Is it a case of listening to the people or backpedalling in the face of stiff opposition?
The agenda package for Monday’s (June 3) city council meeting includes a letter from Premier Doug Ford with regard to cost-sharing with municipalities for land ambulance, public health and childcare services.
The proposed cuts to joint funding were to come into effect this year even though municipalities have already set their 2019 budgets and tax rates.
The funding changes are a move by the Ford government to address the province’s $15 billion annual deficit and $347 billion long-term debt.
In his letter, Ford concedes “After listening to the concerns of our partners and following the advice of my Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark, our government has made the decision to maintain the in-year cost-sharing adjustments . . .”
Ironically, this very same matter was raised last week in St. Thomas during the mental health funding announcement made outside the city’s police station.
Deputy Premier Christine Elliott was asked if the province would reconsider the cost-sharing cuts and consult with mayors.
“Actually, I am very happy to consult with mayors,” advised Elliott. “I have written to (Toronto mayor) John Tory and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and have asked to sit down with them to discuss the changes we are making.”
Elliott described the changes to joint funding as “reasonable” and they will take place over a period of three years.
“In fact, we have uploaded some of the responsibilities that were formally performed by the local health units. We recently announced a $90 million annualized program for low-income seniors for dental services. That was something previously performed by the local health units.”
She continued, “That gives the local units more room within their budgets to be able to perform the local services that are so important.”
Elliott stressed, “We need to sit down and collaborate on the revision of services and who is going to do what.”
When pressed on how local municipal councils would be expected to make up the shortfall in funding, Elliott responded, “First we want to sit down and speak with them about what the province is going to do and what we expect the local units to do.
“Municipalities need to do what we had to do provincially. All of us as ministers had to go line by line through every item in our budget in the face of a $15 billion deficit to find the services that matter most.”
Elliott continued, “We were elected to be good financial stewards and the people of Ontario expect municipalities to do the same kind of work.
“So I think it is important for them to start doing that level of analysis of their budgets and I know when they do that . . . there will be money to make sure all those services are available.”
My, how things can change over the course of just a few days.
No doubt aided by the message delivered in a recent series of less-than-flattering public opinion polls.
A ‘SOFT’ BUSINESS CASE
Some sobering facts appear in city manager Wendell Graves report to council Monday on Phase 2 of the city’s social services and housing hub taking shape at 230 Talbot Street.
This will include a child care facility and 24 additional housing units on the second and third floors of the building.
These will be a combination of rent-geared-to-income units, affordable units and market-rate units, according to Graves.
This project will front on Queen Street.
Phase 1, now under construction, includes office space for the social services department and 28 residential units.
The city has received $2.6 million in funding for the child care space, with the proviso it is operational by December of 2020.
Of note in Graves’ report is the fact “preliminary cost estimates for the construction of the proposed Phase 2 project are high.”
Graves continues, “At this point, the actual business case for the Phase 2 project is soft and the cost per residential unit is projected to be fairly high ($290,515 per unit).
He is proposing the architectural drawings need to be completed in order to get more accurate numbers.
“The project would then be costed again,” notes Graves. “Ultimately, a tender call for the project would reveal the actual project cost.”
To help finance the undertaking, 14 exiting social housing units in the Simcoe and Dunkirk street areas would need to be put on the market.
In addition, approximately $3.5 million in long-term debt financing will be required.
Graves cautions “a fairly aggressive schedule has been developed for the project,” which would see construction begin this October in order to meet the December 2020 deadline.
ROSS STREET REVIVAL
The last of four projects to be completed this year under the city’s Complete Streets program is scheduled to begin June 17, with completion in mid-October.
The work involves reconstruction of Ross Street, between Wellington and Amelia streets.
The work will involve water main, storm sewer, and sanitary sewer replacement, new sidewalk, curb and gutter, and roadwork,
Under the Complete Streets banner, features such as decorative street lights, brick boulevard, street furniture and trees will be incorporated into the final design.
Cost of the project is in the range of $1.1 million.
As approved by the previous council in January of last year, remuneration for members of council was revised upward to take effect at the beginning of this year.
However, a revised bylaw to deal with an oversight will be voted on Monday.
To refresh your memory, councillors now received $24,260, up from the previous salary of $21,832.
Their annual car allowance is now $1,025, a $25 increase.
The mayor’s salary is pegged at $64,710. Previously, the head of council was paid $52,857.
The phone allowance for all members – a taxable benefit – is $660.
Members of council are eligible for health benefits up to the age of 75
FOR THE CALENDAR
Just a reminder, the St. Thomas Police Service is holding a party in honour of PSD Axle’s third birthday today from 1 to 3 p.m. behind Central Elgin Collegiate Institute. And please, keep your pets at home for this party.
Women in Arboriculture – Ontario (WAO) will be hosting their fourth annual Tree Fest next Saturday (June 8) in Pinafore Park. Approximately 80 forestry professionals from across the province will enjoy a barbecue, 2 Challenge trees, educational demonstrations and games. According to a report to be presented at Monday’s council meeting, “It is designed to create a comfortable environment for women in the industry to learn, network and gain experience within the arboriculture industry.”
A public meeting is to be held June 10 at city hall to deal with an apartment building proposed for 57 and 59 Metcalfe Street. The two homes would be demolished to make way for a four-storey apartment building, containing 15 affordable housing and low to moderate income housing units with rents in the $1,000 to $1,100 range. A public meeting was originally held last summer, and the proposal has been updated to address concerns. The public meeting will begin at 6:40 p.m. in the council chamber.
Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope
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