Is another provincial backtrack in the offing?
On Aug. 16 MPP Jeff Yurek, minister of the environment, conservation and parks, noted in a statement, he is working “to improve public transparency and consistency” in dealings between municipalities and the conservation authorities.
Yurek continued, “The legislative changes we’ve made ensure conservation authorities focus on delivering core services and programs that protect communities from natural hazards and flooding while using taxpayer dollars efficiently and effectively.”
Last week in this corner, we questioned the impact this legislation would have on events such as the maple syrup festival hosted by the Catfish Creek Conservation Authority (CCCA)at Springwater Conservation Area.
Well, what should appear in the agenda package for Tuesday’s (Sept. 3) city council meeting but a letter from Rick Cerna, CCCA board chairman and Ward 3 councillor in Malahide Township.
Cerna notes, “Should the direction to ‘wind down’ non-mandatory programs and services as outlined in the letter (from Yurek) be carried out, it could represent one of the single largest attacks on environmental programs in Ontario’s history.”
Cerna goes on to advise on Aug. 20, Yurek clarified the ministry position in that the province “is giving municipalities greater control over the ability to enter into agreements with conservation authorities to fund programs and services outside of their mandate if they choose.”
According to Cerna, the CCCA feels this is a more reasonable approach “as it allows important local programs to continue if municipal partners wish to fund them.”
“continuing programs such as the maple syrup festival generates the much-needed revenue to offset the significant shortfall in provincial funding for mandated programs.”
In the case of non-mandatory programs such as the maple syrup festival, they can continue “since the revenue generated goes to offset shortfalls in provincial funding, and minimizes the levy increases associated with rising costs for delivery of mandated programs.
Cerna points out, “Currently the province funds nine per cent of provincial mandated programs, member municipalities fund 66 per cent and self-generated revenue (from events like the maple syrup festival) makes up the remaining 25 per cent.”
On a cautionary note, Cerna continues “As chairperson of the CCCA, I believe the minister’s request to ‘wind down’ non-mandated programs was premature and without regulations, CCCA is not in a position to follow through on the request until more information is available . . .”
In a call for action, Cerna is asking Catfish Creek watershed member municipalities (which includes St. Thomas) “to support the conservation authority at this time by challenging the direction to ‘wind down’ in letters to Jeff Yurek . . . that reinforce the idea that the municipalities should be able to decide on whether or not to fund local non-mandatory programs.”
Cerna concludes, “continuing programs such as the maple syrup festival generates the much-needed revenue to offset the significant shortfall in provincial funding for mandated programs.”
According to Yurek, those programs include “dealing with flooding, dealing with their conservation land and ensuring they are taking care of our drinking water through source protection.”
Will city council support the CCCA when it comes time to tap the sap next spring?
RESPONSE TO RESPONSE TIMES
At it’s Aug. 12 meeting, city council was in receipt of a report from fire chief Bob Davidson dealing with dispatch and response times for the six-month period that ended in May of this year.
The average time for dispatch to answer a call was 11 seconds, with an average processing time of 43 seconds.
Impressive figures and well inside the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) best practice standards.
Davidson’s presentation left the impression this was the first time such numbers had been presented to members of council.
Well, that’s just not the case.
A strategic review of the St. Thomas Fire Department received by council of the day on Nov. 7, 2016, confirmed similar response/dispatch times were being compiled by then chief Rob Broadbent up to his death two years ago.
The review – undertaken by Emergency Management & Training in Barrie, Ontario – noted: “These statistics are monitored and reviewed with the Platoon Chiefs quarterly as part of a quality assurance program.”
Meeting or out-performing the NFPA best-practice standards is surely due in part to the efforts of the four radiotelephone operators who work out of the dispatch office at the main fire hall, which serves as a backup for the St. Thomas Police Service.
Davidson appears to be in favour of integrating the dispatch centre into the police system which, according to the strategic review, would result in an annual savings of $336,000 in salaries and benefits based on the 2016 collective agreement.
And Davidson’s support for communications integration – along with numerous grievances – is not sitting well with firefighters whose association recently forwarded a letter of non-confidence in Davidson to Mayor Joe Preston and all councillors.
The increase in grievances, the dispatch integration – which would likely violate the no-contracting out provisions of the collective agreement – and other factors have led to severely diminished morale in both fire stations.
One of the considerations in the cancellation of this year’s annual Fire Muster – in the past scheduled for Labour Day weekend.
The popular event requires considerable volunteer hours from firefighters, including organizer Daryl Smith.
In a Facebook posting Smith writes, “We did not make this decision lightly as a lot of planning has been invested into this event. However, we are confident in our decision.”
All of this the continuing fallout from the city’s decision – spearheaded by city manager Wendell Graves – to look outside the department for an individual to replace Broadbent.
How’s that app working out for you?
The app in question is the Voyent Alert system – designed by ICEsoft Technologies of Calgary – which allows the city to provide residents with a variety of information including severe weather alerts; police, fire and EMS situations; evacuation or shelter-in-place updates; boil water advisories; road and school closures; and snow removal information to name just a few items.
This corner downloaded the app as soon as it was made available earlier this year and apart from a test alert on July 23, the app has remained silent.
You have to question the value of the service – at a cost of about $12,000 – actively promoted by the fire chief.
Who at city hall administers the Voyent Alert system, which is a one-year pilot project?
THIS JEWELL IS A GEM
He’s been a proud member of Lord Elgin Branch 41 Royal Canadian Legion for nearly 40 and served in various capacities including vice-president and president in addition to organizing the annual Service of Remembrance in St. Thomas.
And, in recognition of his Royal Canadian Legion service and a 28-year career in the Canadian Armed Forces, Ron Jewell was presented with the Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation at a ceremony held Thursday (Aug. 29).
On hand for the presentation were Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio, MPP Jeff Yurek and St. Thomas Mayor Joe Preston.
In addition to the above accomplishments, Jewell is a member of the Southwold War Memorial Committee, assists with benefit requests for veterans, widows and their families and is active in a youth education role with the Legion promoting Remembrance Day through literary and public speaking competitions in area schools.
Most recently, he helped update the city’s cenotaph in 2016 to include the names of Afghanistan, NATO and UN peacekeeper vets.
Familiar with him through his extensive involvement with veterans and the Royal Canadian Legion, you know that recognition for his decades of tireless efforts was the furthest thing from a motivating factor.
Well deserved and long overdue, Ron.
A group of Lake Margaret area residents determined to enforce restrictive covenants tied to the purchase of their homes are making little headway with representatives of Doug Tarry Ltd.
What they have unearthed to date is the covenants are still in effect and remain so for 40 years from the initial date of a home purchase.
Before agreeing to a meeting, Doug Tarry Ltd. is asking for the names of all individuals in the homeowner group.
Something group representative John O’Reilly calls “totally inappropriate.”
While the city has said enforcement is not in their domain, should a court case uphold the restrictive covenants in a case where a commercial venture is operating out of a residence, is there not an obvious conflict with the zoning process in St. Thomas?
In a recent conversation, the city’s director of planning Pat Keenan advised, “If you ask one question, it generates other questions. And if we’re going to get these questions, which obviously we are, we’ll get some sort of legal position.”
FISHING THROUGH FINANCIALS
City council returns to its regular meeting schedule on Tuesday (Sept. 3) and included in the agenda are the 2018 audited consolidated financial statements.
They shed light – very little, mind you – on the merger of Ascent Group with St Thomas Energy which was then acquired by Entegrus Inc.
Quoting from the statements, “The City received 679 common shares with a value of $33,250,579 of Entegrus Inc. and as such reported a gain of $19,233,724 on the sale of St. Thomas Energy Inc.
“As part of the merger agreement, the City agreed to invest in 376 new common shares of Ascent Group Inc. for $12,772,355 before the end of the 2017 year and another 118 common shares for $4,000,000 before March 31, 2018. The $12,772,335 was satisfied by the transfer of a $5,059,929 promissory note and the redemption of a promissory note for investment of cash equal to $7,714,426. The $4,000,000 in 2018 was paid with cash.”
No doubt these transactions were related to the long-term debt accrued by Ascent Group.
The report continues, “The City also owns 100% of Ascent Energy Services Inc., which in turn owns 100% of Ascent Solutions Inc., Ascent Utility Services Inc. and Ascent Renewables Inc. In 2017 with no further assets or employees the Corporations filed for bankruptcy or ceased operations.
“City management and the sole Board of Director are working with regulators to finalize the bankruptcy and wind-down of the Corporations.”
However, there is the slight matter of a lawsuit launched by Focus Group out of London which is seeking $7.8 million in damages over the winding down of Ascent Renewables.
There is a vague reference to legal action in the financial statements. Is it safe to assume this is connected to the Focus Group lawsuit?
“As at December 31, 2018, certain legal actions are pending against the City. The final outcome of the outstanding claims cannot be determined at this time. However, management believes that ultimate disposition of these matters will not materially exceed the amounts recorded in these consolidated financial statements.”
Once again we ask, will any member of council delve into the financial implications in the acquisition by Entegrus and possible legal action?
At a nomination meeting held Thursday (Aug. 29) the Elgin-Middlesex-London Liberal riding association acclaimed Pam Armstrong as their candidate in the fast-approaching federal election.
Armstrong, a long-time Aylmer resident, is a sales representative with Century 21 in London. It’s her first foray into politics as she attempts to “bring new ideas” to voters.
In an interview with Armstrong last month, she told City Scope “I’m ready. I want to win, of course. I think I can bring a fresh voice. But it’s not going to be devastating to my life if I don’t (win).
“I have to keep it all positive because that is who I am. That’s the way we’ll run it.”
Her official campaign is expected to launch very quickly following the Labour Day break.
FOR THE CALENDAR
St. Thomas Police are set to fire up the barbecue as they prepare for their second annual open house next Saturday (Sept. 7) at their new home on CASO Crossing.
The event, which includes tours and demonstrations in addition to eats, runs from 1-4 p.m. Donations to the local food bank are encouraged.
Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope
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