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.
However, those summarized comments gloss over some major concerns.
For example, Graves notes “The Chief of Police has no issue with the opening of cannabis stores, but cautions on impacts of consumption and the need for additional law enforcement training.”
Well, it goes a little deeper than that if you delve into the full response from Police Chief Chris Herridge.
In his opening paragraph he cautions, “I do have a concern though with making cannabis easier to obtain which has been shown through research, consumption does increase with availability and exposure.
“And increased consumption will necessitate a need to supply the addiction. The sky is not falling but I do believe in time, legal cannabis, especially edibles with our youth, will have societal impacts similar to alcohol and other street-related drugs.”
Herridge continues, “I am not totally sold that allowing legal pot shops will prevent illegal pot traffickers to undercut market pricing to maintain a demand for their black market pot.”
“Municipalities are prohibited from using licensing or land-use bylaws to explicitly control the placement or numbers of cannabis retail outlets.”
As to policing, which is the domain of the municipality, Herridge advises “we need to ensure the city has, within your legal ability, stringent restrictions in place.”
He concludes with, “I would appreciate an opportunity to review the revised smoking bylaw before it is presented to council.”
Somewhat different in scope than Herridge’s summarized comment.
In its submission to council, Southwestern Public Health cautions “Lessons from alcohol and tobacco retail show that increased availability results in increased consumption, which can lead to significant health and social costs.”
Furthermore, “The co-use of cannabis and other substances increases the risk of harm, such as impaired driving.”
It reminds our elected representatives “Municipalities are prohibited from using licensing or land-use bylaws to explicitly control the placement or numbers of cannabis retail outlets.”
Over at the Economic Development Corporation, it is onward and upward from a business perspective only.
CEO Sean Dyke writes, “The negative aspects of cannabis use and its enforcement will be there regardless of what council chooses to do and it doesn’t seem right to send the business and its associated assessment, taxes and government funding to our neighbouring municipalities.”
Hmmm, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth and social and health impacts be damned.
In his report to council, Graves notes “The responses from the public, as of the writing of this report, represent 127 individuals. Of those responses, 60 per cent are in favour of retail cannabis stores and 40 per cent are opposed.”
Some of the public comments are quite enlightening.
One individual (all comments are anonymous) writes, “I know the premise is to wipe out the black market but the black market will exist and flourish always. It can’t be wiped out. Things that run through the black market will always be there, they may change but it will always be there.”
Another person observes, “I’m all for legalized cannabis and for the sale of it but I think in St. Thomas we have an opioid problem. By allowing the legalized sale of cannabis in the city all of those small guys that are selling cannabis (although illegal) will move to other things to make money and you’ll have more opioid and meth dealers within the city.”
We’ll close out on this optimistic note from an upbeat soul. “Opt in, those 400 new families you are going to put on the old Alma College property are supposed to have money and we want them spending it in St. Thomas!”
THE FUN BEGINS WHEN GRANTING GRANTS
City council worked its way through a pair of budget deliberations this week with Director of Finance David Aristone on track to bring the 2019 property tax levy in at $52.3 million, an increase over last year of 1.8 per cent. There are still several details to iron out including the allocation of grants to community groups and services. Over the past few years, some of the most spirited debate has transpired while determining who gets how much.
There can be some intense jockeying as members of council go to bat for their preferred organizations.
A memorable highlight can be gleaned from a debate in 2011 when then alderman Gord Campbell announced, “We’re giving out money to people who haven’t even asked for it,” following a budget session in which several community organizations received a greater amount than requested.
The plan again this year is to attempt to limit grant funding to one-half per cent of the general tax levy or $261,800. In the past that has turned out to be a loose guideline rather than something carved in stone.
Council will grant final budget approval at the Jan. 21 meeting, however, checking in with city clerk Maria Konefal, she advises members will meet with regard to specific grant allocations ” sometime within the next month or so.”
And a temporary hold is being placed on several items in the budget – totalling about $645,000 – until the province determines just how much the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund grants are to be reduced this year.
The fund provides operating support from the province to municipal governments.
Konefal advises, “We don’t specifically know what that means to us. Our 2018 allocation was something like $3.3 million so, to be prudent, there are a number of things the management team has said don’t need to be dealt with right away in the first quarter, so let’s postpone those amounts.
“Once we hear what our allocation for 2019 is, they’ll go back in the budget.”
Founded by Father Pat Costello in 1978, the St. Thomas Sports Spectacular has raised over $500,000 for St. Thomas Special Olympics and the Elgin Association for Community
Living. The lineup in that time has been a who’s who of the sporting world and this year is no different, as Brent Lale, the event’s media relations go-to guy, finalizes details on the dozen celebrities dining at the head table Jan. 24 at St. Anne’s Centre.
The 41st edition includes headliner George Bell, a Blue Jays’ fan favourite; from the current Jays’ roster you can meet starter Sam Gaviglio; Olympic gold medallist Alex Kopacz of London along with tennis legend Daniel Nestor.
Then there’s former Leaf goalie Mike Palmateer; Stanley Cup champion Derian Hatcher; recent Hockey Hall of Fame inductee Jayna Hefford; and NHL broadcaster Jim Ralph.
From the wrestling world get ready for Ax and Smash, better known at Demolition; and from the gridiron, there’s Detroit Lions’ tight end Luke Willson.
In charge of keeping things on track for the fifth consecutive year will be play-by-play man Mike Wilner.
Need more proof of how strong a lineup will be on hand that night?
How about a pair Olympic gold medals, an even dozen Grand Slam tennis titles, three WWF tag team championships, an MLB MVP award, a trio of MLB and a pair of NHL All-Star Games and a Stanley Cup Championship.
And, a pretty tasty dinner thrown in as well. Tickets and info at stthomassportsspectacular.com.
THE READER’S WRITE
Our ongoing coverage of the proposed residential development by Patriot Properties on the Alma College property continues to generate feedback, particularly this recent post on Nov. 15 of last year: Casting a shadow over development of Alma College property.
This past week, Sue Fortin-Smith of St. Thomas, a registered professional planner and former chair of the city’s Municipal Heritage Committee, wrote the following.
“The larger group of Alma Alumnae under the leadership of Lara Leitch are not in favour of the development proposed by Michael Loewith. Instead, they support the replication of the Alma College facade as established by the Ontario Municipal Board Orders and “Applicable Law”. Many of the Citizens of St Thomas support the OMB decision as well. We are not against developing the site but have concerns about the changes to the scope and description of the project presented at each meeting. There are other concerns as well. I agree with Joe Docherty and Ryan Belanger.”
Docherty had previously raised concerns about the changing scope of the project while Belanger writes, “Although I’m pleased to see the developers and architects are doing what they can to acknowledge the heritage of Alma College with this planned development I think that regardless of it being a private community the amphitheatre should have some public use.”
Responding to Fortin-Smith’s comments, Jennifer Rowland Rush writes, “Sue, well said. I am a former Alma grad and feel the public should have say and access. There should be a sensitivity towards history and national heritage and the thousands of lives the College touched from the students far and wide, the primary school, the educators and admin staff and families and visitors. The least that should be done is bring the amphitheatre back and maintain trees that are on the property as several were planted by students. The facade would be lovely for sure. No one is asking to reconstruct the glorious building. Also, one can’t speak for so many people that were touched by the presence and magic of that building.”
Donna Robertson, president of the Alma College International Alumnae Association, checks in with a couple of comments this week.
Initially, she writes, “Yes, many opinions out there. I think the developer is going above and beyond to respect Alma history.”
She follows that up with these observations.
“The Alma College International Alumnae Association represents all 800 + Active Alumnae. There is a very small group, who would like to see the facade replicated and that is to be expected in such a large membership. Efforts to split the Alumnae will not succeed. We are united by our memories of our lives at Alma and who we have become as a result. It is sad that she is no longer standing but we choose to remember her as she really was.
We feel that the best way to keep her memory alive is by providing a scholarship in her name to a St Thomas student going on to post-secondary education. We have done that now for 9 years. Currently, we are growing our fund in order for it to become an endowment. That will allow us to continue the Scholarship, FOREVER. Anyone interested in contributing can contact the London Community Foundation, 519-667-1600, ext. 207
Toujours en Avant is Alma’s motto, so let’s get on with it! Hope to see many Alumnae at our annual reunion in June.”
Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope
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