City council’s reference committee meetings – held immediately prior to the regularly scheduled council sittings – tend to be straight forward, down-to-business sessions with an abundance of information and plenty of questions.
While very informative, they can be a tad on the dry side.
Well, a dramatic change could be in order for Monday’s meeting (Feb. 11) which begins at 4:30 p.m. and will see members determine how to dole out community grants for the year.
In the past, this has been a totally unstructured affair with little in the way of guidelines to follow.
The overarching target – seldom adhered to – has been one-half per cent of the general tax levy or in the $250,000 range.
Last year, even with an attempt to pare back some of the requests, the city still awarded almost $330,000 in grants.
For 2019, council has received funding asks from 18 groups or organizations seeking a total of $455,600.
Some tough decisions are in order Monday.
The usual recipients are back this year including the St. Thomas Elgin Public Art Centre seeking $71,000 (they were approved for $60,000 last year); the Railworks Coalition, $40,000 ($60,000); St. Thomas Seniors Centre $60,000 ($60,000); St. Thomas Cemetery, $60,000 ($60,000); and the Talbot Teen Centre, $100,000 ($60,000).
In last year’s grant go-round, council agreed to limit awards to a maximum of $60,000. Let’s see how that works this year.
Most recently, there has been discussion around removing certain groups including the seniors’ centre, public art centre and the cemetery from the grant process and, instead, make them line items in the annual budget.
There has also been philosophical discussion over whether the money should be awarded to groups for specific projects or one-time events instead of being applied to the operating budgets of organizations on a yearly basis.
Some interesting newcomers are on the financial agenda this year.
Championship City Boxing Club is seeking $3,500 for equipment.
The Elgin branch of the CMHA is requesting $2,000 to host a fundraising hockey game at the Joe Thornton Centre.
Robin Sagi would like $2,000 so she can attend a United Nations youth forum this fall in Geneva.
The STEAM Centre is requesting $37,500 to develop a summer program for 30 high school students.
The Family YMCA is seeking $50,000 to provide financial assistance to families seeking to enrol in programs and to host YMCA Teen Nights.
All good initiatives and worthwhile requests.
Prepare for some soul searching Monday afternoon when determining where ratepayer dollars are allocated.
A STRONG BUSINESS CASE FOR MRI SCANNER AT STEGH
Following completion of the Great Expansion a year ago, “the stars are aligned well” for the addition of an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanner at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital.
The optimistic forecast was courtesy of hospital CEO Robert Biron in a Feb. 4 presentation to St. Thomas municipal council
Biron outlined the strategic planning now underway for Imagine 2023: Creating a Healthier Tomorrow, a road map for the future of the hospital that serves St. Thomas and Elgin county, and to a lesser extent portions of London and Middlesex.
Almost 76 per cent of Elgin county residents receive emergency department services at the hospital and 63 per cent of county residents receive acute care services there.
Biron stressed an MRI “is certainly one of our huge priorities,” in the near future.
He advised members of council, “A request was submitted to the South West Local Health Integration Network (SWLHIN) last spring and they had a number of questions. We had to do further consultations and that has been done.
“We’re expecting that to be addressed by the LHIN this month. It is progressing through the process.”
As to pinpointing when an announcement could come from the province, Biron admitted, “When it gets positioned by the province is the big question mark. Often what happens with these types of services is they are announced provincially together.
“So, they will announce four or five MRI’s at the same time. We are waiting for the 2019 provincial budget to be released.”
Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek held 2019 budget consultations with members of the public Feb. 8 in Dutton, Dorchester and St. Thomas.
“They haven’t released any information around the capital investments on these types of programs,” noted Biron, “so I hope in the next month or two we will have clarity around, provincially, where they are heading in terms of capital investment.”
In spite of the noted question marks, Biron indicated he is cautiously optimistic.
“I think the stars are aligned well for us. We have a very strong business case. This is a community that is large enough. There is a strong business case for it. And the volume is there as well, with almost 5,000 MRI visits (to other hospitals) in the last year.”
“Given the size of our hospital community, there is a clinical need for this.”
He stressed the hospital has to go through the normal cycles of approval “and we will see where that takes us.”
He explained, “Typically, the operating costs of an MRI are about $1 million and that is funded by the province. Money to purchase the equipment would have to be fundraised by the hospital foundation.
“And the foundation feels strongly that this is something they would be able to successfully fundraise for.”
During his successful 2018 municipal election campaign bid, Coun. Jim Herbert – long associated with the hospital – continually pledged to fight for a scanner to meet the needs of St. Thomas and Elgin residents.
Biron believes St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital may be the only hospital of its size in the province without an MRI.
“Given the size of our hospital community, there is a clinical need for this. It is no longer an elective type of procedure, it is a core service a hospital this size should have.”
BYPASSING THE BYPASS
It is running three years behind schedule, however, at its Jan. 14 meeting Central Elgin council gave the green light to complete the Highway 3 Transportation Needs Assessment Study.
It began in 2015 as a joint venture between the Ministry of Transporation (MTO) and the County of Elgin, and the study is expected to be finalized later this year.
The area under consideration extends from Talbotville to Summers Corners, east of Aylmer with the goal of assessing “the impact on the functionality and service levels of Highway 3 with future development,” according to a report to council from Central Elgin CAO Donald Leitch.
The study will help determine whether there is a need for the MTO to maintain restrictions on lands identified as a future route for the Highway 3 bypass extension east from Centennial Avenue, to the north of New Sarum, Orwell and Aylmer.
Brian Lima, Elgin county’s director of engineering, suggests some municipalities “may wish to suspend the study prior to completion and ask the MTO to revoke the bypass designation.”
Based on data gathered to date, several recommendations are being proposed including a dedicated westbound left turn lane at Springfield Road; intersection improvements at Hacienda Road; and intersection improvements at John Street in Aylmer.
In his report to county council in December of last year, Lima indicated the MTO is willing to consider removing the bypass designation entirely between St. Thomas and Aylmer.
The bypass designation around Aylmer may still be retained due to traffic congestion downtown.
POINT TO PONDER
Last month we noted Patricia Riddell-Laemers, former executive director of the St. Thomas Early Learning Centre, was to operate a home care centre under the banner Deeply Rooted Montessori Academy.
Seems now, the centre operating out of her home will, instead, be providing “quality Montessori play-based learning and care experience.”
It would appear to be a bit of a change in direction.
Meantime, no word on court dates to deal with allegations made by the former executive director against the ELC.
THE READERS WRITE
In response to our story earlier this week regarding the fire at Caressant Care, Bonnie Place, Ed van der Maarel writes, “So many times we hear about buildings being under designed and under maintained. Proud of everybody in our city, first responders, hospital staff, and most of all the employees of Bonnie Place for taking care of the residents. Thanks all for making us feel comfortable.”
Commenting on the lack of sprinklers at Walnut Manor, Karen Barry notes, “So sad that often, through no choice of their own, some of the most vulnerable people fall through the cracks. I’m actually shocked that there hasn’t been a fatality or fire at Walnut Manor with the number of health and safety issues in a supposed ‘supported living’ facility.”
As to the number of beds to be available in owner Jim Akey’s new facility on Alma Street, Deb Hardy points out, “So rather than keep the very people who pay his bills safe, the owner is going to fill one less bed and give them no staff. WOW!”
FOR THE CALENDAR
The sixth annual Railway City Arts Crawl is pegged for Feb. 22 and 23 with venues dotted throughout the city.
The arts celebration promises more artists, more exhibits, and more opportunities to discover the city’s vibrant art community.
A free Arts Crawl passport is available at participating venues and helps crawlers locate the venues and artists they’d like to explore over the two-day event.
The After Dark – a post-Crawl celebration which can be enjoyed on its own – takes place Saturday night at the CASO station. It’s a chance to enjoy a special art event featuring Kelly Wilson or some virtual reality before sitting down to the tunes of Deni Gauthier, The Shangles and Chris Casserly.
The hours are 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, and the party wind-up goes from 6 to 10 p.m. For participating venues and more information, visit railwaycityartscrawl.com.
Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope
Visit us on Facebook