interests of ratepayers – who elected her to office – or perhaps her own personal interests?
YOU BUTT OUT
If you’re a nobody’s-gonna-tell-me-to-quit-smoking type of person, best to steer clear of Monday’s council meeting.
Two presentations from Elgin St. Thomas Public Health will likely have you reaching for a smoke to calm the nerves.
The first report promotes the benefits of smoke-free, vape-free, tobacco-free outdoor spaces, which the health unit argues will “help create healthy, supportive environments for children, youth and adults alike.
“Elimination of second-hand smoke, potentially harmful aerosols, and littered cigarette butts in parks, playgrounds, beaches and outdoor recreation settings creates healthy environments where children can play and learn.”
It is the health unit’s position it “supports outdoor restriction for smoking, vaping and tobacco use in locations where children, youth and adults play, work and enjoy leisure activities, including parks, playgrounds, beaches and outdoor recreation facilities.”
Furthermore, the health unit plans to “advocate to Health Canada and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care that e-cigarettes must be regulated and enforced as a tobacco product and that they be included in the SFOA (Smoke-Free Ontario Act) until further research supports otherwise.
The health unit’s second report to council pushes for “the development and implementation of smoke-free housing policies for multi-unit dwellings in St. Thomas and Elgin county.”
This would entail working with the Elgin St .Thomas Housing Corporation, the housing providers and private landlords to provide information, resources and to advocate and support smoke-free housing policies for multi-unit dwellings.
You say it’s your right to smoke. Well the health unit begs to differ, noting “There is no inherent ‘right to smoke’ enshrined anywhere in Canadian law. Second-hand smoke has been identified as a breach of the covenant of reasonable enjoyment at the Ontario Landlord and Tenant Board.”
No butts about it. The opportunities to light up are increasingly being snuffed out.
FOR ALL TO ENJOY
Several letters have been sent to mayor and council expressing opposition to a proposal to pave the gravel trail that circles Lake Margaret. Typical of the correspondence is a letter from Joan Kenney who writes, “The path is a beautiful way for people to enjoy the natural surroundings with which we are so richly blessed. It would be more than a shame for it to be covered in asphalt to the detriment of the environment and to the damage caused to the living space afforded to the waterfowl and various other species that inhabit the shores of the lake.”
She continues, “Let us leave the path alone and keep safe something unique for the enjoyment of all.”
The last four words are perhaps the key to the city’s plan to pave.
This could quite possibly be an accessibility issue and the city wants to ensure all residents and visitors have access to the trail, including those with mobility issues who require wheelchairs or walkers to get around.
It surely can’t be comfortable bouncing over gravel in a wheelchair or trying to navigate such a path with a walker.
The city has done an admirable job paving the trail that parallels the Port Stanley Terminal Rail Line and on any given day there is no shortage of motorized wheelchairs scooting up and down the path.
Yes, the trail around Lake Margaret Trail should be enjoyed by all.
NO REASON FOR CHANGE
If you have driven in the area of Parkside Collegiate Institute or John Wise Public School at the beginning or end of a school day, you know traffic congestion can be a frustration for motorists and nearby residents.
Such was the case for Mary Payne, who wrote to city staff and appeared before council seeking three-way stop signs at Elm Street and Parkside Drive and also at the entrance to the schools off Sunset Drive.
Well in a report to council for Monday’s meeting, staff are not recommending any action be taken at this time. Author Dave White, the city’s manager of roads and transportation, advises “Parkside Drive has congestion during the short morning and afternoon peak periods of school operation as well as during occasional special events. During the majority of non-peak times, traffic volumes are greatly reduced.”
White goes on to note staff have regularly been monitoring the intersections by conducting traffic counts.
He concludes “a change in traffic control is not justified at the intersections.”
If members of council are getting significant pushback from all parties involved, some form of compromise might still be in the works.