In his six-month budget monitoring report to city council this past Monday (Sept. 18), the city’s director of financing, David Aristone, is projecting an operating deficit of $25,000 this year.
Aristone cautions, however, there are three areas in which “the city may have some exposure for over expenditures but the magnitude is not known.”
In other words, that operating deficit could balloon rather significantly.
The three areas of concern?
Let’s start with 2017 salary negotiations which would include bargaining with city firefighters. They are seeking a 24-hour shift structure and unless an amicable agreement can be reached, this one will end up in arbitration.
The other two areas are contractor fees for property standards (would this include possible costs associated with the Sutherland Press building?) and outstanding assessment appeals for the period 2013-16.
While the projected $25,000 deficit is minimal, some of the department overages are quite breath-taking in scope.
The fire department is expected to be over budget by $150,000 at year’s end due to overtime. Now keep in mind, the department had already budgeted $291,000 in overtime for this year.
In 2016, the department pencilled in $284,000 for overtime and by year’s end that had skyrocketed to $412,000.
They are on target to exceed that figure this year. And with no major blazes to battle nine months into this fiscal year, what factors are in play to contribute to a nearly half-million dollar overtime expense?
With the city on the hunt for a new fire chief, will getting the overtime line in the budget under control be a pre-requisite for the winning candidate?
In the HR department, an overage of $100,000 is projected due to legal expenses. You can bet a good portion of that can be attributed to the status of Barbara Arbuckle, former/still director at Ontario Works.
We talked to HR director Graham Dart on what’s behind the greater-than-anticipated legal expenses.
“It’s all due to labour relations stuff,” advised Dart. “So I really can’t talk about that.”
City manager Wendell Graves enlightened in slightly greater fashion when asked Friday about the Arbuckle situation.
“I think hopefully in the next few weeks we can clean that up for you.”
As always, stay tuned.
The HR department at city hall had budgeted $50,000 for legal fees this year, same as in 2016. A year ago, it ended up spending more than $96,000, so it will easily surpass that mark this time around.
And finally, the police service is expected to come in $150,000 over budget, again due to legal costs.
No doubt a good percentage of that attributed to the court case involving a trio of constables charged with assault following the takedown of a mistaken suspect in the violent robbery in February of 2016 at B&L Jewellers in St. Thomas.
All three were acquitted in May of this year.
CROSSING IN STYLE
It’s been nearly a year since David Jackson, the city’s manager of capital works, presented his report to council on replacement of the one-lane Bailey bridge that has, for decades, funnelled traffic in and out of the north end of St. Thomas.
Although no design was presented to council in October of last year, Jackson was proposing a structure consisting of two vehicle lanes and a sidewalk on the east side.
And he waxed poetic in that report, stressing “Construction of a bridge is a once in 100 year opportunity to create something inspiring.”
He continued, “Bridges remain visible pieces of the community for over 100 years. With some creative design and cost-effective engineering they can become icons that contribute toward community identity.
“There are many examples of iconic bridges that define communities in large city’s but also smaller examples like the stone bridge in Stratford, Blackfriars in London, or the Humber pedestrian bridge in Toronto.”
Well Jackson didn’t disappoint Monday (Sept. 18) when he presented to council drawings for the permanent Dalewood Bridge, a cable-stayed bridge design – what he refers to as a unique style in Canada – to replace the temporary structure installed at Dalewood dam in 1983 at a cost of $35,000.
As part of the project, Dalewood Road will be reconstructed from Water Tower Line to Woodworth Crescent in a straighter alignment and to accommodate the additional vehicle lane; a new sidewalk will be added from Woodworth Crescent down to the bridge; a multi-use path will be incorporated into the bridge deck; and enhancements to the parking lot and the start point of the Dalewood trail.
Because the new bridge will be wider, there is need to add rock fill to the embankments on either side of the approaches to the structure. This will require approval from Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Once received, the aim is to proceed with this work – hopefully before the end of the year – in advance of construction of the bridge itself over the waterway.
The $4.5 million project could begin as early as next spring and take six months to complete. Dalewood Drive will be closed in the area of the bridge during construction.
WATCHING THE GARDEN GROW
With the grand opening just a month away, Veterans Memorial Garden on Moore Street is taking shape. The work remains on schedule in spite of some additional engineering work needed to secure the monuments in place.
“When they were excavating to put the footings in for where the main monuments are going to sit, the soils are not stable enough,” explained Graves.
“So we are beefing up the size and depth of the Sonotubes (to hold wet concrete in place) that are going underneath them (the memorials). We had some engineering advice . . . to go down further with the tubes.
As for the opening on Oct. 28, Graves indicated “We don’t anticipate any changes for any of that.”
The garden will incorporate the city’s war memorials in one downtown location, including the First World War soldier, now in front of St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital, and the Second World War and Korean War memorial on Princess Avenue.
Introduced into the landscaping will be three Vimy trees, grown from acorns brought to Toronto from Vimy Ridge.
Officiating at the ceremony will be Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor, Elizabeth Dowdeswell.
With Environment Canada issuing a heat warning for St. Thomas/Elgin through Tuesday, here’s good news for families with young children worried about temperatures nearing the 40 C mark over the weekend when the humidity is factored in.
The city announced Friday the splashpads will remain open today and Sunday to offer respite from the oppressive heat and humidity.
A proactive move on the part of city staff and administration.
FOR THE CALENDAR
It’s been enjoyed by enthusiasts for a year now, however the official opening of the Railway City Skatepark is this afternoon (Sept. 23) from 1 to 3 p.m. and will include demonstrations and a ceremonial ribbon cutting.
On Tuesday (Sept. 26) there is a public information centre from 6 to 8 p.m. at the CASO station to provide insight into the Downtown Heritage Conservation District Plan.
And a reminder, Waterworks Park is closed to vehicles and pedestrians until early November for reconstruction of South Edgeware hill, the parking lots and a multi use path.