City council will hold two meetings this coming week to begin deliberations on 2021 proposed operating and capital budgets.
The first will start immediately after Monday’s (Dec. 7) council meeting which begins at 5 p.m., with the second to be held the following day starting at 5 p.m.
As it stands now, the budget calls for a 2.48 per cent increase to the property tax levy next year.
Capital projects as proposed would require just under $41 million in funding and, if passed by council, would mark the largest capital budget where debt was not drawn.
Items in the capital budget recommended for approval include up to five electric light-duty vehicles as the city begins to make good on reducing its carbon footprint.
The biggest project at $10.8 million is rebuilding Fairview Avenue from Elm Street to Southdale Line.
Annual road rehabilitation comes in at $2 million and the ongoing Complete Streets program next year will require $6.8 million.
Repairs to the slate roof at city hall will cost $677,000.
Phase 1 servicing of industrial lands along Edgeware Line comes with a tab of $4.5 million.
The creation of a civic square on the site of the former police headquarters will cost an estimated $2.1 million, of which $1.5 million is hoped to come from federal and provincial grants. It will be known as Curtis Street Square.
The fire department is requesting $1.8 million for a 30-metre ladder truck with a rescue platform.
And for the police service, $80,000 for new service pistols.
What is always of interest are the projects not recommended for approval at this time.
How about a new combined fire and EMS station at $3.5 million?
Remember that ball hockey rink proposed for the city? At $200,000 it would appear to be benched again next year.
After requesting drawings for a new animal shelter, what should appear on the not recommended list but a new animal shelter at $1.5 million.
However, there is a caveat: This project may be considered during 2021 should the fundraising goals be achieved.
We have to point out the fundraising goals were never achieved for the Joe Thornton Community Centre (at that time the Timken Centre) and the skateboard park. Just a reminder.
Rehabilitation of runways at the airport – estimated cost of over $7 million for three projects – will not be taking off in 2021.
On the operating side, there are considerable financial pressures on the horizon next year including the fact the city will be negotiating collective agreements in 2021.
Land ambulance service improvements will increase by almost $370,000 or 16 per cent greater than this year.
Transfer payments to Southwestern Public Health are up by three per cent ($23,711).
Loss of earnings benefits under Workers’ Compensation are expected to increase by $200,000 next year with the note, “The number of staff receiving these benefits has increased over the last few years.”
The Mickleborough Building at 423 Talbot Street is sitting empty and the debenture costs next year are $121,000. Once the city can find a tenant, the rent will help offset these costs.
It currently is being used as a daytime homeless shelter and some of the debenture cost may be offset by COVID-19 funding.
We’ll take a further look at the budget following the two meetings next week.
FAR MORE CRITICAL THAN A CHILD’S BEDTIME RHYME
Don’t let the bedbugs bite. If only it was that simple for residents warehoused in supportive living facilities like Walnut Manor in St. Thomas and Lakeside Terrace in Port Colborne.
Both homes are owned and operated by the award-winning team of Vishal Chityal and SupportiveLiving.ca.
We wrote about the latter facility in October when we were contacted by Loretta Gibbons of Calgary, whose brother and wife reside at the home.
To bring you up to speed, they were paying $1,000 per month each to share a bedbug-infested room with food she describes as so deplorable, “I called Meals on Wheels and they delivered lunch for them. Of course, this is not sustainable as it is $17 for two lunches every time they come.”
She went on to detail a litany of other horrors including a cigarette deal, bank card request, accusations of elder abuse, threats of eviction and the need to call authorities.
She contacted us again this week to say things have only degenerated at Lakeside Terrace. It boggles the mind how that could be possible, so we’ll let Loretta fill in the details.
She writes, “The residents are still suffering. The issues with bed bugs are out of control and continue to be a problem at Lakeside.”
She continues, “Yesterday (Dec. 2), my brother sent me a picture of the bedbug bites (pictured at left) his 76-year-old wife (also dealing with Alzheimer’s) experienced on her arm just yesterday.
“I recently sent him a hand-held vacuum to use in an attempt to keep them at bay. He sent me a picture of the filter (at right) that is covered in bed bugs.
“He vacuums three times a day to no avail. They come through the heater vents, in the clean laundry and any other crack or crevice they find in his room.”
Loretta concludes, “I have sent an update to (Port Colborne) Mayor Bill Steele and Councillor Barbara Butters and I will continue to push my concerns to anyone who will listen.
“I realize Bill 164 will take time. My hope is that something can be done soon and on a more urgent level.”
Bill 164 is Niagara Centre NDP MPP Jeff Burch’s bill, Protecting Vulnerable Persons in Supportive Living Accommodation Act, 2020, which passed unanimously at second reading in the Ontario Legislature on Nov. 2.
It will be some time yet before it is enacted but, in the meantime, are social agencies still sending individuals to facilities like these operated by SupportiveLiving.ca?
And, what is Southwestern Public Health doing about the bedbug infestation at Walnut Manor?
Municipal councils and health units have a role to play as well in these situations.
How often is the health unit inspecting Walnut Manor? The fact the St. Thomas Fire Department had to step in and order the garbage removed from around the building should be an indicator things are much worse inside.
What exactly is the city’s adoption process at the animal shelter? The question was raised at the Oct. 13 city council meeting.
A report to council for Monday’s (Dec. 8) meeting covers the key steps for those interested in pet adoption.
You can start by visiting https://www.petfinder.com/member/ca/on/st-thomas/stthomas-city-animalservices-on345/ to see what animals are available.
If you see a cat or dog you wish to give a permanent home, you can fill out an application online at https://www.stthomas.ca/living_here/animal_services/adoption
If your application is approved animal services staff will contact you for a meet-and-greet with the animal.
And if that goes well, you can complete the adoption papers and arrange for the payment.
Staff then sets an appointment for you to come and get your new pet using a contactless pick up at the shelter.
The report from Matthew Vriens, Manager of Roads and Transportation cautions, “The fundamental objective of the animal shelter is to adopt out all animals. The current demand for dogs far exceeds the available supply which means that the shelter is achieving its primary objective. The repercussion of adopting out all dogs is that many applicants will not receive an animal.”
No doubt the increased demand for dogs can be linked to life in a COVID-19 world.
A MURAL OF STAGGERING PROPORTIONS
The St. Thomas Elevated Park is a big deal, so it makes sense any mural associated with the park in the sky is going to be of epic proportions. That’s the case, assures Serge Lavoie in a letter to city council for Monday’s meeting.
The president of On Track St. Thomas writes an agreement has been reached with the St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation to allow it to erect a painted mural on the east wall of Pier 9 of the Michigan Central Railroad bridge. The photo above illustrates the massive canvas available for the mural.
The bridge is designated under the Ontario Heritage Act and so council’s approval of the project may be required.
Lavoie adds we believe “it would be a worthy addition to Canada’s first and only elevated park.”
The mural will be the work of Windsor artist Daniel Bombardier, also known as Denial.
Quoting from the letter to council, “the mural design will look like a classic film scene set in St. Thomas, referencing both the heritage of the site and the history of train travel and culture in the community.
“The intent is to cover the entire surface of the pier, making the mural of staggering size and scope for St. Thomas.
“Residents and visitors can expect a landmark photo spot that encapsulates the romance and grandeur of travel by rail.”
THE READER’S WRITE
In response to our item last week on the state of the manufacturing sector in southwestern Ontario, Justin Panos Tweeted the following.
“There is a lot of economic pain in this area of Ontario. Unionized plants were shuttered and a lot of the new companies are currently non-union.”
On Facebook, Carrie Hedderson Smith commented from a personal perspective.
“Very true – try to get a decent job around here. My husband has two trades and we have been really struggling to stay afloat. He worked at Sterling, Siemens and Sle-Co, all of which closed out then COVID hit, his other employer closed and we are back in the wheel of financially drowning and trying to find work.
“If you are over age 55 it is impossible. Employers think you’re not going to stay so there’s age discrimination. They want young people. We have families and mortgages how are we to survive? Stress on the family is unbearable.
“The factories left have deplorable conditions and can’t keep staff so you see the same postings on job boards for months and months. So sad and very very hard, especially when you’re a good worker and the job losses were due to plant closures, not your doing.
“We need a lot of new industries too. Ones that pay more than minimum wage.”
Merv Leyte responded to the above with a challenge.
“Carrie Hedderson Smith, please define deplorable conditions in the factories left? I’m keenly interested in your answer.”
Have to say we would be interested in a response as well.
And, Steve Ogden posted this observation on Facebook.
“All the more reason to tell Doug Ford we need — and want — the Guaranteed Basic Income, province-wide. It’ll take some powerful pushing (considering that shortly after being elected he made it a priority to cancel the pilot project already underway), but isn’t it past time government put our needs before what Big Business wants?”
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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.