Mayor Preston on grants policy: ‘At no time did anybody come up to me and say would you please give away more of my money’

city_scope_logo-cmykWhile attempting to avoid treading water any longer on a definitive grant process, at Monday’s reference committee meeting, Mayor Joe Preston admitted he is “bothered” by the current process or lack thereof.
Obviously frustrated he noted, “a disproportionate amount of time has been spent discussing grants.”
To move along the dialogue, Preston announced the formation of a committee with at least a couple of council members on board in order to “write a proposal council can agree with . . . and bring this back in quickly.”
Curious as to the direction he envisions, we chatted with the mayor Tuesday to allow him to elaborate.
“I think we touched on the outer edges of what grants should look like in our community last night. What we have to decide is where are we going to land in the middle?
“I’m the same as anybody else. I don’t think we should go without an art centre. But, should the art centre be getting a set amount every year in perpetuity as part of their funding?
“I don’t know. We just have to decide those things.”

However, as Coun. Jeff Kohler observed Monday, no matter what this council decides, the next council can go down a different path.
During deliberations for the city’s 2018 budget, there was talk of putting the St. Thomas Elgin Public Art Centre, the Talbot Teen Centre, the St. Thomas Seniors’ Centre and St. Thomas Cemetery Company into the yearly budget as line items instead of grants.
“I think the seniors’ centre could go there because we own the building,” suggested Preston. “We operate it.
“But what about the art centre, they own their building. The teen centre is not owned by us.
“At what point does the city have the right, or even the ability to go to a not-for-profit group and say, ‘We don’t like your budget. We don’t like how you’re spending money.'”
What rankles Preston is the real amount of money turned over to groups and organizations as grants.
“I don’t think anybody’s really getting it. We talked about $250,000 worth of grants. And, it’s closer to $750,000, when you factor in the hospital donation and other things.
“And the use of community property, and the deduction on tax rates for
not-for-profits and charities. Those are all grants that the taxpayers of St. Thomas are giving to organizations.
“We have to acknowledge that.”

“Because whenever you start suggesting to people you’ve got bushel baskets of money to give away, there’ll be a good line at the door to come tell us and there will be good reasons for all of them.”

So, as was suggested by a couple of members of council, should the four main recipients of funding the past year be invited to a reference committee meeting to discuss their financial strategy?
“I’m not certain that’s a necessity,” suggested Preston. “We’ve seen their books in the past and I doubt they have changed much.
“But it really will be up to council to say let’s ask them in and have them explain themselves.
“I’m not certain that there’s much explaining to be done. Because, if we’re going to do that with those four, we’re going to have an open call for anybody who wants to come in and convince us they need the money more.
“Because whenever you start suggesting to people you’ve got bushel baskets of money to give away, there’ll be a good line at the door to come tell us and there will be good reasons for all of them.”
And, the next step for the mayor’s committee?
“The intent is that the four of us will meet and maybe even next Monday before council just to say, ‘”What are the parameters and what do you think we’re trying to do?'”
Preston made it clear following Monday’s meeting he is open to any and all suggestions from the public.
We always hear ratepayers have little say on how their tax dollars are spent.
Here is your opportunity to bend Joe’s ear.

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My, it’s interesting how a few retirements at city hall can impact membership numbers in The Sunshine Club.
The agenda for Monday’s (March 9) council meeting includes a report from director of human resources Graham Dart on the number of municipal employees who, in 2019, earned more than $100,000.
This reporting is required under the Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act of 1996.
Last year there were 133 city employees with a salary greater than $100,000 and that is down one from 2018.
Don’t expect this to be a long-term trend.
More typical is what was revealed in 2018 when membership in the Sunshine Club jumped to 134 from 117 in 2017, an increase of almost 15 per cent.
Most recently, the police and fire services have accounted for the greatest increase year over year.
That was far from the case last year.
The St. Thomas Police Service saw a drop to 48 employees earning $100,000 or more from 55 in 2018.
And, in the fire department, there were also 48 employees listed, up just one from the previous year.
It was inside city hall itself where membership in The Sunshine Club continued its torrid progression with 37 employees now counted, up from 32 in 2018.
Not quite as spectacular as 2018 when membership in the club increased by almost 50 per cent, ballooning to 32 employees. An increase of 10 over 2017.
No surprise city manager Wendell Graves is the top wage-earner at $197,642, up from $194,729 in 2018.
Other notable salaries at city hall, with the 2018 figure in brackets:
Ross Tucker, director of parks & recreation & property management, $157,014 ($152,095).
David Aristone, director of finance and city treasurer, since retired, $155,575 ($152,095).
Justin Lawrence, director of environmental services, $154,424 ($149,586).
Graham Dart, director of human resources, $154,424 ($149,586).
Patrick Keenan, director of planning and building services, $154,466 ($149,503).
Elizabeth Sebestyen, director of Ontario Works, since retired, $112,721 ($140,367).
Sean Dyke, CEO Economic Development Corp., $135,222 ($130,993).
Michael Carroll, Valleyview administrator, $133,000 ($128,832).
Heather Robinson, CEO St. Thomas Public Library, $128,363 ($120,765).
Maria Konefal, city clerk, $135,231 ($125,027).
Chris Peck, chief building official, $115,257 ($111,649).
St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge earned $176,814 ($173,339).
And, fire chief Robert Davidson came in at $149,353 ($131,204).


In a letter from Central Elgin council to the councils of Elgin county and the City of St. Thomas, they were encouraged to “to maintain continuing dialogue with the hospice steering committee to look for creative financial and other in-kind measures to support the development of an Elgin hospice.”
And, that is exactly what transpired Tuesday (March 3) in a scheduled meeting between both municipalities and St. Joseph’s Health Care Society, which will own and sponsor the 10-bed Hospice for Elgin with governance through a local board of directors.
We spoke with Laura Sherwood, director of hospice partnerships with St. Joseph’s Health Care Society, following this week’s meeting and the mood was upbeat.
“We had a good meeting,” confirmed Sherwood. “Just talking about how we continue to advance the project, and why it’s so important that we have support from county and city.
“And so our conversations with them is trying to figure out how do we work creatively.
“With the city, we are looking at some land options and so we were able to kind of advance those conversations and so we’ll be starting to formulate our list, we have a building committee that we’re just starting to pull together.”
Sherwood continued, “And, and we think that with the support of that land or a gift of land will also cement the project and signal to the community that this is still progressing.”
Assuring residents and potential donors work on the hospice is moving forward is a key objective, stressed Sherwood.
“And, and I think the message is, absolutely everyone agrees that hospice matters specifically for this community. Everyone’s got really tight financial circumstances. And so how do we basically leverage what we have.

hospice2jpg“And so that discussion was positive in starting, but we still have a lot of work to do and figuring out what does that look like?”
Sherwood noted previously there is already a community commitment from two major donors of $2 million, based on municipal support.
Elgin county council has stressed it will support the hospice but in a non-financial manner.
The city did not include funds in this year’s budget to financially assist the hospice.
She stressed, “We need to raise the necessary capital to help advance it and that was really our message to county and city that support from yourselves or some level of commitment, whatever that may be, it really helps advance the project.

“If the hospice is one of the important projects to this community, St. Joseph’s is also saying, what else can we do coming to the table . . .”

“So if the community knows that city and county are behind the project, in whatever way wherever we’re able to make sense of this financial year, it helps us in those conversations with donors that we’re having and provide the confidence that the project is moving forward.
“There are strong signals of wanting to figure out more creatively on how do we make this happen, and also exploring other creative ways to work together.”
It has to be a two-way street, advised Sherwood, with St. Joseph’s Health Care Society assisting in whatever way it can.
“If the hospice is one of the important projects to this community, St. Joseph’s is also saying, what else can we do coming to the table and synergistically help support and strengthen other areas where there’s need. So I think it really is a two-way dialogue on how do we help you?”
The society has met with city council at a reference committee meeting in January and now, said Sherwood, she has to follow the same process with county council.
And, working with the city on possible land options as its contribution to Hospice for Elgin.
“So I think we’re at different places, which is very reasonable to expect in this situation.
“Absolutely there was a positive outcome.”

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Last week’s item on the Town of Aylmer approaching St. Thomas builders Walter Ostojic and Sons regarding affordable housing in that community, Carrie Hedderson Smith responded with the following.

“Building affordable housing that does not meet the needs of the community just to build it makes no sense. Why would it be the norm to assume people don’t need parking and will take the bus?
“To advise that if you need parking wait for another place is not responsible planning. There must be other locations that can build suitable housing for people that will accommodate parking and visitor parking.
“Should people forgo socializing and home care – become isolated just to have a roof over their heads?
“Has everyone lost their common sense? It’s like saying a bucket with holes in the bottom is better than no bucket!!!
“If it’s not effective, it’s not effective.”

In our hospice item and the Municipality of Central Elgin’s involvement through a letter to city and county councils, Mary Lou Stanley is obviously enthused.

“Way to go Central Elgin … taking a lead on the hospice talks!”

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2 thoughts on “Mayor Preston on grants policy: ‘At no time did anybody come up to me and say would you please give away more of my money’

  1. When looking at the annual grant to the Talbot Teen Centre, it not as simple as looking at how the money is spent. One also has to think about the potential cost savings and other benefits to the community. The resources at the Teen Centre keep our teens off the street, embolden them with a charitable spirit, and better prepare them to be good citizens and productive members of the adult community. Without the Teen Centre, our police and social services budgets would suffer. The present grant to the Teen Centre is about half of a police officer’s salary and benefits. It is not just an expense, it is an investment in our youth and community and a significant saving in other budget areas.


  2. Great article, as usual, Ian. Thank you. I somehow don’t think it’s coincidental that you immediately followed your coverage of the city rethinking its grant ‘policy’ with coverage of The Sunshine Club. The fact that 133 city employees made more than $100,000 last year, and that 37 of those work at City Hall, 𝘀𝗵𝗼𝘂𝗹𝗱 catch our attention.

    I found it particularly interesting that we’re concerned about spending so much money to support worthy causes, but think nothing of granting yearly increases totaling more than $66,000 to 14 city hall employees. One of them got a raise of $10,000, which is a fair amount more than I live on from year to year. Another was bumped up $18,000 over the previous year. It is very difficult for me to justify that, no matter what angle I view it from.

    I had a similar discussion to this recently with the head of a prominent foundation here in town. I suggested it was inappropriate for Doug Ford to be making severe cuts to Health and Education services while granting his deputy ministers increases totally over $800,000 a year. Unsurprisingly, he disagreed.


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