As St. Thomas positions itself for growth, the financial reality looms

city_scope_logo-cmykBy the year 2041, the city’s population is projected to exceed 50,000.
To accommodate this influx, the city will need to adjust its urban area boundary as part of a review of its official plan.
The city is undertaking – with input from residents – a project it identifies as Positioned for Growth.
The study will assemble the required planning and engineering reports to support the preferred expansion lands and bring them into the urban area boundary to designate for development.
Concurrently the city is identifying recreational and cultural infrastructure and the fire protection services required to support this growth in the coming decades.
Representatives from Dillon Consulting in Kitchener met with council at Monday’s reference committee meeting with a draft copy of its fire station location study.

The objective is to present options to council “to provide the most efficient and effective fire service delivery model possible to the city, considering current industry best practices and standards.
Positioned For Growth fire studyOption 1 would maintain the status quo with the two existing fire stations and the current staffing model.
In Option 2, the existing two-station model would be enhanced through the provision of eight firefighters on duty at any given time at each station. Currently, six firefighters are on duty at any given time at the main station with a dispatcher and four at Station 2.
Option 3 would see a transition to a three-station model, maintaining the location of the existing stations and constructing a new station, possibly in the area of William and Centre streets. Minimum staffing would be 16 firefighters at any given time.
Option 4 would also be a three-station model with the main fire hall be relocated to the area of Elm Street and Pullen Avenue. Again, there would be minimum staffing of 16 firefighters.
When questioned by Coun. Steve Peters on the typical life cycle of a fire hall, Chief Bob Davidson noted the main station was opened in 1973 and so it is nearing the normal life span of such a facility.
Coun. Joan Rymal suggested partnering with EMS on the construction of a new station.
Cognizant of the financial implications for city ratepayers, Mayor Joe Preston queried the timeline associated with the three-station models.
“The (population) growth will not be immediate,” reminded Preston.
A staff report dealing with the fire station location study is due before council in March, with a Positioned for Growth public open house scheduled for April 6.

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The amount of funding St. Thomas will receive this year from the province for court security and the transport of prisoners to and from the Elgin County Courthouse has members of city council in letter-writing mode.
The province has been providing this financial support since 2012, with an initial contribution of $75,224.

courthouse aerialjpgThe net budgeted costs to provide the service this year is just over $1 million, with the province providing the city with a grant of $713,000 to offset the expense. That works out to just under 70 per cent of the total cost, down from 74 per cent last year and 83 per cent in 2018.
Over the nine years, the province has forwarded to the city just over $4 million in funding. The net budgeted costs by the city totals $7.8 million.
So, over that time span, the province’s share of costs associated with court security and prisoner transfer (CSPT) has covered just over 48 per cent of that amount.
In a report to council last Monday from Director of Finance Dan Sheridan, he notes St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge “has reached out to the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police to discuss CSPT,” which will be a topic for discussion at their meetings this month.
Mayor Joe Preston and councillors were unanimous in supporting a motion to craft a letter to both the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and MPP Jeff Yurek outlining concerns on the mounting court security costs and to seek their assistance in having the province review this matter.
In voting for the motion, Coun. Mark Tinlin suggested the letter should be “strongly worded.”


Last September, Deputy Premier Christine Elliott visited St. Thomas to announce a $1.6 million pledge to open an eight-bed residential hospice to serve St. Thomas and Elgin.
Since then, both Elgin county council and city council have been coy on providing funding for what will now be a 10-bed facility.


Ontario’s Deputy Premier Christine Elliott with Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek.

Money was not included in this year’s city budget to financially support the hospice, although last month at a reference committee meeting, Preston assured Laura Sherwood, director of hospice partnerships with St. Joseph’s Health Care Society, that although funding for the hospice was not included in the budget, “It is a huge need for our community.
“How do we get this to happen? We won’t give up on the hospice.”
And, we now know where the county stands, courtesy of a letter from Elgin Warden Dave Mennill contained in Monday’s (Feb. 10) council agenda.
At the Jan. 28 meeting of county council, members resolved “to support the Elgin Hospice Group through non-financial measures but declined to offer financial support . . .”
Mennill points out, “Elgin county is deeply invested in public health and health care systems including direct, legislated funding and service delivery, as well as indirect efforts to address local gaps in health services.”

“. . . it is our hope that these donors understand why Elgin county council made the very difficult decision not to use the property tax base to support a non-mandatory health care service.”

Mennill goes on to stress the decision to not financially support the Hospice for Elgin “was a very difficult decision following careful council consideration.”
He continues, noting Elgin county “continues to meet its ongoing commitments in the health care environment, including the recent $30M investment in the rehabilitation of Terrace Lodge Long-Term Care Home, mandated increases in public health investment and an anticipated increase in funding support to emergency medical services.”
Of critical importance is the cautionary observation of Sherwood at last month’s meeting with city council that there is already a community commitment from two major donors of $2 million, based on municipal support.
Mennill concludes with, “it is our hope that these donors understand why Elgin county council made the very difficult decision not to use the property tax base to support a non-mandatory health care service.”
With the exception of the long-term care facility in Aylmer, the city is facing the very same health care challenges, including an expected increase in land ambulance costs.
When Preston assured, “We won’t give up on the hospice,” will that include financial support through municipal property taxes, based on the county’s stated position?

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Council will be asked Monday to endorse a motion that would permit the operation of E-scooters on city roadways.
This is based on an Ontario Ministry of Transportation announcement of a five-year E-scooter pilot project similar to those underway in Quebec and Alberta.

The trial is legislated under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act, however, the St. Thomas Police Service needs the city to include a clause it the traffic bylaws before they can enforce it.
A number of safety regulations apply, including the need for a horn or bell and lights, they must be electric with a maximum speed of 24 km/h.
To operate them in the city, the minimum age is 16 with a bicycle helmet required if you are under 18.
You can’t carry a passenger or cargo, they are not allowed on sidewalks and are not permitted for commercial use.
One more element to be aware of in the narrower confines of Talbot Street in the downtown core.


ABCRjpgAll Breed Canine Rescue is hosting a microchip clinic tomorrow (Feb. 9), from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Global Pet Food Store, 900 Talbot St., St. Thomas. The cost is $35 per pet. You are asked to book ahead by calling 519-207-3663.

The city’s skatepark will be closed all next week to complete improvements to the park.

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