With our beautiful consolidated courthouse comes ‘a substantial hit to our operating budget every year’

city_scope_logo-cmykThe city’s portion of the cost of providing court security and prisoner transfer (CSPT) has been steadily increasing since it first received money from the province beginning in 2012.
That year, the province contributed $75,224.
The 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.
That diminishing financial support was the topic of discussion at a council meeting earlier this month when members unanimously supported 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 a recent conversation with St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge, he noted part of the problem is the funding formula for this year is based on 2018 statistics.
Herridge and other area chiefs argue the provincial funding should be based on current numbers.

courthouse aerialjpgIn other words, suggests Herridge, as an example “in January 2020, I would submit a report because I would know my costs for 2019. I know every year there is going to be a wage increase and a benefit increase. So, you can put those numbers in there as well.
“So, based on my 2019 numbers, and my projected wage increase and benefits increase for 2020, that is going to be a more accurate reflection of our true core security and prisoner transportation costs for the coming year.”
With the current formula where there is a two-year lag time, Herridge stresses he is “behind the eight ball,” when it comes time to budget costs.
“You got your 2019 wage increase that’s not included, you got a 2020 wage increase that’s not included. So right off the bat, before they even determine our funding allocation, we’re behind the eight ball.”
According to city manager Wendell Graves, that’s going to leave about a $322,000 shortfall for the police service this year.

“The costs keep going up and up and it is nice we’ve got this beautiful courthouse here that opened up in March of 2014, but with that beautiful courthouse came a substantial hit to our operating budget every year.”

Herridge is quick to point out some of the costs associated with providing security at the Elgin County Courthouse should necessarily be assumed by the St. Thomas Police service.
“I’ve always said we’re going to require a criminal court case manager, that’s going to be our cost to manage our criminal charges. We’re always going to have a provincial offences case manager because we need someone to manage those files.
“And when I say provincial offences, that’s obviously the person working out at the provincial offences court out on Sunset Drive, who looks after your liquor offences and trespass tickets. We’re always going to need those two employees.
“And, I certainly appreciate that the government should not have to pay for those. So that’s on our dime.”
But for everything else, argues Herridge, “when it comes to court-related costs, it should be the government and either take over court security and prisoner transportation like occurs in some of the other provinces, or give us 100 per cent cost recovery to run it.”
Under the present system in Ontario, points out Herridge, wherever the courthouse is located, the police agency in that jurisdiction has to provide security.
“The costs keep going up and up and it is nice we’ve got this beautiful courthouse here that opened up in March of 2014, but with that beautiful courthouse came a substantial hit to our operating budget every year.”
And the caseload is only getting heavier for the local police service.
“Our numbers have skyrocketed. I mean, our criminal charges are up, our provincial offences charges are up and when your charges are up, that means more court time.
“That means there’s going to be more trials, it means you got more charges, you’ve got more trials. Court days are going longer. And that impacts the number of court staff we need over at the courthouse and it also impacts overtime. I mean, our overtime was north of $20,000 at the courthouse last year, and that’s the first time it’s been that high since the courthouse opened.”
The next logical step, suggests Herridge, is a meeting between the organization representing police chiefs across the province and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones.
“I brought this to her attention a year or so ago when we were talking about mental health funding.”
Trying to remain optimistic, Herridge concludes, “I think it’s just going to maybe take some time and see where the next moves are with regards to our funding.”

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Elgin-Middlesex-London MP Karen Vecchio was the beneficiary this week of a vote of confidence from her peers. For the second time since 2015, she was elected chair of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women.
Being nominated for the position by the Liberal parliamentary secretary makes this an even greater honour.
This, in addition to her role as Shadow Minister for Women and Gender Equality.
Karen Vecchio O POne of the first items on Vecchio’s agenda as chair, in order to get the ball rolling quickly, is to ask for all of the government responses from every one of the studies from the 42nd parliament.
Vecchio notes, “we have two or three of those outstanding, and we’ll be able to continue with some of that work.”
That includes key issues like violence against women, bullying and sexual exploitation because of the rapid developments since she was first elected chair in 2015.
This will dovetail with her work as shadow minister.
“One of the biggest priorities I have been working at as shadow minister is on sexual assault and sexual exploitation of young women and girls,” stresses Vecchio.
“That’s something that’s really, really important to me. And that’s the thing that I know that many of the members (of her committee) want to study as well.”
Particularly with regard to human trafficking in southwestern Ontario.
So, what happens with the studies produced by the status of women committee?
“Once they leave the committee stage,” explains Vecchio, “they are tabled and usually within 45 days we’ll have a response from the minister of that portfolio.
“And, a lot of times it’s leading to things that we need to address with legislation or regulations.”
She continues, “When we talk about violence against women, we also talk about what support we need to provide to the provinces. When it comes to financial support and what about operational costs we have . . . what’s the big picture?”

“And so I just have to be cautious that when I’m speaking as the chair, I have to understand that my job is to represent all of Canada and not the Conservative Party of Canada.”

When asked about murdered and missing indigenous women, Vecchio stresses “we talk about that all the time, you always make sure we have the indigenous lens on this as well.”
Says Vecchio, “We’ve looked at the indigenous women, we will look at new immigrant women, we look at women who are in rural or remote areas compared to urban. There’s a variety of different things that we need to look at.
“So when we do a study we try to make sure that they’re from coast to coast to coast. And, not only the regional differences but economic differences and try to make sure that all of Canada is represented when we’re at the table.”
As chair, one of the prerequisites for Vecchio is remaining impartial.
“I had no problems last time,” she says. “And so I just have to be cautious that when I’m speaking as the chair, I have to understand that my job is to represent all of Canada and not the Conservative Party of Canada.
“So if I’m doing the chair work, I always make sure it’s nonpartisan and keep it positive.”
And, as Vecchio stresses, even the profile of her committee has evolved of late.
“If you had this portfolio a few years ago, you were seen as a very junior portfolio. Right now, this is a very big portfolio because there are so many changes and so many issues that we’re trying to address.”
A ministry like housing is different in that you have data at hand, says Vecchio.
Her committee is different in that “this is really a task about different beliefs and values. And, how we go about managing things. It’s really about working with people.”
Anyone who has had dealings with Vecchio already understands that is one area where she excels.


If there is one local artist with a heavy workload, it would have to be artist and blacksmith Scott McKay.
And by heavy, we don’t necessarily mean his to-do list, but instead, the sheer mass of his creations.
His work, including his first installation, Fear Not the Wind, can be found along the St. Thomas Elevated Park and when you circle the Gateway Roundabout at the west end of St. Thomas you can’t miss Perseverance, McKay’s tribute to the city’s long and colourful railway past.

Soccer ball sculpturejpg

Well, sometime this spring, another of McKay’s creations will become the centrepiece of the city’s new Burwell Road roundabout at the gateway to 1Password Park.
How appropriate then that the new home of several dozen soccer pitches will have an oversized soccer ball sculpture as you enter.
Nearly 12 feet high, this will be a 3-D representation of the object players kick about the pitch.
The cost of the piece is $35,000, which is to be included in the final tab for construction of the roundabout, which is expected to begin in April.
In case you’re wondering, the sculpture tribute to the beautiful game will weigh about 3,500 pounds.

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Last week’s item on Hospice for Elgin generated a couple of responses at polar opposites to each other.
Leith Coghlin writes the following observation on the City Scope Facebook page.

“Sorry for Councillor Stevenson, but when municipalities are in a massive budgetary predicament it is a luxury if you cannot afford it. That aside, the Hospice of Elgin proposal is problematic and the math needs to be re-examined.
“Their concept is very expensive from a hospice vantage point and hasn’t been situated, at least not in their documents outlining their approach, about how sustainability will be achieved.
“That, more than anything I believe, is why Elgin County council rejected any financial support. There are alternatives but there needs to be some flexibility on concept.”

As a counterpoint, Rachel Renner Frederick contributed the following on Facebook.

“Having a hospice would free up beds in palliative care at the hospital and be more cost-effective, so definitely not a luxury.”

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