In past years, this corner closed out the calendar with a review of the previous 12 months through memorable quotes, often humorous and even insightful at times.
This time around, with a newly installed council – which, after just a pair of meetings is proving more dynamic than the previous edition – we will peer ahead to the coming year and the corporate business needing attention in fairly short order.
First on the agenda – with an initial run-through beginning 5 p.m. Jan. 7 – is the city’s 2019 budget.
As outlined during the Dec. 17 reference committee meeting, the goal is to hold the municipal property tax levy to an increase of between 1.8 and 2 per cent.
The capital budget target for 2019 is $4,045,000, up from $3.4 million in 2018. However, keep in mind council will have to wade through tens of millions of dollars in requests.
At one time it appeared to have stalled in its tracks and now a hospice to serve the residents of St. Thomas and Elgin has been given a guarantee of moving forward to completion.
The push began in 2002 with a fundraising concert for Serenity House Hospice, featuring Canada’s singing priest, Rev. Mark Curtis.
Thursday afternoon (Dec. 20) at the CASO station in St. Thomas, MPP Jeff Yurek announced he has received a letter from the province’s health minister supporting a six-bed facility and encouraging the hospice planning committee to submit a capital program application.
“After strongly advocating for a hospice in my riding, I am thrilled to receive a letter from Christine Elliott,” advised Yurek in a media release.
In the letter, Elliott stressed, “Building new hospice beds across Ontario will provide people with end-of-life care and support in a more comfortable setting.”
On any given night, anywhere from a dozen to 18 of the city’s most vulnerable citizens lay down their heads in bed bug infested rooms at a dilapidated facility wanting for even the most basic of housekeeping efforts.
Their daily menu, as aptly described by lawyer advocate Elena Dempsey, is appalling not appealing.
And now, we find out these residents of Walnut Manor will not even benefit from the simple comfort of knowing their long-past-the-best-before-date hovel will be equipped with a life-saving sprinkler system.
Why is it other residential care facilities in St. Thomas are mandated to install sprinkler systems by the end of the year and yet this independent supportive living home operated by Niagara Supportive Living of Welland is exempt from this regulation?
Why is it, once again, the residents of Walnut Manor fall through the cracks?
It’s official, the residential development proposed for the Alma College property will be a gated community, but there will be no similarity to large undertakings of the same nature south of the border.
That’s according to a letter from developer Michael Loewith, whose Patriot Properties is seeking to begin construction of a three-tower project on the Moore Street property.
The letter and several updated supporting documents are in response to questions and concerns raised at a site plan committee meeting held Nov. 13.
In his clarification letter, to be presented with the other reports at the next site plan committee meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday (Dec. 12), Loewith responds to questions relating to public access to the 11-acre site and, in particular, the amphitheatre.
Loewith writes, “While we attempted to provide a clear response regarding these concerns at the meeting, we may not have been as descriptive about our plans as we would have like, and so we are providing this letter to make our intentions clear.”
Mayor Joe Preston and the incoming councillors were sworn in during a ceremony at city hall Monday (Dec. 3). Prior to Preston’s inaugural speech, Pastor Steven McCready from Faith Church, in his charge to council, noted: “This city has changed immensely in the three years I’ve been here.”
However, McCready pointed out, “Mayor, there is still lots to do. Let’s work together and make St. Thomas proud. When the city prospers, the people prosper. And when the people prosper, they find peace. The thing all people are searching for.”
And McCready reminded all in attendance, “Prosperity is not the same as wealth. It means to flourish and be successful.”
The following is the full transcript of Mayor Joe Preston’s inaugural address.
“This is the beginning of something new and the word propel is exactly what we’re looking to do. I’d like to give my thanks to the past council and Mayor (Heather) Jackson for moving this city into a place we can be exceptionally proud of. The group of you who were here and the new people who are here, we are happy to take the torch.
“Thank you to city management and city staff for doing the same thing. St. Thomas is a place we can be proud of because we have great people who think the same way. Thank you to the voters of St. Thomas for electing this team.
“I want to talk a little bit about smart growth. St. Thomas is growing at a very rapid pace and we need to be smart about what we do and how we do that. We want to make sure we end up with not just growth but end up with a place all of the citizens of St. Thomas would truly want this to be.
The message was designed to elicit a response, and it did just that.
A recent Tweet from St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge advised, “This morning we hit 17,000 incidents, the highest I can remember since starting in 1989. We are on pace to potentially reach 19,000 – averaging over 52 incidents daily. In 2011 we reached 16,031 – our highest before this year. The dedication of staff at STPS has not wavered!”
A phone call to Herridge this past week uncovered other disturbing facts.
So far this year, criminal charges are up 72 per cent and property crime in the city is up 89 per cent over last year.
“So what’s happening is, I believe, there are social issues that are impacting St. Thomas,” advises Herridge. “No different than what I’m hearing from my colleagues in other parts of the province.”
Herridge continues, “And for us, there’s no doubt it’s connected to poverty, homelessness and addictions. Yes, you’re getting people who haven’t been involved in criminal activity. But, a lot of the names we are seeing are repeat offenders.”