Among the positive steps taken this year in St. Thomas to help mitigate poverty’s impact on Ontario Works recipients was the introduction in February of the Bus Pass Pilot Project.
Under this scheme, recipients seeking employment would have access to a monthly bus pass, recognizing “Access to reliable and affordable transportation is integral to a person’s ability to gain and maintain employment, to access health care, recreational, educational and social activities among other things.”
That is according to a report from Heather Sheridan, supervisor of employment and income supports, to be discussed at Monday’s council meeting.
She is asking council to continue the bus pass program and extend it further to include sole support parents and their children.
As Sheridan’s report outlines, “Eligibility for the pilot project included individuals receiving Ontario Works benefits who are job searching and those who are under-employed. Transportation for the purpose of medical appointments is already provided to recipients of Ontario Works.”
A survey of Ontario Works recipients was undertaken prior to the pilot project and again three months into the undertaking.
Results of the initial survey indicate, “The most common reasons for riding the bus were to get groceries, attend employment related activities including job searching, and for health related appointments. Other common reasons were to attend the library, parks, the Ontario Works office, and food banks.”
The most common reasons for not riding the bus were hours of operation, routes, and cost.
How common a refrain is that?
After three months of the trial project, Sheridan’s report notes “The most common areas that participants noticed a change in their lives were increased access to affordable, healthy food, increased social interaction, and the ability to reach more employers when job searching.
“Other comments made by participants were that they felt more independent not relying on others for transportation needs and experienced increased access to services in the community.”
The cost of the pilot project was capped at $75,000 and currently the costs are well below that level at just over $23,000, with 362 pass vouchers redeemed.
In her report Sheridan concludes, “St. Thomas–Elgin Social Services department believes that providing affordable and reliable transportation to the residents of St. Thomas who are living on a reduced budget has a positive impact on their well being and their ability to be engaged in the community.”
On a related note, the final release of data from the 2016 census shows more and more Canadians are getting to and from work on public transit.
Statistics Canada reports a 59.5 per cent increase since 1996 in the number of people who commute on transit.
Something for council and staff to consider when reviewing the short- and long-term future of St. Thomas Transit.
HOW YOUR MONEY IS SPENT
Included in Monday’s city council agenda is a budget monitoring report that projects operating surplus and deficit by departments, up to the end of September.
Director of finance David Aristone is forecasting a 2017 operating deficit of $15,000, based on these third-quarter figures.
Aristone notes, “There are three 2017 budget expenditure areas at this time the city may have some exposure for over expenditures but the magnitude is not known. The three areas are:
- 2017 Salary Negotiations
- Contractor fees for Property Standards
- 2013-2016 Assessment appeals outstanding
Salary negotiations would include a new contract with city firefighters, with talks between the city and the firefighters’ association at an impasse and now before arbitration in Toronto.
According to the latest monitoring report, the fire department is $120,000 above its overtime budget after nine months. Its overtime budget for 2017 is pegged at $291,000.
When will a member of council stand up and ask for an explanation as to why overtime is putting such a dent in the city’s operating budget?
In other departments, human resources is still running a $150,000 deficit due to “overage in legal expenses, Workers Comp. and contracted payroll.”
The dismissal of former director at Ontario Works Barbara Arbuckle is, no doubt, eating into the legal budget, which was set at $50,000 for 2017.
In June of this year, the police service was running at a pace to end up $150,000 over its budget however, three months later, it is running a surplus of $250,000 due to savings in wages.
NOT FROM WITHIN
It appears a new fire chief will soon be heading along the 401 to assume his duties in St. Thomas. Watch for an announcement shortly.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK
If Rogers Hometown Hockey had not visited St. Thomas last month, would our twin-pad arena continue to be called the Timken Community Centre?
From time to time, council receives reports with names put forward for future streets in subdivisions. And on occasion the name of a recognizable individual is included on that list.
Those suggestions are discussed in open meetings of council.
So why did mayor and council feel the need to go behind closed doors to discuss changing the name of the Timken Centre?
THE READERS WRITE
Last week’s item on possible changes to St. Thomas Transit generated plenty of online feedback. Here is a sampling of comments from the City Scope Facebook page.
Dianna Hodgins posted, “Transit system has sucked in this city for years. I can walk to Walmart (faster) than taking the bus.”
Tony Bendel added personal insight with these remarks.
“I have driven taxi in this city for over 12 yrs and I have always said that the transit service is not a service at all. It stops way too early.
“Para transit bus is so full people can’t get it when they need it. The city owns these buses and the city repairs the buses so why the hell do we contract it out? Stupid. Take ownership of this again. Run it all from the city and make it a service again.”
Bendel continues, “Expand the routes and run it till at least 10 or 11 p.m. and you know maybe just maybe more people will use it. A lot of people don’t take the bus because 1. Some people have to walk 5 blocks to even catch the bus and 2. You get on a bus and it takes you almost an hour to get where you’re going if you have to transfer . . .
“The people of the city who rely on public transit have been forgotten and the people who have disabilities are left in the lurch. Very sad.”
Randy Brown added, “I still don’t get why the buses stop at 6:30 p.m I guess city hall thinks everyone has a day shift job, pretty shitty when kids got part-time jobs and have to walk home this time of year in the dark.”
And to think one councillor last month hinted at scrapping the buses in favour of an on-demand service.
FOR THE CALENDAR
Council and staff begin 2018 budget deliberations Monday (Dec. 4) in Room 204 at city hall. The meeting begins at 4 p.m. and will focus on the operating budget for the coming year.
A second meeting is to take place 4 p.m. Thursday (Dec. 7) at the same venue to deal with the capital budget and community grants.
Both meetings are open to the public.
Questions and comments may be emailed to: City Scope
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