Following a year that saw a record number of reportable incidents and operating at minimal staffing levels, the city’s police chief is undertaking an innovative approach to maintaining the overall safety of St. Thomas residents.
That means putting more COP’s on the street.
Although, that’s not what you think and, no, the police budget is not going to absorb a beating.
The COP’s, in this case, are Citizens on Patrol.
The program – to be launched later this spring – is modelled after an existing undertaking in Brantford which provides “a visible presence in the community while fostering partnerships with Brantford Police Services, local businesses and residential areas, to identify and expand opportunities to deter criminal activity and reduce crime,” according to the service website.
The COP volunteers – more than 100 now in the program – act as goodwill ambassadors who “foster positive contact with members of the community. COP’s will act as non-confrontational observers and report suspicious behaviour.”
The first report of the city’s site plan control committee for 2019 will be presented to council Monday (Jan. 21) and it deals in
depth with the application filed by the Sierra Group of Companies for the proposed Alma property development.
The Sierra Group is the consultant for Patriot Properties which is purchasing the site and seeks to build a trio of residential towers on the Moore Street property.
The development is to be completed in three phases and, when finished, would be comprised of 430 apartment units.
Following a pair of site plan meetings in November and December, the committee passed a resolution recommending council consider the application for final approval.
Patriot Properties has not yet purchased the 11-acre site from London developer Gino Reale, pending completion of soil remediation work and removing what remains of the former buildings.
The residential development would occupy approximately seven acres.
In the end, the allure of economic opportunity prevailed over health and policing concerns.
It was not unanimous, however, city council last night (Jan. 14) voted 6-2 to opt into the province’s cannabis retail outlet program. Councillors Jeff Kohler and Mark Tinlin were opposed while Gary Clarke was absent for the vote.
Giving the green light to one or more retail outlets in St. Thomas doesn’t mean a pot shop will sprout up on a city street any time soon.
Last month the province reversed course and announced it will limit the number of initial licences to 25 because of cannabis supply shortages.
And last Friday (Jan. 11) in the opening round of the cannabis retail lottery, 25 winning applicants were announced – seven in southwestern Ontario – who now have the opportunity to apply for a provincial retail licence.
Are we in or out?
At Monday’s council meeting (Jan. 14), members will determine the pathway St. Thomas will take with regard to hosting cannabis retail outlets. The city has until Jan. 22 to notify the province of the direction it will pursue.
In his report to council, city manager Wendell Graves is recommending the city opt in, but reminds mayor and councillors the municipality will have little say with regard to regulating the stores, while issues related to public health and law enforcement “will fall within the municipal domain.”
The province will provide funding to assist communities to assist in those two areas.
Graves recommends opting in based on feedback from city stakeholder agencies, a summary of which is included in his report.
The increase in the service’s operating budget for 2019 is overshadowed by other departments at city hall – in the clerk’s department, for example, the budget is up by 24.9 per cent over last year – however, St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge wants to set the record straight on his request for a 5.4 per cent hike in his operating budget this year.
In a dollar amount, that’s almost $12.5 million, up $645,000 from a year ago. It represents about 22 per cent of the city’s 2019 operating budget. A figure that has held fairly steady over the past eight years, according to Herridge.
The line items that jump out are a 200 per cent increase in part-time wages to $105,000 and an 11.6 per cent bump in overtime/stat pay to $202,000.
But keep in mind also, as Herridge noted prior to Monday’s special meeting of council to begin budget deliberations, 94 per cent of the police service operational budget is eaten up by wages and benefits, something over which he has no control.
Director of Finance David Aristone has made public the 2019 proposed operating and capital budgets, with city council due to begin deliberations 5 p.m. Monday (Jan. 7).
As outlined in the budget document, this year’s property tax levy is $52.3 million, an increase over last year of 1.8 per cent.
The capital budget target for 2019 is $4,045,000, up from $3.4 million in 2018. Proposed capital projects involve $23.5 million in expenditures.
Some of the key projects flagged for approval include the reconstruction of Elm Street, from Sunset Road to First Avenue at a cost of $8.8 million, none of which will come from the tax levy, but instead from development charges, reserves and water/sanitary/stormwater charges.
Same story for the complete streets program, budgeted for $7 million.