As he stressed in his inaugural address on Dec. 3 of last year, smart growth in St. Thomas can be achieved through co-operation and open communication with neighbouring communities.
Mayor Joe Preston reiterated that mantra Thursday (Feb. 28) at the State of the Municipalities luncheon at St. Anne’s Centre.
Joined by Central Elgin Mayor Sally Martyn and Southwold Mayor Grant Jones, Preston stressed a healthy, expanding regional economy can be nurtured via a co-operative effort with the city’s neighbours.
“We are much stronger when we all work together,” Preston advised the business and community leaders in attendance.
“Will it be accomplished during our terms in office? Yes it will and we all are working together.”
That need for co-operation and communication was one of four key areas Preston stressed need to be addressed during his term in office.
However, he began his 10-minute presentation with a challenge.
“I’m going to ask the room to dare to dream. Dream all that could be possible and then plan to make it happen. And we can do that.
“Our area can be that good if we look forward to sharing and cooperating in the growth and success.”
And he zeroed in on the city’s homebuilders to deal with a particularly pressing challenge.
“I’m ashamed to say we can’t house everyone in St. Thomas who wants to be housed,” conceded Preston. “Our vacancy rate is near zero. Our builders are building as fast as they possibly can build. And I’m going to ask them to build more.
“We have an absolute housing shortage in our city and in our region. We don’t have enough single-family homes. We don’t have enough rental, we don’t have enough affordable housing and we don’t have enough seniors’ housing or enough housing for students, whether it’s international students or not.”
The only way to fix this is to build more, advised Preston. However, the options are not limited to that traditional fix.
“Supply and demand tell us we need to increase the supply to meet the demand and the price will be better. Housing is an issue and there are a lot of other ways we can play.
“Whether it’s downtown renovations, main floor housing, granny flats, tiny homes. There are a lot of other ways we can go and we’ve got to do each and every one of them and we can’t stop.”
“I think I would be safe to say we’re not expecting a great bushel basket full of money from the province in the next couple of years.
It was a dominant concern last fall at all-candidate meetings and the city’s much-maligned transit system has to come under the microscope, according to Preston.
“With transit, we have to do a better job,” he suggested. “In this age, we have a whole new set of young people who are entering the workforce or well into the workforce, even as entrepreneurs.
“We have to do a better job of being able to get them from place to place and including from city to city, whether it’s London or inside our own county.”
Preston made it clear the city will be spending a great deal of time analyzing transit.
And not just within the city.
“We’ve had three or four conversations with the council and mayor in London about regional transportation and what the next steps can be.
“And how can we honestly move people in a sound way between St. Thomas and London, to begin with, and then from St. Thomas to our neighbouring friends in Elgin.”
“And then there’s employment, an uptick in employment. Our vision is one of growing together with family and friends and a community that cares. And St. Thomas can be that.”
Returning to his challenge to dream of all that can be possible, Preston concluded, “If we can accomplish even a part of those, we will have been successful in our terms as mayor.”
But Preston warned, don’t expect generous financial assistance from the province as Premier Doug Ford wrestles with a $13.5 billion deficit.
“I think I would be safe to say we’re not expecting a great bushel basket full of money from the province in the next couple of years. They have to put some austerity into what they’re doing. But at least they are coming out and speaking with us.”
That prediction came with a proviso.
“I’m a lot better at reacting than I am at predicting,” offered Preston.
FURTHER HEALTHCARE EXPANSION
While the main healthcare focus over the past year has been deservedly centered on the Great Expansion at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital, the good news for city and county residents isn’t limited to that facility.
Yesterday (March 1) at the Elmdale Health Centre – site of the former Elmdale Public School – LifeLabs officially launched an expansion of its services in St. Thomas.
LifeLabs is the largest community laboratory in Canada providing testing
services to help healthcare providers diagnose, treat, monitor and prevent disease in patients.
The new facility offers residents blood collection and electrocardiography services to reduce wait times.
On hand for the opening ceremony was MPP Jeff Yurek, a prominent player in LifeLabs expanded profile in the city.
“It was a couple years ago when the hospital reduced their outpatient services,” reminded Yurek in a media release. “I reached out to LifeLabs to find a solution.
“You’re investing in our community and providing customer service to the patients of this city and Elgin county.”
“Here in St. Thomas, our new centre is already reducing the community’s wait times by more than 30 percent,” advised Chris Carson of LifeLabs.
“The best patient experience requires timely, accurate, secure results.”
LifeLabs used the occasion to launch Save My Spot, a new app that offers patients greater convenience and flexibility when booking appointments.
The Elmdale Health Centre location also offers the Serving Patients with Autism Program – Canada’s first specific and comprehensive guidelines for specimen collection for patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
It’s a province-wide collective whose St. Thomas membership grew by leaps and bounds in 2018.
Known disparagingly as The Sunshine Club, the number of municipal employees in St. Thomas earning in excess of $100,000 last year grew by almost 15 per cent over the 2017 figure.
According to a report from director of human resources Graham Dart to be presented to council Monday, 134 city employees earned $100,000 or greater in 2018, that’s up from 117 in 2017.
This reporting is required under the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act of 1996.
Most recently, the police and fire services have accounted for the greatest increase year over year.
That was far from the case last year.
A total of 55 members of the St. Thomas Police Service fall into this category, up a half-dozen from 2017.
At the St. Thomas Fire Department, 47 are on the list, an increase of just a single employee in the past year and down one from the previous high in 2016.
On the city administration side, membership in the club increased by almost 50 per cent, ballooning to 32 employees. An increase of 10 over 2017.
As is to be expected, the top wage earner is city manager Wendell Graves at $194,729, up from $191,485.
Other notable salaries at city hall, with 2017 figure in brackets:
Ross Tucker, director of parks & recreation & property management, $152,095 ($146,594)
David Aristone, director of finance and city treasurer, $152,095 ($147,306)
Justin Lawrence, director of environmental services, $149,586 ($144,741)
Graham Dart, director of human resources, $149,586 ($144,687)
Patrick Keenan, director of planning and building services, $149,503 ($144,568)
Elizabeth Sebestyen, director of Ontario Works, $140,367 ($139,974)
Sean Dyke, CEO Economic Development Corp., $130,993 ($128,396)
Michael Carroll, Valleyview administrator, $128,832 ($124,852)
Catharine Spratley, supervisor of parks and forestry $124,620 ($120,692)
Heather Robinson, CEO St. Thomas Public Library, $120,765 ($110,701)
Maria Konefal, city clerk, $125,027 ($115,025)
Chris Peck, chief building official, $111,649 ($108,136)
St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge earned $173,339 last year as compared to $165,908 in 2017.
And, new fire chief Robert Davidson came in at $131,204.
GUEST OP-ED SUBMISSION
It was a rivetting four-hours of television. While witnessing this spectacle, you couldn’t help but acknowledge as the spell-binding testimony of Jody Wilson-Raybould unfolded, it was a fascinating preview of a potentially game-changing – albeit in sordid fashion – chapter in this country’s history.
Her revelations this week prompted the following op-ed submission courtesy of Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio.
“Canadians were shocked to hear the explosive testimony of former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould on the SNC-Lavalin affair. Canadians heard of the inappropriate, and potentially illegal, pressure brought on her by the highest officials of Justin Trudeau’s government and Justin Trudeau himself.
“Since the Globe and Mail broke the story on February 7th, this Prime Minister has not been straight forward with Canadians about his actions and those of the PMO. But this week, Canadians heard testimony from Ms. Wilson-Raybould. She stated during her testimony that she “experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.
“Following the testimony, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer sent a letter to the RCMP requesting that they immediately open an investigation into this matter. We believe that Canada should be a country where we are all equal under the rule of law. This Prime Minister’s actions to intervene in a matter were not appropriate. Canadians deserve better.”
With the Elgin-Middlesex-London federal Liberal riding association expected to hold its nomination meeting in the near future, is one of the hopefuls, Lori Baldwin-Sands, eager to defend Trudeau’s alternative view of the alleged interference should she garner the nod as the official candidate?
THE READERS WRITE
Still with Baldwin-Sands, following last week’s post regarding her opposition to the city investigating a potential partnership with Aylmer on implementing a one-year pilot project to test a community alert/notification system, reader David Wilson forwarded the following observation.
“Baldwin-Sands told me face to face during her door-to-door campaign that the quality of life and health/safety of residents of St. Thomas was foremost on her agenda. Hmm. Guess not.”
FOR THE CALENDAR
The Women’s Breakfast for Everyone is this Thursday (March 7) from 7 to 9 a.m. at the St. Thomas Seniors Centre. This year’s guest speaker is Globe and Mail columnist and award-winning author Andre Picard.
Tickets and info available here.
Thanks to Liz Brown at Violence Against Women, Services Elgin County for the reminder.
City Scope will be on hand, introduce yourself and say hello. Glad to make your acquaintance.
Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope
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