‘An enjoyable couple of nights’ pays off for St. Thomas ratepayers


city_scope_logo-cmykPicking up from Monday’s 2021 city budget deliberations, council had directed administration to pare back the municipal property tax levy from 2.48 per cent to 1.5 per cent in deference to the economic impact on ratepayers of the coronavirus.
That request by council translated into cutting about $572,000 from the proposed capital and operating budgets.
Council indicated a priority would be to maintain as much as possible the tax-base contribution to the capital budget and minimize the impact on service delivery in the operating budget.
In other words, find the savings without cutting services.
To deliver on council’s request city manager Wendell Graves and department heads held a pair of meetings on Tuesday of this week to ferret out possible sources of savings.
As a result, council grants to community groups and organizations will be cut by $75,000 in the new year. Leaving about $210,000 in the grant kitty to distribute in 2021.
It was agreed to reduce Community Improvement Program funding by $200,000.

In conjunction with the finance department, it was agreed the city would not move forward with an additional six-month IT position and move that for consideration in 2022.
The winter snow control program had previously been cut by $100,000 Monday night.
A total of $23,000 was saved in the public library budget.
It was felt $40,000 in revenue could be taken from the supplemental tax category dealing with taxation from new residential growth in the city.

“It’s been an enjoyable couple of nights of budget and an incredible result.”

And $70,000 could safely be taken from children’s services programs funded by the province.
Add all that up and it gets you to $562,000, resulting in a revised levy increase of $856,000 or 1.5 per cent, as requested by council.
Council agreed the operating budget was as lean as could be expected and members voted unanimously to approve in principle the draft budget.
The budget will come back to council for formal approval shortly.
A masterful job of cutting by city administrators worthy of a surgeon.
And done in less than 24 hours.
As Mayor Joe Preston noted, “It’s been an enjoyable couple of nights of budget and an incredible result.”
A positive result for city ratepayers.

A SUSTAINABLE PERSPECTIVE FOR THE CITY

At Monday’s reference committee meeting members of council will discuss a draft version of the city’s three-year strategic plan which sets out priorities, guiding principles, goals and commitments.
Under Strategic Priority 1 – entitled Compassionate Community – is the commitment to build an emergency shelter for the homeless. It is to be built in a single location and be open by September of next year.
Next in line is affordable housing with a commitment to increase the number of affordable housing units by 150 by December of 2023.
Of course, going down this road there is always the debate over what the parameters are for affordable housing.
St. Thomas Strategic PlanThe three other commitments deal with seniors care, community health and youth programs with due dates for project implementations in 2021 and 2022.
Strategic Priority 2, Vibrant Community, has a mandate to “Enhance opportunities for connection and development to promote growth for people and businesses in the city.”
Commitment 1 is to develop one new community event each year through 2023. No indication of the scope or size of these events but in a non-pandemic year, there are a considerable number of weekend events.
Commitment 2 to implement downtown enhancement projects is already underway with the installation of CCTV cameras in the core area.
Two other commitments deal with job creation through servicing of an industrial park on the former Windon Farm lands by June of 2022 and the establishment of a formal committee by next June to deal with education and skills training.
Most intriguing is Strategic Priority 3 known as a Thriving Community with the top commitment being an investment of an additional $3 million over the next three years for infrastructure improvements.
Commitment 2 would see the city’s trail system expanded by three kilometres by 2023.
And look what Commitment 3 entails. Building a new animal shelter by the end of 2023 “supported by money raised through capital fundraising efforts by the community stakeholder group.”
Looks like the on-again, off-again shelter may be back on council’s radar again.
Commitment 4 deals with a community/aquatic centre – with a physical plan and location determined by June of 2022.
And by the end of 2023, Commitment 5 will see 75 per cent of the Transit Master Plan implemented, including extended hours of service and greater connectivity.
All of this to be presented to council by representatives from Fanshawe College who point out the guiding principle of the plan is an “environmentally responsible community” through a “sustainable perspective.”
But keep in mind this is only a draft document and, as is subject to the whims of council.

EARLYON AGREEMENT

The request for proposal window for the revamped EarlyON Child and Family Centres program in St. Thomas and Elgin county closed Nov. 12 and council will be asked Monday to approve agreements with the three providers.
EarlyOn logoTiny Tots Co-operative Nursery School of Aldborough will operate the West Zone of the program with a funding allocation of $88,260.
The YMCA of Southwestern Ontario will operate the Central Zone – which will include St. Thomas – with funding of $529,561.
And the present operator of the entire program, Community Living Elgin, will handle the East Zone with $264,780.
They will also continue to provide EarlyON programming for all three zones into March of next year.
The three contracts come into effect on March 15, 2021, and run for three years with an option to renew for two, one-year terms.
No mention in the report from Teresa Sulowski from children’s services about possible job losses at Community Living Elgin and the financial implications for the organization.

Related posts:

https://ianscityscope.com/2020/10/24/rfp-casts-light-on-proposed-earlyon-delivery-model/

https://ianscityscope.com/2020/10/17/getting-way-down-in-the-weeds-with-a-new-earlyon-delivery-model/

https://ianscityscope.com/2020/10/10/in-a-mere-38-seconds-city-council-passed-a-motion-that-could-result-in-a-dozen-people-losing-their-jobs/

ONE MONUMENTAL MURAL

We’re intrigued by the nature and scope of the mural proposed for one of the piers supporting the Michigan Central Railroad bridge and since this is an Economic Development Corporation undertaking, we contacted CEO Sean Dyke for further insight.
He confirmed it is part of their Track to the Future mural campaign.
elevated-park-1jpg

“Basically all of the murals you see go up in the downtown have been through Economic Development, thanks to donations from the Donna Vera Evans Bushell Estate.
“We working closely with Andrew Gunn (the estate administrator) and of course with Serge (Lavoie, president of On Track St. Thomas) on the mural for the elevated park.”
How big a canvas are we talking about for the mural?
Dyke pegged it right down at 2,300 square feet. Talk about Jumbo-sized.
It’s so big artist Daniel Bombardier, also known as Denial, will require an 80-foot boom lift for what is estimated to be a two-week project.

“With the work they’ve done on top, with all the different art pieces up there, and having a nice display down one of the pillars will be just great.”

Dyke says they’re budgeting for 10 five-gallon pails of paint plus 300 cans of aerosol spray and a protective clear coat.
“It’s a lot of paint,” Dyke chuckled.
The plan was to start this fall but the weather put a hold on that. So a spring start is the new reality.
It still has to receive council’s approval because it is a heritage structure.
“We talked to the heritage committee the other night and there seemed to be some good general support from that group.
“I think once council sees the design they will be totally on board as well.”
The idea is to stick with an historic rail theme. We were looking for some movie images that could be used for inspiration. It won’t look like some of the modern murals seen around town. That wouldn’t suit the space.”
Dyke continued, “I love these really large projects. It’s something we can all be proud of as a community.
“But also, it attracts people from out of town to look at it. And, ideally, when they see that, they’ll go and visit the elevated park, which is just an incredible project that has just taken on a life of its own and Serge and his group should be congratulated for the work they’ve done there.
“With the work they’ve done on top, with all the different art pieces up there, and having a nice display down one of the pillars will be just great.”

“But the reality is, that’s the key spot for us. It’s a massive canvas that an artist could do some amazing things with. We really think it would be monumental.”

With future funding, Dyke says wouldn’t it be fun to move on to some of the other piers and make it an arts destination.
“When you think of the amount of traffic going down to Port Stanley in the summer, it will get a lot of eyes on it.
“So when you drive into town you see Jumbo up on the hill, the Perseverance sculpture (in the Gateway roundabout) and then you see that and you recognize there is a cultural base here that is really driving the community and that’s nice to see from our perspective.”
Dyke advised there are no plans to light the pier at this point because of budget and access to electricity.
Just a thought, but what about solar panels to light it for a few hours each evening?
And what if council doesn’t approve the bridge mural?
“If they don’t approve it, we still like the idea of that particular piece of work so . . . we would have to find somewhere else.
“But the reality is, that’s the key spot for us. It’s a massive canvas that an artist could do some amazing things with. We really think it would be monumental.”

Related post:

https://ianscityscope.com/2020/12/05/talks-begin-next-week-on-how-to-spend-our-tax-dollars/

THE READER’S WRITE

To quote reader Carrie Hedderson Smith, she is STRONGLY OPPOSED to painting a mural on one of the piers of the MCR bridge, home of the St. Thomas Elevated Park. She posted her opposition on our Facebook page.

“I love art and have travelled the world to see it but think in light of all the new murals in town, that would be enough – is it necessary to cover every single surface in the city?
“I am strongly OPPOSED to the mural on the pillar of the rail bridge which supports the elevated park. STRONGLY OPPOSED.
“If the younger generations can’t appreciate art through the public art centre or all the murals, will one more mural change their minds?? I think not.
“Let’s let something stay as it is. Not looking for a FB attack.”

As for our item on the police budget last week, Leticia Amanda of The Nameless writes that money would go a long way in financing her organization. If you remember we profiled The Nameless and Leticia back in October and you can read the profile here https://ianscityscope.com/2020/10/03/keeping-the-wolves-from-the-front-door-and-the-homeless-from-the-back/

“$80k for pistols? That could fund The Nameless for 8 years.”

Which prompted moral support from Morgan Niederman.

“That’s our problem, we need a budget line for armaments! I take full responsibility for this oversight.”

And the obvious retort from Leticia.

“Soup cannons, snack pistols, sandwich shields. Got it.”

Questions and comments may be emailed to City Scope

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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.

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